The hometown bond between two of the nation's best runners

RALEIGH, N.C. -- There may be no bigger fan of Pac-12 After Dark than NC State running back Nyheim Hines, who never wants to miss a chance to watch his pal Bryce Love play on the other side of the country. He said he's routinely still up at 2 a.m., catching the final moments of Stanford's action.

The two track stars-turned-tailbacks may not see much of each other these days, but the time zones allow them to watch the other's games, and they text or call all the time to compare notes.

"We go way, way, way, way back," Love said. "We've run track together since we were little kids. We're like family."

Hines, who has blossomed as a running back after two years at receiver for the Wolfpack, grew up with Love, who's now one of the front-runners for the Heisman trophy at Stanford. The two were always popular in their hometown of Wake Forest, North Carolina, but they're now two of the most productive players in the country.

Love, who missed last week's game against Oregon State with an ankle injury, still ranks fourth nationally in all-purpose yards (1,406), while Hines ranks sixth (1,268). That they're both flourishing on the national stage isn't really much of a surprise, Love said.

"It's fun seeing people going out and doing amazing things and really representing where we're from," Love said. "It speaks to the people we grew up with and the caliber of people around us."

That list starts with Keith Marshall, another Wake County product who made it big as a star running back at Georgia. The families were all close, and Marshall's rise -- both academically and on the football field -- served as inspiration for the younger crew.

"He showed it was possible," Hines said. "That was the first person in my life that I personally knew to see do something on the big stage."

Now Hines and Love are taking over the big stage. Hines' Wolfpack can take a big step toward winning the ACC Atlantic on Saturday when they take on Clemson (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC and the ESPN App), and he figures to play a vital role. Love, meanwhile, is averaging better than 10 yards a carry this season, and his absence in Stanford's 15-14 win over Oregon State last week only underscored his value as he makes a final push for the Heisman.

"I'd vote for Bryce," Hines said. "It's just great to see somebody you know being successful. I know how hard he's worked, because I've seen it firsthand. I'm happy for everything coming his way.

No love for Lamar

The Heisman race has tightened, but one name getting surprisingly little buzz is the reigning winner, Louisville's Lamar Jackson.

It's easy to dismiss his candidacy based on his team's performance. Louisville is 5-4, and you'd have to go back to 1969 to find a Heisman winner whose team lost four games. Only Paul Hornung, in 1956, was on a team that lost more (Notre Dame was 2-8 that year). So odds are, Jackson won't be heavily considered because the Cardinals aren't good.

But don't take that to mean he hasn't been exceptional. In fact, Jackson's 3,837 yards of total offense lead the nation -- by a whopping 909 yards over the next closest competitor (Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph).

The difference between Jackson and Rudolph's total yards this year is the same as Rudolph and Hawaii's Dru Brown, who ranks 42nd in total offense nationally. How crazy is that?

"We're not taking care of business as a team enough to really get him into that talk," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "But when you look at his numbers and what he's done individually, he's certainly one of the best players in the country. What Lamar does week in and week out really is amazing."

Double the pleasure

There are plenty of big-name running backs in the mix for the Heisman this year, including Love, Saquon Barkley and Josh Adams. But what about a guy with 1,406 yards and 17 touchdowns who's never mentioned? Or another guy with 1,074 yards and 16 scores? And what if both of those players were on undefeated teams?

OK, so this is a bit disingenuous. There's not one guy doing that damage. But at both Georgia and Alabama, a two-headed backfield is producing big numbers.

The Tide's duo of Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough have been a formidable force, with Harris, in particular, scorching defenses, to the tune of 8.6 yards per carry.

Meanwhile, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have carried the Georgia offense this year, with Chubb bruising his way to nine TDs, and Michel is nearly matching Barkley's rushing total on roughly half the carries.

Four downs

  • Don't be surprised if there's a shootout in Stillwater, Oklahoma, this weekend, as Bedlam features two of the best deep-ball passers in college football. Rudolph and Baker Mayfield have combined to complete an impressive 50.6 percent of throws 20 yards or more downfield, with 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions. They rank second (Mayfield) and third (Rudolph) among Power 5 QBs in completions on throws of 20 yards or more.

  • It will be strength against strength when Clemson and NC State face off Saturday, as the Tigers' defense, which leads the nation with 32 sacks, goes up against a Wolfpack offensive line that has allowed just nine sacks all season and just one in the past four games. Just 3 percent of NC State's dropbacks have ended in a sack (second nationally.)

  • The running backs deserve plenty of credit for Boston College's recent offensive fireworks, despite getting relatively little help from their line. Jon Hilliman (66 percent) and AJ Dillon (64 percent) rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in percentage of rushing yards coming after contact among Power 5 runners this season.

  • Dan Mullen may be a hot name in the coaching carousel because of his offensive pedigree, but the key to Mississippi State's success this season may be the defense. The Bulldogs are allowing just 4.81 yards per play on D, down from 6.24 last season. That's the largest improvement of any Power 5 program, and third in the nation.

Coach speak

All week Adam Rittenberg has been chatting with head and assistant coaches around the country. Here is the best of those conversations.

Tim Settle arrived at Virginia Tech as a five-star recruit, ESPN's No. 19 player in the 2015 class. So perhaps his sophomore season shouldn't come as a surprise. But Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster had concerns about replacing Woody Baron, a first-team All-ACC defensive tackle. Settle had only played 15-20 snaps a game last season. "Was still figuring out how to play the game at this level," Foster said. Not only has the 335-pound Settle handled a starting role and more than twice as many plays, but he has excelled, leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss, ranking second in sacks with three and adding a blocked kick. Settle and Ricky Walker form one of the nation's best interior line tandems."I figured he could do that, but I've been pleased with how he can sustain it for being such a big guy," Foster. "Those are two 300-plus-pound guys who can dent the line of scrimmage inside. Tim loves the game and he worked really, really hard. The credit goes to him and our strength staff, those guys, working really, really hard to be in the best shape he could be."

Oregon co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Mario Cristobal knows what an elite lineman looks like. He spent the past four years at Alabama, working with Ryan Kelly, Cam Robinson and other standouts. He also was around Eric Winston, Chris Myers and other stars at Miami. Cristobal knows Oregon tackle Tyrell Crosby belongs in the same category. "Maybe the best in the country," Cristobal said. "You rarely see this guy on the ground unless he's blocking somebody into the ground. He's got unique power, balance and body control, plays with great leverage and finishes blocks. He just doesn't miss." Cristobal often finds himself nitpicking Crosby's film just to give the senior something to work on. After coaching "some pretty edgy guys," Cristobal didn't know what to make of Crosby, whom he calls "a complete gentleman off the field." But the 6-foot-5, 320-pound tackle knows how to flip the switch. He's also a freakish athlete, as he showed when celebrating a recent Ducks touchdown. "All I could think of was David Lee Roth in the 'Jump' video," Cristobal said. "That vertical is up there in the basketball range. He can do it all. I really believe without ever playing center, he could ID any front, make any line call except for the tight end and play every position."

LSU was thrilled to get star pass rusher Arden Key back from shoulder surgery and a leave of absence this spring. But Key wasn't ready to play. He reported at around 270 pounds. But during the season, the 6-foot-6 Key has dropped about 25 pounds, allowing him to recapture his signature speed. Whenever LSU players gather for dinner, Laura Reagan, the team's director of sports nutrition, will track down Key. "Arden tries to avoid her; he tries to do like a swim move on her, but she won't let him get away," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "She stands right next to him while he goes to the buffet, makes sure he's eating greens, fish and everything. Give credit to her, give credit to Arden, because he's really focused on it, knowing he was out of shape." Key has three sacks in his past two games, moving his career total to 20.5. He needs one sack this week at Alabama to move into third place on LSU's career list.

One way that Northwestern's linebackers have become one of the Big Ten's top groups this season is by watching other linebackers in the league. "It really helps," Wildcats linebackers coach Randy Bates said. "We watch some of the NFL guys, but we watch [Iowa's] Josey Jewell, and the older, experienced, high-profile linebackers in the Big Ten. We watch and learn from them." Pretty soon, other teams will be studying Northwestern redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher, who leads all first-year players in total tackles (9.4 per game) and solo tackles (5.5 per game). He also is tied for the Big Ten lead in forced fumbles (3), and earned national defensive player of the week against Michigan State, as he recorded 19 tackles, two forced fumbles and two quarterback hurries. Fisher appeared on Bates' radar as a high school freshman and benefited from being behind All-Big Ten selection Anthony Walker in 2016. "He's a lot farther along than the average freshman," Bates said, "because he was able to watch and learn the defense, he was able to be behind a really good player and learned from him, and he's a great character guy."