C.J. Stroud’s MVP candidacy, plus $77 million to go away


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Good morning! Please don’t bet against C.J. Stroud.

Superstars: C.J. Stroud’s unbelievable rise

The Houston Texans’ QB has played nine games as a professional football player. Nine. And yet, here he is, a legitimate MVP candidate. It’s mind-boggling to read. To watch it is even better. 

Stroud is top 10 in passing yards, touchdowns, QBR and quarterback rating, and he’s thrown only two interceptions. For two straight weeks, he’s led enthralling game-winning drives, with yesterday’s edition coming against Joe Burrow and the Bengals. That’s MVP stuff. It’s hard to imagine a rookie actually outshining the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Jalen Hurts or Lamar Jackson, but the fact he’s in the conversation is incredible. 

And if he leads a playoff run for the 5-4 Texans — who went 11-38-1 in the three seasons before his arrival? He might become a favorite. 

Stroud’s performance overshadowed a frenzied day for quarterbacks around the league: 

  • Welcome back, Kyler Murray. The former No. 1 overall pick showed he can still be the franchise QB with a game-winning drive against the 4-6 Falcons in his first game back after tearing his ACL last season. He looked like vintage Murray, lethal on his legs and composed through the air. The 2-8 Cardinals’ season is probably lost, but Murray’s performance the rest of the way is critical for the franchise’s future.
  • Oh, there’s Deshaun Watson. For the last two seasons, we’ve been wondering where the old Watson went. He finally showed yesterday in 6-3 Cleveland’s crucial 33-31 win over the 7-3 Ravens. If Watson is simply above average, the Browns are contenders in the AFC.
  • Nice job, both of you. The game of the day was in L.A., where Justin Herbert and Jared Goff engaged in an old-fashioned QB duel. Goff and the 7-2 Lions won, 41-38, but both signal callers were outstanding. Detroit solidified its playoff positioning, while the 4-5 Chargers simply cannot stop being extremely mediocre, despite next-level talent.
  • Josh Dobbs! Still a thing! He led the 6-4 Vikings to a 27-19 win over the 5-5 Saints, Minnesota’s fifth straight win after starting the year 1-4. Most of this streak has come without Justin Jefferson, too. Dobbs probably deserves a legit shot to be a starting QB in this league. Conversely, it’s hard to imagine a worse game for Derek Carr, who left early with an injury.
  • Honorable mentions: Brock Purdy was good again for the 49ers, who blew out the Jaguars. Oppositely, the Patriots benched Mac Jones for the final possession of the loss to Indianapolis in Germany. New England, at 2-8, is an absolute mess. And Zach Wilson is trying hard, but still throwing costly interceptions that cost the Jets wins. 

There are plenty of other facets we missed during Week 10. Find all of our takeaways here. We also of course had Robert Mays and Nate Tice reacting live last night to all the weekend’s games:

News to Know

Maxey drops 50
Yesterday, we chatted with David Aldridge about how important Tyrese Maxey is for the 76ers in a post-James Harden world. Maxey responded by scoring 50 points last night, a career high, while leading 8-1 Philadelphia to a 137-126 win over the Pacers. (Meanwhile, Harden’s Clippers have lost five straight, four since he arrived. Woof.)

Penn State cans OC
Mike Yurcich is out in Happy Valley, just one day after Penn State lost to No. 3 Michigan, 24-15. Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin is clearly feeling the pressure of another top-10 loss — he’s 3-17 against top-10 teams since arriving at Penn State — after getting booed by the home crowd on Saturday. Read the full backstory here. Audrey Snyder argues Franklin should look in the mirror before picking his next OC.

More news

  • Boise State fired head football coach Andy Avalos. It’s not a huge surprise.
  • Caitlin Clark is now Iowa’s all-time leading scorer after pouring in 24 against Northern Iowa last night. It won’t be the last record she breaks this year.
  • The Columbus Crew beat Atlanta United to advance to the MLS Cup Eastern Conference semifinals against Orlando City SC.

Hirings and Firings: Headline

Texas A&M fired Jimbo Fisher nearly 24 hours ago, and the money is what sticks with me. Not the sheer size of his $77.6 million buyout — though those digits are truly incredible — but more about how quickly we got here in college football, and how, like David Ubben wrote yesterday, this won’t be an outlier for long

A few quick thoughts as we digest all this: 

  • The move makes sense. Anyone who has watched the Aggies over the last two years knew Fisher’s progress in College Station had stalled, if it ever began in the first place. Outside of a 9-1 pandemic season, Fisher never delivered the records A&M expected of someone who recruits at a high level and signed a fully guaranteed $90 million contract.
  • But, the money. A&M owes Fisher $77.6 million, which it will pay out over the next eight years. The previous record holder for largest buyout in the history of college football: Auburn, who paid Gus Malzahn $21.4 million a few years ago to stop being its head coach. But at some point, somebody else will also top Malzahn — the highest 10 remaining buyouts average around $60 million each (though none of those guys are in danger of being fired any time soon).
  • Stewart Mandel asks a good question about all this: Why? As in, why are universities agreeing to these long-term, fully guaranteed deals as the industry norm? They are essentially negotiating against themselves, and the costs of these contracts go beyond the head coach’s buyout number. A&M will also have to pay all of Fisher’s assistants various sums of money to go away, plus hire new coaches, and our experts estimate the entire cost of this decision could be close to $125 million. Again, to not work there anymore

The money won’t stop, and I’m intrigued to see the new coach’s contract. Bruce Feldman has a preliminary list of candidates to succeed Fisher. The pressure will be enormous, but the job is still massively desirable. Kansas’ Lance Leipold and Oregon’s Dan Lanning caught my eye. 

It’s sadly funny this all came after the 6-4 Aggies’ best win of the year, a 51-10 blowout of Mississippi State. Go on out a high note, I guess?

Watch This Game

NFL: Broncos at Bills
8:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
Denver appears to be slowly getting better, but it feels like their ceiling is close. Buffalo, meanwhile, is an absolute wild card. Actually excited for this game. 

NBA: Knicks at Celtics
7:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV
Are the Knicks good? Who knows! Tonight will be an important data point to finding that out. I think this is a close one.

Pulse Picks

Rick Pitino is one of the most polarizing coaches in basketball. His latest obsession: living. Brendan Quinn has a superb feature on one of sports’ most memorable characters. Read this. 

The Braves are willing to pay for a big free agent pitcher. Is division rival Aaron Nola a fit? Ken Rosenthal reports. 

Chelsea and Manchester City staged a 4-4 draw that became an instant Premier League classic. The drama woven throughout this one felt scripted. 

Andrew Wiggins is in a major slump. How long until he gets out? Without good Wiggins, the Warriors are doomed. 

Ari Wasserman unloads on Michigan, whose “challenges and adversity are self-inflicted.”

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(Photo: Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

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