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

Arkansas starting QB Austin Allen could miss another couple weeks

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It appears Arkansas will be without its starting quarterback for a while longer than just one week.

An injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in the Week 6 loss to South Carolina knocked Austin Allen out of the game.  After some initial uncertainty in the week leading up to the Week 7 game against top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Allen was indeed ruled out for what turned into a 41-9 loss.

With No. 21 Auburn up next, Bret Bielema all but ruled the senior out of the Week 7 matchup.  Additionally, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has reported that Allen could miss up to three more weeks after being sidelined last weekend.

“If it came to a point later in the week where he could practice Thursday, I think there’s merit to (Allen returning this week),” Bielema said. “Where he’s at right now, I’d say we’re still a couple of weeks away, but Austin is a guy who surprises a lot of people and if he can go and do things, it’s a positive for us.”

Should the three-week timeline come into play, he would miss the AU game as well as contests against Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina before returning for the road trip to LSU Nov. 11.

If Allen is indeed sidelined, Cole Kelley (pictured) would again take his place.  Making his first career start, the redshirt freshman completed 23-of-42 passes for 200 yards, one touchdown and one interception on the road against the vaunted Crimson Tide.

Butch Jones says the most Butch Jones quote of all time

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It’s become a theory among some in the media that Butch Jones is conducting a social experiment or participating some sort of performance art. While that’s the more charitable and fun interpretation, I tend to think the Tennessee head coach is just frighteningly insecure and, thus, fighting for every inch of public approval he can in a likely doomed attempt to keep his job.

That approach has backed him into some verbal corners that, in the long run, make his job more difficult on himself.

I’m talking about the “Champions of Life” quote of last season or, in February, actually stating that he didn’t want 5-star players, he wanted 5-star hearts.

This season has seen Jones go on an odd rant blaming the media for negative recruiting and saying Tennessee had one of the best bye weeks ever last week.

It wasn’t one of the best bye weeks ever, because Tennessee lost at home to South Carolina, 15-9. And you’re not going to believe Jones’s explanation for why Tennessee loss. Scratch that. You will believe his explanation, and that’s the problem here, isn’t it?

Here’s the full quote.

Jones is 33-24 in his four-plus seasons in Knoxville, and 14-21 in the SEC. Those numbers will likely fall to 33-25 and 14-22 after Saturday, when the Vols face No. 1 Alabama. The end is likely near.

And here’s the grand irony of Jones’s everything’s-sunny-here p.r. strategy: his attempt to keep his job by stating blatantly cliche quotes in the state of the obvious will live on much longer than Jones’s actual tenure. Two and three years from now, when Jones is working on someone else’s staff or sitting on his buyout money, the next time an on-the-hot-seat coach says his team won the game everywhere except the scoreboard, we’ll see he Pulled a Butch.

Houston Nutt settles lawsuit with Ole Miss

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Houston Nutt wanted money and an apology from Ole Miss. He’ll have to settle for the second of the two — and a largely different future for the program he used to lead.

It was Nutt’s lawsuit, remember, which exposed the documents that led to a Mississippi State fan finding Hugh Freeze‘s call to a Tampa escort service, which led to Freeze’s resignation, which led to… we have no idea what it will lead to, but, whatever that future is, it will be wildly different than if Freeze was still the Rebels’ coach.

Nutt amended his lawsuit in August to seek simply an apology from Ole Miss, and that apology finally came on Monday.

Each side released their own bitter, short statements.

Nutt will go on, with his apology but without any monetary compensation, while Ole Miss will play out the string of this season, hire a new coach, and move into a future that will be immeasurably different that the one it would have lived had it apologized to Nutt in the first place.

Washington loses LT Adams, CB Miller for the season

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No. 12 Washington’s loss to Arizona State was a disaster on the field — for more reasons than one.

The Huskies not only put their College Football Playoff hopes in danger — they’ll need to sweep their next six games, including a finishing kick that calls for games against No. 22 Stanford, No. 15 Washington State and, presumably, No. 11 USC, two of them away from Seattle. But the road to get there became noticeably more difficult after losing two starters.

Left tackle Trey Adams suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, and cornerback Jordan Miller sustained a broken ankle. Head coach Chris Petersen confirmed Monday that both will be lost for the season. Miller is the third Husky this season to suffer a broken ankle.

The Seattle Times noted that Washington is also without another starting corner in Byron Murphy, who is expected to return later this year from a broken foot. The Huskies are expected to replace Miller with either a pair of true freshmen or a converted running back.

But Adams may be the bigger loss for the Huskies. A junior, Adams was widely expected to be a first round pick in this spring’s NFL Draft. It’s the second straight season Washington has lost a key player in the trenches to a season-ending injury; a year ago, it was linebackers Joe Mathis, who finished one sack away from the team lead despite playing in only seven games, and third-leading tackler Azeem Victor.