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


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.

Army ‘will probably’ give RB Kell Walker a shot at playing QB

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With uncertainty surrounding Ahmad Bradshaw, Army will apparently leave no stone unturned when it comes to the triggerman for its offense.

While Bradshaw, the Black Knights’ starting quarterback the past three seasons, will be a cadet at the service academy this fall, it’s unclear — or even unlikely — that he’ll be permitted to play football in 2018.  In December of last year, the Army defended an internal investigation that concluded Bradshaw and a female cadet had a consensual sexual relationship.

“We are,” head coach Jeff Monken said according to the Times Herald-Record when asked if the football team is moving forward under the assumption that Bradshaw will not be available this season. “We kind of have to move in that direction because we don’t know what the status is going to be. Right now, we are just preparing for us to have a new quarterback.”

With that in mind, Monken also confirmed this week “that sophomore slotback Kell Walker ‘will probably’ get a look at quarterback when the Black Knights open spring practice Tuesday,” Sal Interdonato of HudsonValley.com wrote.  Walker, who was third on the Black Knights in rushing last season (629 yards) and led them in yards per carry at 7.3, has never played quarterback before at any level.

Army, of course, is unique in that its offense allows them to even attempt such an experiment as their run-heavy system resulted in just 65 passes in 13 games last season.  Conversely, they led the nation in rushing at 362.3 yards per game.

“We will probably play him there some just to see what he is capable of doing,” Monken said of Walker by way of the Herald-Record. “We obviously want to get the ball in his hands as often as we can. He’s a good player for us. I think that would be a way to do that. I just don’t know if he’s going to be the guy that can lead our offense.

“The leadership piece for the quarterback is maybe as important as anything. I think he’s a good leader whether he will be able to lead from that position I do not know.”

The potential loss of Bradshaw, though, can’t be understated.  As a junior last season, Bradshaw ran for a school-record 1,746 yards and accounted for 14 of the Black Knights’ 50 rushing touchdowns.

The Walker experiment notwithstanding, Kelvin Hopkins will likely head into the spring as the favorite to replace Bradshaw under center.  The sophomore was the only player other than Bradshaw to attempt a pass last season, throwing 18 times (six completions) for 76 yards, one touchdown and one interception.  He also carried the ball seven times for 40 yards.

Alabama reportedly completes 2019 schedule with game against FCS Western Carolina

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Alabama’s still six months or so away from beginning the defense of its 2017 national championship, but there is some scheduling news for the following season to note.

According to FBSchedules.com, Alabama has signed a contract to play a game Nov. 23, 2019, against Western Carolina at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. The FCS program will receive a $525,000 guarantee to play what’s essentially a scrimmage that counts in the standings.

That game completes the Crimson Tide’s schedule for the 2019 season. UA had previously announced games against Duke on Aug. 31 of that year, as well ones against New Mexico State (Sept. 7) and Southern Miss (Sept. 21).

The game against the Blue Devils will be a “neutral-site” affair in Atlanta as one of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games that year.

As for the game against Western Carolina, it will mark Alabama’s fifth matchup with the FCS school. The Tide won the previous four meetings, obviously, and won that quartet games by a combined score of 201-20. The first meeting came in 2004, the last in 2014.

Head coach Mike Sanford assumes Western Kentucky play-calling duties

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Mike Sanford is getting back to the roots that helped him land his first head-coaching job in the first place.

Last season, Junior Adams served as the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky in addition to his duties as wide receivers coach.  While he will maintain those continue carrying those titles in 2018, the Bowling Green Daily News reports, Sanford will take over as the game-day play-caller.  Prior to coming to WKU, Sanford was the coordinator at both Notre Dame (2015-16) and Boise State (2-14).

Last season, the Hilltoppers were 89th nationally and 10th in Conference USA in scoring at 25.5 points per game.

In addition to Sanford taking over as the primary play-caller, the school also noted on its official website that “Sanford intends to take a more hands-on approach to the quarterbacks this season and will be aided with the addition of Matthew Mitchell as quarterbacks coach.”  Last season, Mitchell was an offensive graduate assistant for the Hilltoppers.

The need for a new quarterbacks coach arose after Steve Spurrier Jr. left in February for a job at Washington State.

Cal confirms addition of Michigan transfer Moe Ways

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A day after it was announced on social media, Cal has officially added a Power Five transfer.

Sunday, Maurice “Moe” Ways revealed on Instagram that he would be transferring from Michigan to Cal.  Monday evening, the Golden Bears announced that the wide receiver has signed a financial aid agreement with the university and will play for the football team in 2018.

Ways will be coming to Berkeley from Ann Arbor as a graduate transfer.  The upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

In addition to the, uh, addition of Ways, Cal also announced that junior college outside linebacker Deon White has also been added to the roster.

“We are excited that Maurice and Deon are joining our program,” head coach Justin Wilcox said in a statement. “Both have tremendous upsides and with their skill sets we feel that they will help us immediately.”

A three-star member of the Wolverines’ 2014 recruiting class, Ways was rated as the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Michigan.

In 25 career games, the former Detroit Country Day high schooler caught eight passes for 71 yards.  Ways started two of those contests, with both of those starts coming during his redshirt freshman season in 2015.