Andre Williams, Sean Davis

Where the Heisman race stands

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What to make of this year’s Heisman race?

In my 10 seasons covering the trophy, I’ve never seen a race this unsettled this late in the process.

Every candidate has at least two major drawbacks that in any other year would probably be disqualifying. In the end, it may come down to which candidate ends up dominating his region while appearing on just enough ballots nationwide to eke out a win. I envision the results of this race looking a lot like that of 2001, when Eric Crouch won the Heisman with just one region and 770 points (the lowest winning total since Terry Baker won with 707 points in 1962) while five other candidates totaled over 200.

Let’s do a rundown of what we’re dealing with.

— The tentative front runner, Jameis Winston of Florida State, has a major legal issue hanging over him that could potentially derail his candidacy. That issue is unlikely to be resolved one way or the other before Thanksgiving, which means that the decision could come just as the Seminoles begin preparations for the ACC title game. If he is not charged, then I think it’s likely that enough Heisman voters will give him the benefit of the doubt to enable him to win the trophy. Even then, he’s going to have a hard time benefiting much from what he does on the field from here on out because FSU’s remaining schedule includes the worst Florida team since 1979 and Duke in the ACC title game — hardly the type of matchups that will compel voters to tune in. Of course, if he is charged with a felony, he will likely be dropped from the majority of ballots and voters will look elsewhere.

— AJ McCarron of Alabama seems to be the safest candidate. After all, he’s the quarterback for the No. 1 team and a well-known and proven commodity. But to win he’ll have to overcome his relatively lackluster production and the perception that he’s not really the engine that drives Alabama’s success. Big games in his remaining matchups against Auburn and in the SEC title game could help him change that perception just enough to tilt the race in his direction. I have a feeling that, while he’s likely to appear on a lot of ballots, he’ll need to finish strong in his home region (the South) to have a shot at winning. That means putting distance between himself and Winston and Manziel — a tall order indeed.

— The conventional wisdom is that Bryce Petty of Baylor is now out of the race as a result of his team’s crushing defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State. But Petty has two more games left to add to his still-impressive resume and his one loss may not be that fatal given that none of the other candidates have been able to pull away from the pack either. The narrative aiding Petty until tonight was that he was leading an unstoppable offense on a Cinderella charge to an undefeated season. That’s now gone and all he’s got left are his numbers and, potentially, the best season in school history. But that attribute doesn’t capture the imagination of voters around the country the way it might with, say, a more traditional power. The problem with Petty is that he never got a chance to break out of his status as a quality regional candidate — he lost that shot tonight. But in a really close race with a lot of candidates getting support, it’s possible that he wins his region and remains a viable contender so long as he finishes strong against TCU and Texas.

— Is Marcus Mariota out of the race after throwing his first two interceptions of the season in his team’s second loss, this one a 42-16 drubbing by Arizona? I believe so. But, again, with so many candidates having so many weaknesses and the race likely coming down to hard-core regionalism, it’s still possible that Mariota’s production and name recognition could attract enough voters out West to give him influence over the final outcome. With Oregon now out of the Pac-12 title game, I can’t see a path to victory, but I can see him getting to New York.

— Heismandment No. 9 looks to be safe for another year and I’d venture to guess that if Johnny Manziel can’t overturn it, who will? Johnny Football had perhaps his worst game in his team’s loss to LSU and won’t win that second Heisman, but if he rebounds with a great outing against Missouri, I think there’s enough sentiment in his favor out there to allow him to have a respectable showing in this race. People know how good he is, even if they don’t think he had the most outstanding season this time around. He might end up weakening Winston (assuming he’s not charged) and McCarron in the South region while also sapping Petty’s strength in the Southwest. I think he’s headed to New York and will likely finish third.

— All the chaos of the day opens up the door for perhaps the most unlikely Heisman candidate in recent memory. I’m talking running back Andre Williams of Boston College. I don’t think he was on anyone’s radar until this weekend and I think most voters still don’t know who he is. But I suspect that is about to change (BC will need to give him a boost). After all, he’s now eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark with one game yet to play. With so many flawed candidates arrayed against him, I think voters might be more inclined to overlook his team’s 7-4 record — keep in mind Toby Gerhart of Stanford was on an 8-4 team in 2009 and he was the runner up in the vote by the closest margin in Heisman history. And it helps that his recent rushing explosion has spurred his team to a four-game win streak. There’s a possibility that Williams captures the vote in the Northeast and does well in the Mid-Atlantic as well. Again, in a close race spread out over several candidates, the winner might not need to capture more than one region. (Note: I think it’s interesting that the ACC could have two Heisman finalists this year after not having a single one since 2000)

— There are definite cases to be made for Jordan Lynch and Derek Carr, but I don’t expect them to be able to get enough national support to make it to New York. Ironically, Lynch and Carr did not benefit much from today’s meltdowns since the lack of a consensus Heisman front runner is more likely to depress their vote totals.  The presence of a clear cut winner usually makes it easier for a voter to take a flyer on a player like Lynch or Carr by putting them in the 2nd or 3rd spots on their ballot. But with so many options still remaining and voters still undecided on a leader, they are likely to be crowded out a bit by the remaining group of contenders. I expect Lynch to influence who wins the MidWest, while Carr will obviously be a factor in the West, but I can’t see either winning their region.

Yes, there are still games to play that will decide this thing. It seems that anything that can happen will happen, which is why we might end up with one of most suspense-filled races in Heisman history before all is said and done.

How would the race go if the vote was held right now? I think it would look something like this (don’t quote me…it’ll probably change next week):

1. Jameis Winston

2. AJ McCarron

3. Johnny Manziel

4. Bryce Petty

5. Andre Williams

6. Marcus Mariota

7. Jordan Lynch

8. Ka’Deem Carey

9. Derek Carr

10. Tajh Boyd

Montana State transfer Dakota Prukop officially named Oregon starting QB

EUGENE, OR -SEPTEMBER 06: A general view of Autzen Stadium during the second quarter of the game between the Oregon Ducks and the Michigan State Spartans at Autzen Stadium on September 6, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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As if there was any doubt, Dakota Prukop will start at quarterback for Oregon this year.

The Montana State transfer arrived in Eugene with the starting role as an understanding, but it was formally confirmed when the Ducks unveiled their depth chart Friday. He’ll start ahead of true freshman Justin Herbert.

Prukop will be the second straight FCS transfer to walk into a starting role at Oregon. Eastern Washington transfer Vernon Adams led the nation in passing efficiency in 10 games last season, hitting 65 percent of his throws for a national-best 10.2 yards per attempt with 26 touchdowns against six picks.

He was the second straight Duck signal caller to lead the nation in passing efficiency, following Marcus Mariota‘s Heisman campaign of 2014.

A native of Austin, Texas, Prukop earned First Team FCS All-America by the Associated Press last season and accumulated 7,347 yards of total offense and 70 total touchdowns.

No. 24 Oregon opens its season next Saturday against UC Davis (5 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Networks).

Auburn S Stephen Roberts arrested for unlawful gun possession, evading arrest

OXFORD, MS - NOVEMBER 01:  Stephen Roberts #14 of the Auburn Tigers celebrates with the Auburn student fans after defeating the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Oxford, Mississippi. Auburn defeated Mississippi 35-31.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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A Wednesday night traffic stop led to an arrest for Auburn safety Stephen Roberts. As reported by AL.com, a traffic stop just before 10 p.m. led to discovery of a handgun Roberts possessed without a permit to carry. Roberts bolted from the car in an attempt to evade arrest, but was apprehended and booked into Lee County Detention Center less than an hour later.

Auburn released a statement saying head coach Gus Malzahn was “aware” of the incident. “He is gathering all the facts and will handle the situation appropriately,” the program said.

Roberts appeared in all 13 games last season and was expected to start at free safety.

Malzahn offered praise to the junior less than a week ago.

“There’s no doubt Stephen Roberts, he was one of our better special teams guys last year,” Malzahn said last week. “He’s got experience at the safety position the second half of the year, had a very good spring. Just turning into one of those leaders of the defensive side that I know(defensive backs coach Wesley) McGriff has a lot of confidence in.

“He’s a savvy football player; he just understands football. He’s starting to develop into the player that we really expected when we recruited him and I’m proud of where he’s at right now. He’s got to go out there, he’s got to keep improving and all that but he’s a football player.”

Both charges are misdemeanors. The maximum sentences carry no more than a year in jail and $6,000 fines. He is due to appear in court Nov. 17.

TCU, Auburn, others name starting quarterbacks

COLUMBIA, SC - AUGUST 28: Kenny Hill #7 of the Texas A&M Aggies drops back to pass South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on August 28, 2014 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Game week is upon us, which means it’s time for those mired in quarterback derbies to declare a winner. At least for Week 1.

A number of announcements have come down the pike of late, so we funneled them all into one post here.

First, TCU announced that Texas A&M transfer and short-lived Heisman favorite Kenny Hill has beaten Alamo Bowl hero Foster Sawyer to win the Horned Frogs’ starting role next Saturday against South Dakota State.

“He’s in as good a shape as I’ve ever seen him,” TCU head coach Gary Patterson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Stronger, faster than he was coming out of high school. I mean, he’s done a great job of re-doing himself.”

Auburn has the unenviable task of opening against college football’s best quarterback in Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and the player charged with that task will be Sean White. The one-time Tiger starter reclaimed his role by beating former Florida State quarterback and Last Chance U. star John Franklin III and incumbent Jeremy Johnson.

“It feels really good,” White told Auburn Undercover. “I feel blessed to be in this position, and I feel responsible to lead this team against Clemson. I’m happy coach put this responsibility on me and my teammates believe in me. I feel like they have a reason to believe in me. We’ll be ready to go come Saturday.”

At Wisconsin, Bart Houston will lead the Badgers on the field as they open against LSU at Lambeau Field. In what may be a savvy karma play, head coach Paul Chryst selected Houston, a fifth-year senior named after Packers legend Bart Starr, over redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook. “I felt like Bart did everything he needed to do and earned the right to get the start,” Chryst said in a release.

At Virginia Tech, new head coach Justin Fuente tabbed Jerod Evans as his starter over fifth-year senior Brenden Motley and true freshman Josh Jackson. A Dallas native and Trinity Valley College transfer, Evans is the first JuCo transfer to ever win the Hokies’ starting gig. Fuente indicated more than just Evans will play in the Hokies’ opener opposite Liberty.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Fuente said, via the Roanoke Times. “We have a lot of development, a lot of coaching, a lot of mentoring left to do with all three.”

Finally, Fresno State selected redshirt freshman Chason Virgil over Ford Childress and Kilton Anderson to start as the Bulldogs open at Nebraska. For Virgil, the announcement comes at the end of a sordid saga after Mississippi State pulled his scholarship offer late in the recruiting process.

“He earned the job. It wasn’t that we’re just selecting somebody,” Fresno head coach Tim DeRuyter said of Virgil, via the Fresno Bee. He clearly separated himself. If you look at the statistics, he had over twice the throws and less than half of the interceptions of any of the guys that were close to him. The longer we were in the system, the clearer it became.”

Baylor DB Travon Blanchard to miss season opener with knee injury

WACO, TX - AUGUST 31:  Matt Davis #4 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs runs the ball against Travon Blanchard #48 of the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Baylor defensive back Travon Blanchard will miss the Bears’ opener after undergoing knee surgery to mend a minor meniscus tear, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports. Senior Patrick Levels is expected to replace him in the starting lineup.

A junior, Blanchard earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 accolades after starting all 13 games as the Bears’ nickelback, where he posted 83 tackles, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three picks, six passes defended, two sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.

Baylor trainers will monitor Blanchard’s progress before approving him to return to the lineup for the Bears’ second game with SMU.

Baylor opens its season next Friday night against Northwestern State.