Andre Williams, Sean Davis

Where the Heisman race stands


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

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
AP Photo

It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.