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.

Hugh Freeze reportedly made at least a dozen calls to escort services as Ole Miss coach

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Former Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze dialed “at least 12” numbers associated with escort services through online advertisements, according to a review of open records obtained by ESPN.com. The calls took place over a 33-month period, stretching from April 2014 through January 2017, and typically lasted two minutes or less.

Those calls appear to be what Ole Miss chancellor Jeffrey Vitter referenced as “a pattern of personal misconduct” on the night he resigned. The calls are the second phone related-issue connected to Freeze’s dismissal. He also made at least 200 calls to a booster that is under NCAA investigation.

There are two puzzling aspects to Freeze’s calls to escort services: A) that he made the calls on a university-owned cell phone in the first place, and B) that Freeze did not redact the calls from the records request, since other private calls were removed from the public review of his 39,000 calls as the Rebels’ head coach.

“Any personal calls having no relation to UM business are not public records,” Ole Miss attorney Robert T. Jolly wrote in an email to ESPN. “Personal calls will be clearly marked and redacted from the documents released.”

Freeze went 39-25 in five seasons as the Ole Miss head coach, peaking with back-to-back wins over Alabama and a long-awaited Sugar Bowl victory to close the 2015 season but ending with a 5-7 mark and a self-imposed bowl ban for the 2017 season, which will be coached by interim Matt Luke. Ole Miss will sit before the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions on Sept. 11, with Freeze’s character and strict adherence to NCAA recruiting rules a cornerstone of the school’s defense.

Reports: Oklahoma State RB Jeff Carr to transfer

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Jeff Carr is planning to transfer from Oklahoma State, according to a report from Pokes sidelines reporter Robert Allen. That report has since been confirmed by the Tulsa World and The Oklahoman. Carr has since been removed from Oklahoma State’s online roster.

A junior, Carr was Oklahoma State’s most experienced running back but was passed on the depth chart by sophomore Justice Hill. Hill ran the ball 206 times for 1,142 yards and six touchdowns a year ago, while Carr rushed 12 times for 83 yards and one score. His 6.92 yards per carry average led the team. Carr rushed 36 times for 142 yards and one score as a freshman in 2015. Carr also saw his touches as a kickoff returner (29 returns to three) and a receiver (11 catches to one) fall from 2015 to ’16.

After losing the Temple, Texas, native, Oklahoma State will have five running backs on scholarship — four freshmen and one sophomore, Hill.

Multiple outlets have reported Carr is headed to Texas A&M-Kingsville, a Division II school that will permit Carr to play immediately.

Georgia Southern names redshirt freshman Shai Werts starting QB

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Georgia Southern is rolling with a freshman at quarterback this season.

The Eagles have announced that redshirt freshman Shai Werts will be the club’s starting signal caller to begin the season. Werts beat out junior college transfer Kado Brown and junior LaBaron Anthony to win the job.

“I think Shai certainly came in and took the majority amount of snaps with the ones both in spring practice and in camp and I thought he did a great job,” head coach Tyson Summers said in a statement. “I think that you see him have a very clear understanding of what we want do on offense. I think you see him have a very clear understanding of what he’s got to work on to get better at and I think that he’s done a tremendous job from a leadership standpoint on the field and in the classroom and in the meeting room. He’s certainly one of the key leaders for our entire football team, not just in the quarterback room and not just the offense, so I’m very proud of Shai.”

Werts replaces Georgia Southern’s two departed quarterbacks in seniors Kevin Ellison and Fabian Upshaw. The pair combined to complete 112-of-190 passes (58.9 percent) for 1,485 yards (7.82 yards per attempt) with 12 touchdowns against five interceptions while rushing 208 times for 1,019 yards (4.9 per carry) with nine touchdowns. As a team, Georgia Southern ranked 101st nationally in yards per play and 78th in scoring.

A native of Clinton, S.C., Werts stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 190 pounds. He was named the HSSR-SCHSL Division I AA Offensive Player of the Year as a senior at Newberry High School.

“All the work I’ve been putting in, it’s finally paid off,” Werts said. “I called my mom and she just went crazy so I’m glad that she’s proud of me and I can’t wait to tell the rest of my family.”

Werts will kick off its season at No. 12 Auburn on Sept. 2 (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network).

UCLA, Wisconsin reach agreement on future home-and-home

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Still a dozen years down the scheduling road, a future Big Ten-Pac-12 series has nonetheless been revealed.

UCLA and Wisconsin announced Tuesday that the two football programs have reached an agreement on a future home-and-home.  The two teams play at the Rose Bowl on Sept. 15, 2029, and at Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 7, 2030.

“UCLA is one of the premier programs in college football,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said in a statement. “We had some memorable bowl games when I was on the sidelines but this is a great opportunity for us to play them at Camp Randall. Non-conference scheduling is always a challenge but the folks at UCLA have been great to deal with and we look forward to the series.”

The two teams have met 11 times previously, the most recent coming in the 2000 Sun Bowl.  The last regular season meeting between the programs came in 1982.

The Bruins own a 7-4 advantage in the all-time series, including a perfect 5-0 mark in Madison.  The Badgers, though, have won the last three meetings, all of which came in the postseason and the first two of which were Rose Bowl victories.