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.

Judge denies Jerry Sandusky’s request for new trial

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Not surprisingly, a sexual predator who preyed on young boys is staying where he belongs.

Wednesday morning, a judge in Pennsylvania denied Jerry Sandusky’s request for a new trial.  As part of his request, the convicted felon and former Penn State assistant coach had argued that grand jury leaks negatively affected his defense as well as claiming he had incompetent counsel in his first trial.

Sandusky’s new attorneys now have 30 days to file an appeal of Jefferson County President Judge John Foradora’s decision.

Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 child-sex-abuse charges in June of 2012 and is currently serving a sentence of at least 30 years.  Given the fact that he was 66-years-old at the time of his sentencing, it’s effectively a life sentence.

Some of the crimes for which Sandusky was convicted occurred in a Penn State football building and led to what most considered a cover-up of the predator’s actions by myriad university officials.  Sandusky’s arrest resulted in the dismissals of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and president Graham Spanier.  Both Curley and Spanier served jail time in connection to the scandal, the former for child endangerment and the latter endangering the welfare of children.

The scandal also led to historic sanctions levied on the Nittany Lions football program by the NCAA, the bulk of which were ultimately rolled back.

In June of 2015, it was reported that Penn State had paid a total of $93.3 million to 32 victims of the Paterno right-hand man.  Additionally, financial statements from the university showed an additional $33.2 million in payments related to claims connected to Sandusky’s crimes.

Pitt kicker explains decision to kneel during National Anthem

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Outside of a handful of upsets that muddled the chase for the four playoff spots, one of the larger storylines coming out of Week 7 was one player’s decision prior to his team’s game Saturday.

Ian Troost, a white walk-on kicker at Pitt, decided to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem ahead of the North Carolina State game.  Following the loss, head coach Pat Narduzzi and (most) of his teammates expressed their support of the junior’s decision to kneel.

The kicker wasn’t made available to the media afterward to explain his reasoning behind the decision, but, in a phone conversation with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Tuesday, Troost shed light on why he’s following the same path first plowed by Colin Kaepernick last year.  From the Post-Gazette:

It’s not just like ‘Oh, all of a sudden this is happening’ or all of a sudden this is a result of one recent thing; it’s a result of the culmination of things over the past hundreds of years and legislation that has been passed. My original reasons were Colin’s original reasons – to raise awareness of systematic oppression and racial injustice in the United States that we often see through police brutality or the excessive use of force.

Over the past four years of my college career, I have constantly been having these conversations and learning,” he said. “I’ve never been in that situation. I’ve never been stereotyped for the color of my skin. I’ve never been oppressed. I’ve never had to worry about walking down the street at 2 a.m. with a hood on or when I get pulled over by a police officer keeping my hands in sight at all times. I’ve never had to worry about that and I never will have to.

Trost made certain to state that his protest is not meant as a sign of disrespect for the military — a grandfather served in the Air Force while a close friend is at West Point, he noted — and it’s not an indictment of the vast majority of those in law enforcement.

“I do not in any way have anything against law enforcement,” Troost said. “They keep everyone in this country, myself included, safe 99.9 percent of the time. They risk their lives for us and I truly do appreciate that.

“But there are some that need to be brought to justice for ways they’ve acted on the job, while they have the badge on. That’s the main issue.”

Not all of Troost’s teammates were 100-percent behind the kicker, most notablyAvonte Maddox.

“Is really taking that knee going to prove anything?” senior cornerback said last Saturday. “That’s a statement for 30 seconds. You want to take action.

“If you really want to get out and do something, we want to go out in the real world and do things to make actual change, not 30 seconds of fame making a statement out there. Is that really going to help us?”

The newspaper writes that “Troost didn’t see Maddox’s words as a critique, viewing them instead as a teammate holding him accountable.”

Troost says he plans to continue kneeling during games he dresses for this season.  He’s also working with Pitt officials to create what’s described as a diversity inclusion workshop for Pitt athletes

Starting USC DT Josh Fatu in concussion protocol after car wreck

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This is one you don’t see very often.

USC’s Josh Fatu was involved in a multi-car accident and is currently in concussion protocol because of a head injury he received in the incident, head coach Clay Helton confirmed Tuesday.  The coach added that the accident in which Fatu sustained the injury was not the defensive tackle’s fault.

Fatu has not been ruled out for Saturday’s game against USC, and is officially listed as day-to-day for the annual rivalry clash.

Heading into Week 8, Fatu had started every game along the defensive line this season for the Trojans.  His seven tackles for loss are currently second on the Trojans behind Christian Rector‘s eight, while his five sacks are behind just Rector’s 6.5.

If Fatu is unable to go against the Irish, Brandon Pili will likely take over as the starter.

Given Scott-Frost-Nebraska chatter, UCF announces funding initiative

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If a Power Five program truly wants a Group of Five head coach, there’s little the latter can do.  That, though, isn’t stopping UCF from at least trying to stave off the inevitable.

Mike Riley could very well be on the hot seat at Nebraska, leading to speculation, especially with a new athletic director, that he could be three-and-done in Lincoln.  While some chatter on any potential replacement has involved a pirate, a favorite son has significant support amongst the fan base if a change is made.

Not only is Scott Frost a former Nebraska quarterback, but, as the head coach at UCF, he has the Knights ranked 20th nationally with a 5-0 start.  And that’s coming off a six-win first season for Frost with a program that was winless the year before he arrived.

The pedigree as both a player and young head coach would make him a natural fit at a place like Nebraska, which explains why Frost’s current employer announced Tuesday an initiative to “secure commitments of over $1.5 million annually for the next five years” for the football program.  Specifically, any money raised would largely be used to enhance coaching salaries, both for the head coach and his assistants.

Called the UCF Football Excellence Fund, the program is “pursuing gift commitments ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 annually to further enhance the program’s operating resources.”  Frost himself has already committed his own money to the fund.

“I’m very excited about the success we’ve had in our time here and I’m committed to helping this program continue growing,” Frost said. “I’m happy to be part of the UCF Football Excellence Fund. We need more resources to keep taking this program where we want it to go. I’m hopeful my support will be a catalyst for others to jump on board and take part.”

According to the USA Today‘s salary database, Frost’s $1.7 million salary in 2016 was sixth among AAC head coaches, although the top two, Houston’s Tom Herman and Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville, are no longer with those programs.  With built-in raises, Frost will likely make in the neighborhood of $2 million for this season.

That said, we go back to what was written as the opening sentence: If a Power Five program truly wants a Group of Five head coach, there’s little the latter can do — even if it’s not the 42-year-old Frost’s alma mater that comes calling.