Unsettled Heisman race still up in the air with one week to go

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This year’s Heisman race has been atypical, to say the least.

Usually at this time of the season, the identity of the winner is pretty clear. But this year’s race has been so unsettled, it’s hard to say with any certainty what’s going to happen.

Let’s recap how we got here.

The season started out with Braxton Miller of Ohio State as the front runner. He got hurt and missed three games. That elevated Marcus Mariota of Oregon to the front runner spot. He looked strong for a while, but his production tapered off a bit, along with his team, in early November (possibly due to injury). As a result, Florida State freshman Jameis Winston became the leader, but now he’s involved in a rape investigation and it’s possible that felony charges are pending as the Heisman voting deadline of Dec. 9 approaches.

The field of candidates below these three has ebbed and flowed. Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville ceased to be a serious candidate when his team lost to UCF in October. Tajh Boyd of Clemson lost his shot when his team was shellacked by Winston’s Florida State squad. Aaron Murray of Georgia fell of when injuries sapped his team’s strength. Bryce Petty of Baylor looked to have a chance but his candidacy was wounded (though perhaps not mortally) when Oklahoma State routed the Bears a couple weekends ago. The slow and steady runner in the race, AJ McCarron of Alabama, lost his prime attribute — his role as the quarterback for a team going for an unprecedented third-straight national title — when Auburn beat the Tide on Saturday. Boston College’s Andre Williams lost his chance to put an exclamation point on his superb season when he was injured against Syracuse, limiting his output against the Orange to just 29 yards. Derek Carr of Fresno State’s fabulous season was marred by his team’s late loss to San Jose State. Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois continued his remarkable run, but has failed to catch fire at the national level. And, yes, Johnny Manziel was the latest victim of Heismandment No. 9, long may it live.

The major issue hanging over the race is the investigation of Winston. Since he is unlikely to be charged before the Heisman ballots are due, voters are going to have to think long and hard about whether or not to give him the benefit of the doubt. One of the ironies of this race is that the more unsettled it becomes, the more it likely benefits Winston. After all, spurning the FSU freshman is easier to do if there is a consensus alternative to choose from. For about 30 minutes on Saturday, it looked like McCarron might emerge as that guy — and he still might — but Bama’s loss clouds that possibility. So who is that consensus alternative now?

Complicating this analysis a bit is the fact that a few games still yet to be played can sway the race one way or the other. Lynch has a chance to become college football’s first 2,000 passer/2,000 rusher if he has a huge rushing performance in the MAC title game. If he does that, he might give voters wavering over Winston a viable alternative, which may result in denying Winston the trophy (that it would then go to Lynch seems to be a long shot, but stranger things have happened).

Winston himself plays Duke in the ACC title game, affording him another chance to pad his already-considerable production. Baylor takes on Texas, which means Petty has one more shot to impress voters. And Miller will be featured in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State. While Miller won’t win the Heisman, he (and Lynch and Petty) could determine its outcome by sucking away votes that might otherwise go to other contenders.

How the regions shake out will determine the winner. We have a good idea who might win the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, South and Southwest, but who will win the Far West and MidWest?

The results of this year’s voting could look very much like it did in 2001 (Eric Crouch) and 1962 (Terry Baker). In those years, the victor won by small margins with a point total in the realm of 700 points or so. As many as five contenders below them gained significant enough support to either win a region or depress the winner’s support in a region or two. In Crouch’s case, he won the Heisman despite winning just one region while the runner up, Rex Grossman, won two. We could also see a situation like 1994, when the Heisman Trust decided to invite six finalists to the awards ceremony as a result of significant strength by numerous candidates down the list. Whatever the case, I suspect at least five finalists are in the cards for this year’s ceremony.

There are several outstanding candidates to choose from in this race. As usual, the player who enough voters deem had the most outstanding season will win the trophy. Figuring out who that player will be requires an understanding of what voters look for when making their choice. However, as a Heisman voter myself, I am truly conflicted in this matter. I really have no idea what my final ballot will look like.

Anecdotal evidence suggests I am not alone in this outlook and that’s why this year’s ceremony could be the most suspenseful and dramatic of all time.

Shutout in first half, No. 25 Memphis tops Houston 42-38

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If there was ever a dictionary definition of a tale of two halves, this game was it.

Through two quarters of play, Houston held a relatively comfortable 17-0 lead on No. 25 Memphis as the AAC teams headed into their respective halftime locker rooms.  When the second-half dust had settled, the Tigers had righted themselves en route to a 42-point last two quarters in a stunning 42-38 come-from-behind win over the Cougars.

Riley Ferguson passed for 471 yards in the win, although he had just one touchdown pass on the night.  Patrick Taylor managed the scoring load for the Tigers, though, as he scored four rushing touchdowns on 14 carries for 39 yards; Taylor had just three touchdowns the first seven games of the season entering Thursday night.

Despite Memphis’ second-half scoring deluge, homestanding Houston actually held a 10-point lead with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.  Turnovers on their last two possessions, however, torpedoed any chance of the home upset of a ranked conference foe.

With the win, Memphis moves to 3-1 in American Athletic Conference play and into a temporary tie with Navy, which plays No. 20 UCF Saturday, for the top spot in the Group of Five conference’s West Division.

Washington State’s leading receiver suspended for Colorado game after reportedly getting a tad angry

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While everybody on the Palouse is worried about Mike Leach following athletic director Bill Moos to Nebraska this week, a more pressing concern for Washington State is getting back on track and beating Colorado on Saturday night.

That might be just a tad bit tougher now because the school has suspended leading receiver Tavares Martin Jr.’s for one game following his actions subsequent to the team’s loss at Cal last Friday. The reason he won’t suit up when the Buffs roll into Pullman? It seems he got a tad angry, throwing a bit of a temper tantrum and skipping a practice.

“He was a little angry, saying things hadn’t gone his way the last couple of games. He broke a team rule and needs to be punished for that,” the receiver’s father, Tavares Martin Sr., told The Seattle Times. “He just made a mistake, and he had to pay a price for it. It was a miscommunication between him and the coaches. He was upset. He said he felt like he should have been more involved in that game.”

Martin Jr. leads the team in receiving yards (502) and touchdowns (seven) after starting all seven games this season. Despite that, he had just three catches in the Cougars’ 37-3 loss in Berkeley that caused them to tumble out of the top 10.

The Florida native reportedly apologized for his actions and was placed on the scout team in practices prior to playing Colorado. It seems the stiff lesson is being learned quickly though as he is expected to be back for Wazzu’s game at Arizona next Saturday — likely with a much different attitude.

Notre Dame LB Greer Martini out for USC game after knee procedure

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The greatest intersectional rivalry in college football between USC and Notre Dame is turning into a potential battle of walking wounded on defense. The latest name on the injury list? Irish linebacker Greer Martini.

The starter and team leader has been dealing with a knee injury he suffered in practice and while there was some thought he could be back for Saturday’s massive showdown with the team’s rivals from Los Angeles, that appears not to be the case. Indianapolis Star beat writer Laken Litman reported on Thursday afternoon that Brian Kelly confirmed after practice Martini would miss the game and that he had a surgical procedure to clean up an unspecified meniscus injury on his knee.

Martini is a captain on the team and the third leading tackler on the defense. In his absence, junior Te’von Coney likely slides into the starting lineup at linebacker. The good news might be that Martini could be back for an equally important game against N.C. State that could loom large in any College Football Playoff discussion next month.

The Trojans are dealing with the loss of defensive tackle Josh Fatu and linebacker Porter Gustin for this week’s trip to South Bend as well so both sides have a number of injuries that could hamper their ability to stop the run on Saturday. Given that the game will feature two of the best tailbacks in the country in Ronald Jones and Josh Adams, things could turn into a track meet come kickoff time on NBC.

Michigan State RB LJ Scott reportedly arrested (for a seventh time!) over driving without valid license

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It seems the tumultuous offseason that Mark Dantonio has experienced dating back to last year is not ending with the 2017 campaign being well underway for his Spartans. That’s because the Michigan State head coach is dealing with yet another headache, this time caused by star running back LJ ScottThe Lansing State Journal reports that Scott was arrested on Wednesday for driving on a suspended license.

Now you might say, oh that’s not that big of a deal all things considered. Generally you’d be correct depending on the circumstances. Yet in this case it kind of is a big deal because this is the seventh time — yes, seven times — Scott has been arrested for the same general offense. So yeah.

Per the LSJ:

‘Scott, 21, was arrested and later released on a personal recognizance bond, East Lansing Police spokesman Lt. Chad Connelly said Thursday. He declined to comment further because Scott has not yet been arraigned.

The charge carries up to a year in jail if Scott is convicted because he has at least one prior conviction on the same charge, which is typically a 93-day misdemeanor.’

What might be worse is that the junior has been cited for the same issue across two different states, including Michigan and his native Ohio. The first instance happened back in February 2016 according to the paper, but charges were dropped after a citation was issued and a fine paid. Scott got caught later in March 2016 when he was speeding, another time in April 2016 after being involved in a car crash, and yet again in July 2016 by campus police.

But wait, there’s more.

Scott was pulled over and charged again this past March and another time as recently as July. The LSJ does not have information as to why his license was suspended in the first place but we can offer a few guesses.

What might be even more infuriating for Dantonio and the coaching staff is that Scott just posted a career high against Minnesota (194 yards) and seemed to finally emerge as the primary ball carrier over senior Gerald Holmes and fellow junior Madre London.

The school had not released a statement regarding the matter but it’s probably safe to assume that the Spartans will be without Scott on Saturday when they play Indiana.