Jameis Winston tops final HeismanPundit Straw Poll

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For the second year in a row, a redshirt freshman has topped the college football season’s final HeismanPundit.com Heisman Straw Poll.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston collected seven out of 10 possible first-place votes and totaled a season-best 26 points from the weekly survey of Heisman voters, putting him on the verge of becoming a landslide winner of the most prestigious trophy in sports.

The result comes just five days after Florida state authorities decided against charging Winston for felony sexual assault and two days after the freshman led the Seminoles to a 45-7 victory over Duke in the ACC title game to complete an undefeated regular season.

To get to this point, Winston set NCAA freshman records this season for passing yards (3,820) and passing touchdowns (38) and produced a passer rating of 190.06, just below the all-time efficiency mark of 191.78 held by Russell Wilson of Wisconsin. If, as the poll predicts, Winston goes on to win the Heisman, he’ll do so with the highest passer rating in the trophy’s history.

He will be the third Florida State player to win the Heisman and first since Chris Weinke did so in 2000, which was also the last time the Seminoles made it to the BCS national title game. He’s also set to be the youngest player to win the trophy, beating out Alabama’s Mark Ingram by 14 days.

“He’s been spectacular all season,” said one voter. “Florida State has been a juggernaut on offense and he’s the main reason for it. No other candidate has been as consistent as he has been.”

The lack of consistency by other candidates in the race is reflected in the poll’s results, which includes a HeismanPundit Straw Poll-record 12 players in the final balloting, topping the 11 selected in 2009′s final poll (when Mark Ingram defeated Toby Gerhart by the closest vote in Heisman history).

If this year’s poll is correct, Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch will take second in the race and claim the highest Heisman finish by a non-BCS-conference player in the BCS era. Lynch grabbed two first-place votes to finish with eight points, well behind Winston’s total.

Defending winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M was third with seven points, while running back Tre Mason of Auburn picked up the last first-place vote to finish fourth with five points.

Alabama’s AJ McCarron was fifth with four points.

Now in its eighth season, the HeismanPundit.com Heisman Straw Poll is the college football world’s most trusted gauge of Heisman voter sentiment. It has been the most accurate Heisman poll in the country during the past seven seasons, with the final 2012 poll correctly picking the top five finishers and the final 2011 poll picking the top seven. This year’s poll is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters from across the country. Each week during the season they picked three players. Tabulations for the preseason poll are tabulated like a real Heisman ballot, with three points awarded for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote.

Each week’s poll was released on Tuesdays throughout the season at HeismanPundit.com. Heisman votes are due on Monday, Dec. 9 at 5 p.m ET. The finalists for the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony will be announced at 6 p.m. on Dec. 9 and the trophy will be awarded on Saturday, Dec. 14.

The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Straw Poll, 12/9/2013

Total Points (with first place votes in parentheses)

1. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State — 26 (7)

2. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois — 8 (2)

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — 7

4. Tre Mason, RB, Auburn — 5 (1)

5. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama — 4

6. (tie) Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 2

Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State — 2

8. (tie) Andre Williams, RB, Boston College — 1

Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor — 1

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville — 1

Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford — 1

Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh — 1

Number of ballots
Winston — 8
Lynch — 4
McCarron — 4
Manziel — 4
Mason — 3

Everyone else — 1

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas set to give DC Todd Orlando new contract with raise to $1.7 million a year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: “There are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC.”

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.