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

Mark Dantonio ‘disappointed’ watching Connor Cook’s draft free fall

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 14: Head coach Mark Dantonio and Connor Cook #18 of the Michigan State Spartans look on during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Spartan Stadium on November 14, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Maryland 24-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Every year a player falls unexpectedly in the draft, and this year’s poster boy, aside from Laremy Tunsil‘s gas mask bong and Confederate flag imbroglio, on that front was Connor Cook.

The former Michigan State quarterback was thought by some to have a chance at landing toward the end of the first round, with most seeing him scooped up before the end of the second round. Instead, Cook watched as 99 other players, including six fellow quarterbacks, were selected before hearing his name called by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round.

It was a mighty tumble for a prospect whose biggest flaw, according to draftniks, was leadership — he famously wasn’t elected as a captain of the Spartans in the preseason, which some considered quite revealing, and damning, for a three-year starter at quarterback.

As hard as it was on Cook, it was just as hard on his former head coach. After watching Cook lead his Spartans to a 34-5 record as a starter the last three years, Mark Dantonio found it difficult to digest his former player’s free fall.

“I was probably living through the entire thing, as well, watched the entire draft,” Dantonio said by way of mlive.com. “I was disappointed. I think that Connor is an excellent football player. He’s done a tremendous job for us here and for his football team, and a lot of that success that we’ve had can be credited to his play and his leadership on our football team. …

“I think it did wear on him as time went on, but he tried to continue to stay above it. I remember when Kirk Cousins was drafted and he was really disappointed in the fact that he had gone in the fourth round and they had drafted a guy in the second round and the first round, and what did that do for his future.”

Speaking of Cousins, the Washington Redskins quarterback who supplanted former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III as the starter, he offered up some encouragement to his fellow Spartan.

Four Auburn Tigers arrested for pot possession

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28:  Richard Mullaney #16 of the Alabama Crimson Tide fails to pull in this reception against Carlton Davis #18 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With another weekend in the books, it’s time to, once again, reset ye olde arrest ticker.

The latest football program to send the tracker back to double zeroes is Auburn, with the Opelika-Auburn News reporting that four Tigers football players, defensive end Byron Cowart, defensive back Carlton Davis, wide receiver Ryan Davis and defensive back Jeremiah Dinson, were arrested by the Auburn police department late Saturday night.  According to the News, all four were arrested on a single charge each of second-degree possession of marijuana.

The papers write that “[s]econd degree marijuana possession is listed under Alabama Code – Section 13A-12-214 as a person who commits the crime if said person possesses marijuana for personal use only.”

Head coach Gus Malzahn told the News that he is “aware of the situation and we will handle this matter appropriately.”

The defensive back Davis is the most noteworthy of the pot-smoking foursome.  As a true freshman in 2015, he started at corner for the Tigers and led all SEC freshmen with three interceptions.  He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team at the end of the season.

Cowart, a five-star 2015 signee, played in all 13 games as a true freshman, while Dinson played in nine games in his first season with the Tigers.  The receiver Davis, also a true freshman, didn’t have a reception in 2015 but ran the ball twice for 20 yards.  Davis’ first college carry went for 28 yards.

ESPN tabs seven Big Ten games for primetime kickoffs

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN)
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Mark your calendars, because these are only five months away! (/sobs)

ESPN on Monday announced seven Big Ten games that’ll kick off in primetime, either on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, this upcoming season. Not surprisingly, six of the seven feature either Ohio State or Michigan. The list:

Oct. 8: Michigan at Rutgers (7 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 15: Ohio State at Wisconsin (8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 22: Ohio State at Penn State (8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 29: Northwestern at Ohio State (5:30 p.m. ET)
Oct. 29: Nebraska at Wisconsin (7 p.m. ET)
Nov. 5: Nebraska at Ohio State (8 p.m. ET)
Nov. 12: Michigan at Iowa (7 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET)

Noticeably absent from this list is Michigan State, though the Big Ten has a deal with Fox, too, meaning the Spartans will almost certainly play in primetime at some point this season. Plus, Ohio State and Michigan equal ratings, no matter how good either team is (and both are expected to be pretty good this season, of course).

 

ECU transfer QB Kurt Benkert moves on to Virginia

In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert rolls out to pass during NCAA college football practice in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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On April 25, East Carolina announced that Kurt Benkert had decided to transfer out of the Pirates football program.  Less than a week later, the quarterback has found himself a new football home.

On Twitter Sunday afternoon, Benkert confirmed that he will be enrolling at Virginia and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Cavaliers.  Beckert also acknowledged his decision in a text message to 247Sports.com.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Beckert said in a portion of the brief text.

As Beckert is headed to UVa. as a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play for the Hoos immediately in 2016.  Not only that, but he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Beckert was named the Pirates’ starter in early August of 2015, but sustained a right knee injury a couple of weeks later that knocked him out for the entire season.  In Charlottesville, Beckert will join a competition that includes returning starter Matt Johns and Texas/Arizona transfer Connor Brewer.