Oregon v Virginia

Heisman race beginning to take shape

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Maybe the Heisman can’t be won in September, but it can certainly be lost. Two weeks into the season, we’re beginning to see the first signs that the race is taking shape.

Braxton Miller’s candidacy hangs by a thread. Marcus Mariota is surging. Aaron Murray survived an elimination game. Todd Gurley impressed against a tough defense. Tajh Boyd underwhelmed. Teddy Bridgewater continued to dominate lesser foes. The Baylor duo of Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk are now hanging around the periphery of the race.

All the signs point to what should be a particularly intriguing campaign.

Here’s quick rundown of what happened this weekend with some of the main contenders:

Braxton Miller –– Miller, the front runner headed into the season, missed most of Ohio State’s game with San Diego State, which puts his Heisman hopes in serious jeopardy. Missing one game — and maybe more — will affect his overall numbers and make it difficult to have Heisman-worthy production at season’s end. If he doesn’t have a big game next week against Cal, he’s done.

Marcus Mariota — The Oregon quarterback shined in a rout of Virginia, passing for 199 yards and rushing for 122 while totaling three touchdowns. It seems likely that Mariota is headed for a huge season and as the quarterback for a team contending for the national title, he might soon replace Miller as the front runner in this race.

Aaron Murray — Murray had his back against the wall and he came through with a great game in a win over South Carolina. He was 17 of 23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns while making some really clutch throws. If he can have this kind of game against LSU and lead UGA to the SEC East title, he’s probably a lock to get to New York.

Todd Gurley — The sophomore running back also had a good game against South Carolina, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. He’s on the verge of firmly establishing himself as the top running back candidate in the race.

Tajh Boyd — The Clemson quarterback threw for 169 yards on 14 of 23 passing against South Carolina State. No touchdown passes and just a touchdown run was a disappointing result considering he needs to have huge numbers at season’s end to win the trophy. There is plenty of time for him to make up for this lackluster production, but this game makes it a bit harder.

Teddy Bridgewater — The junior ripped Eastern Kentucky for 397 yards and four touchdowns on 23 of 32 passing. His numbers after two week are stellar, though it came against weak competition. Still, he’s doing exactly what he needs to do to stay in Heisman consideration.

Bryce Petty — He may not be a real candidate just yet, but he’s playing like one. He went 13 of 16 for 338 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo and also scored once on the ground. His production should be fantastic this season and if Baylor contends for the Big 12 title, then he should emerge as a contender.

Lache Seastrunk — If Gurley gets a running back challenger, it should be Seastrunk, who had 150 yards and three touchdowns in one half’s work against Buffalo. He’ll need to catch fire and approach the 2,000-yard mark to have a real shot at Heisman glory, but it seems possible in that Baylor offense.

I think there’s a good chance the Heisman winner and most of the finalists comes from this group, though I’m not discounting the possibility that other candidates may emerge. There’s still a long way to go and a lot can happen in this crazy sport.

Oklahoma RB/KR Alex Ross joins graduate transfer market

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28: Alex Ross #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners returns a kick off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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One of the most dangerous kick returners in college football just joined the graduate transfer market.

Oklahoma announced Friday running back Alex Ross will graduate this spring and ply his craft elsewhere for his final collegiate seasons.

Considering his plight on the Sooners’ depth chart, Ross’s decision to transfer is entirely understandable. After accumulating 88 carries in 2014, second-most on the team, Ross saw his usage drop to just 32 attempts (for 172 yards and one touchdown) last fall as Joe Mixon gained eligibility and Baker Mayfield‘s presence in the running game rendered Ross largely to the bench. Both will return next season — along with presumptive Heisman candidate Samaje Perine — so Ross will not.

“Alex has been a great teammate and team guy for four years for us, and we’ve always been proud of him,” OU head coach Bob Stoops said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for him to go somewhere else and play full time. We wish him the best.”

Ross ranks third in Oklahoma history with a 25.7-yard kickoff return average and surely would have broken the Sooners’ all-time kick return yardage record had he returned to Norman this fall. He took kickoffs back for touchdowns against West Virginia and Texas in 2014, and logged a 90-yard return in OU’s 58-23 Big 12-title clinching beatdown of Oklahoma State last November.

Ross was a second-team All-American kick returner on CBS Sports‘s list in 2014.

Charges against ex-Orange DB Howard upgraded in Syracuse stabbing incident

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  Syracuse Orange takes the field amidst a cloud of pyrotechnic smoke before the game against the LSU Tigers on September 26, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Former Syracuse defensive back Nasean Howard was arraigned last month on two counts of assault in the second degree after allegedly stabbing two of his former teammates.

On Thursday, Howard’s charges were upgraded to first degree assault, in addition to the second degree charges and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The first-degree charge states Howard intended to cause “serious physical injury” — a safe bet considering he allegedly came at the two men with a knife — and carries a sentence stretching up to 25 years.

The 20-year-old Howard is accused of attacking Chauncey Scissum and Corey Winfield unprovoked during an on-campus birthday party for an unnamed Syracuse student. Scissum was stabbed in the jaw and, unable to protect himself due to a recent surgery, was protected by Winfield, who took stabbings in the arms, chest and ribs on Scissum’s behalf.

Defense attorney Irene Aurora Flores stated “there’s a lot more to the story” but declined further comment, according to the Associated Press.

Howard remains free on bail.

Pitt RB Chris James completes transfer to Wisconsin

SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 24:  Chris James #5 of the Pittsburgh Panthers carries the ball during the first half against the Syracuse Orange on October 24, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  Pittsburgh defeats Syracuse 23-20.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Hailing out of Chicago, Chris James hoped to sign with Wisconsin after leaving Notre Dame College Prep but wound up heading east to play for head coach Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and running backs coach John Settle at Pittsburgh.

All three of whom are now at Wisconsin.

So, naturally, James is now set to join them. The rising junior has planned to transfer to Wisconsin for months, and on Thursday received confirmation he’d been admitted to the Big Ten school.

“Coach Settle sent me a text, saying ‘welcome to the Badger family,’” James told Badger Nation. “I am really excited. It’s definitely been a long journey.”

James said, naturally, that his childhood love for the Badgers combined with his former coaches now employed in Madison drew him to Wisconsin. The presence of Ron DayneMontee BallMelvin Gordon and a handful of other 1,000-yard backs couldn’t have hurt, either.

“It was funny because everybody who I knew was wearing red now,” James said. “It was kind of weird but I’m glad I got to chance to go back up there. Things really haven’t changed that much. Stepping into Camp Randall, I got chills, man. As crazy as it feels, it felt like home.”

James rushed 87 times for 437 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in 2014, and accumulated 56 carries for 253 yards last season.

Two of Wisconsin’s top three running backs will be seniors this fall, so James figures to be a regular in the Badgers’ running back rotation when his eligibility resumes in 2017.

Coastal Carolina struggling to acquire funding for stadium improvements

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 23:  Alex Ross #4 of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers drops back to pass during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Coastal Carolina joins the Sun Belt’s football roster in 2017 (every other sport makes the jump this fall), and the Chanticleers would like to make some upgrades to 12-year old Brooks Stadium in advance of their move to college football’s top division.

Only, the school can’t receive approval to acquire the funding necessary to do so.

On Thursday, South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education rejected by a 9-4 vote the Coastal’s request for $29.9 million to upgrade the stadium. This week’s rejection marked the fourth in three months, as the school has been unable to assuage the CHE’s concerns over how accurately Coastal’s projections forecast the true cost of the project.

The university has dropped its initial request by 21 percent, down from an original $38 million ask.

“We take the responsibility very seriously. This is not an easy decision. We champion everything that you’re about as an institution,” CHE chairman Tim Hofferth said prior to the vote, via Myrtle Beach Online. “ … At the end of the day, I’ve talked to a lot of athletic directors, a lot of presidents throughout the country, to bring it without significant private funding in today’s environment [is risky]. The question is what’s significant? I don’t know. There’s 13 [different] significant answers here. The fact of the matter is it’s very relevant and the thing that I’m afraid of, the costs on the operating side are nowhere near what you anticipate them to be. …

“That’s my greatest concern in this environment. I want to get there. I’m just not there yet.”

The CHE also said it would like to see Coastal raise more private money to fund the project.

“I would ask if it’s within a point of order, can we get some very specific direction as to what is going to be a comfort level for those that are on the commission?” Coastal president Dave DeCenzo said. “You probably can’t do it right now, but I respectfully request that something be given to us because I know there have been some comments at times of ‘Well, why is this new?’ We’ve been playing this ‘Guess what’s on our mind?’ as we get some feedback saying, ‘Well, you’re going to have to lower this, you’re going to have to do that.’ We need some very specific direction.

“Our definition of private money, if that’s unacceptable to you, if your definition of private money is this is a donor writing a check, is it 20 percent, is it 25 percent? Give us some guideline.”

Coastal has stripped down its original blueprint, down from a planned 22,000 capacity to 19,000, while abandoning plans to improve the stadium’s sound system and construct plazas and facades to make the structure more functional.

The NCAA requires FBS programs meet an average attendance of 15,000, which is not currently possible in the 9,214-seat Brooks Stadium.

Coastal Carolina has the opportunity to make a fifth proposal before the CHE next month.