Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston

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.

Josh Sweat should be good to go for FSU vs. UNC

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Josh Sweat #9 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with a first half interception against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Derwin James is still at least a couple of weeks or so away from returning from his injury, but Florida State will likely get a talented defensive player back on the field this weekend anyway.

When asked Thursday if defensive end Josh Sweat will be available for the North Carolina game this weekend, Jimbo Fisher responded, “oh yeah.” Sweat sustained a meniscus injury in practice leading up to the Louisville game in Week 3 and, after it limited him in that contest, underwent surgery to repair the damage shortly thereafter.

At the time, the prognosis for a return was 1-2 weeks. Sweat missed the win over USF last weekend, but could see the field this weekend as he’s practiced the past couple of days.

“Healing really well, looks great” Fisher said in quotes distributed by the team. “We’ll see [Friday] morning, but [the knee] looks great.”

Sweat started nine of 13 games as a true freshman last season, and started the first two games in 2016 before the knee issue surfaced.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.