Setting the stage for the 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony

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Saturday night, and even as anyone with an Internet connection or television set already knows who it will be, one of six players will take home one of the most prestigious awards in all of sports, the Heisman Trophy.

More than likely, viewers won’t be tuning in to see who wins; rather, they’ll take a peek to see if Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston can make it a historic night vote-wise while also becoming the second straight redshirt freshman to claim college football’s highest honor.

Ahead of that ceremony, here’s a quick primer on tomorrow’s activities as well as a brief historical look at the iconic stiff-armed trophy.

WHAT: the 79th Annual Heisman Memorial Trophy
WHERE: New York City
WHEN: Sat., Dec. 14, at 8 pm ET on ESPN
WHO: In addition to Winston, the finalists are Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Auburn running back Tre Mason, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and Boston College running back Andre Williams.

Winston, in his first year as a starter at this level, has already set a slew of school and national freshman records in helping FSU to its first BCS title game since the 1999 season.  Winston finished the regular season leading the nation in passing efficiency; second in passing touchdowns and yards per completion; and eighth in passing yards.

Manziel, of course, is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, becoming the first redshirt freshman to capture the award last year.  In attempting to become the second player to win back-to-back Heismans, Manziel has actually thrown for more yards (3,732-3,706), has more touchdown passes (33-26) and a higher completion percentage (69.1-68) than he did last season.  Where Manziel has lagged is with his feet; after rushing for 1,410 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2012, the A&M quarterback totaled “just” 686 and eight in 2013.

In leading the nation in rushing with 2,102 yards, Williams has topped the 200-yard mark five times and the 300-yard mark once in putting up the ninth-best single-season rushing performance in FBS history.  He’s also just the second BC Eagle to be named a finalist, joining 1984 winner Doug Flutie.  While Lynch plays quarterback, he’s second to Williams in rushing yards with 1,881 and is tied for third in the nation with 22 rushing touchdowns.  The NIU senior is just the third player ever from the MAC to be named a Heisman finalist, joining a pair of players from Marshall — wide receiver Randy Moss (1997) and Chad Pennington (1999).

Tied for third in the country in rushing touchdowns with Lynch is Mason, who, like his Tigers team, seemingly came out of nowhere toward the end of the season to put both himself and his program in the national spotlight.  Mason’s 1,621 yards are sixth in the nation and played a significant role in putting the Tigers into the BCS title game against Winston’s Seminoles.

In McCarron’s three years as a starter, the Tide has gone 36-3 and won a pair of BCS championships.  He’s eighth in the country in passing efficiency this season after finishing No. 1 in 2012, and has thrown just 15 interceptions — and 75 touchdowns — in 996 career attempts.

Finally, some historical tidbits on college football’s biggest award.

FIRST AWARDED: Dec. 9, 1935
FIRST WINNER: University of Chicago running back Jay Berwanger
2012 WINNER: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel
TWO-TIME WINNER
: Ohio State running back Archie Griffin (1974 & 1975)
TAINTED WINNER: USC running back Reggie Bush, who had his 2005 win vacated because of NCAA improprieties.
CLASS BREAKDOWN
: 56 seniors, 17 juniors, three sophomores and one freshman.  Just one senior (Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, 2006) has won the award the past nine years.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: 38 running backs, 31 quarterbacks, three fullbacks and one cornerback; Yale’s Larry Kelley (1936) and Notre Dame’s Leon Hart (1949) are listed as ends on the official Heisman website.  While running back is the position most often awarded, quarterbacks have won 11 of the last 12, the lone exception being Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009.
VOTER BREAKDOWN: The Heisman Memorial Trophy electorate is comprised of 928 sports journalists and every living former Heisman winner — 870 of the former, 58 of the latter. The United States is broken down into six sections (Far West, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, South and Southwest), with 145 media members from each section.

A.J. Brown powers Ole Miss to Egg Bowl win over No. 15 Mississippi State

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No. 14 Mississippi State lost their quarterback, lost the game, lost the Egg Bowl trophy and lost a year’s worth of rivalry trash talk in one fell swoop on a chilly Thanksgiving evening at home. To add insult to injury, they lost all that at the hands of a Starkville native to boot as star receiver A.J. Brown powered Ole Miss to their sweetest victory of the year over their in-state rivals 31-28.

The Rebels needed just three plays and 39 seconds to open the scoring in what was perhaps the team’s best all-around game in several weeks, showing no signs of any tryptophan-induced sluggishness following a traditional turkey day meal. Brown finished the game with 167 yards receiving and a 77 yard touchdown to cap off a terrific return to his hometown in opposing colors, while tailback Jordan Wilkins also chipped in with another 110 yards and two scores on the ground to pace the offense.

The old Landshark defense also made an appearance, with the second worst team in all of FBS when it came to forcing turnovers managing to secure a whopping five turnovers and three sacks.

While the loss was undoubtedly disappointing for the Bulldogs, most of the team’s attention was on their star quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. He entered the game on the verge of another 2,000 yard passing/1,000 yard rushing season but was tackled awkwardly on a three yard run early in the first quarter. Replays showed his ankle to be facing a much different direction than it should as part of a gruesome scene and the signal-caller was carted off to the team’s medical facilities shortly thereafter amid a raucous applause from fans on both sides.

Fitzgerald later returned to the sidelines to cheer on his teammates but it certainly appears that his promising season is over as Mississippi State turns their attention to a bowl game in the coming weeks.

Stepping in at quarterback was freshman Keytaon Thompson, who was much more of a threat with his legs than his arm until a few late drives. He finished the night with 195 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a team-high 121 yards rushing (with another score) in relief. Tailback Aeris Williams managed to rack up 82 yards and a score but faced a stacked line of scrimmage at every turn given the injury to his veteran teammate.

While the injury to Fitzgerald overshadowed the game, the backdrop of Ole Miss’ NCAA infractions case loomed large over the rivalry as much as the game itself. The two schools’ fan bases have been quite chippy and MSU linebacker Leo Lewis — a central figure in the case — was kept in check to the tune of two tackles and a half a sack as the Rebels didn’t attack him like some thought they would.

Perhaps more pressing to some Bulldogs fans is if that was the last Egg Bowl they would see with head coach Dan Mullen patrolling the sidelines. His name has been linked to openings at Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and others in the past few weeks and there is a growing expectation that the most successful coach in school history could have just donned the maroon and white for the final time in a loss.

That’s of no concern across the way as interim coach Matt Luke did a good job rallying the team to their sixth win of the season. The Rebels are not bowl eligible as part of self-imposed sanctions but the satisfaction of beating their rivals probably takes the sting out of that fact just a little bit, especially with a Starkville native like Brown leading the way on Thursday night.

Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald suffers gruesome ankle injury to spoil first half of the Egg Bowl

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The Egg Bowl has returned to Thanksgiving but the game hasn’t gone quite as planned for No. 14 Mississippi State, as they trail Ole Miss 10-6 after a low-scoring first half of play thanks to a shocking injury that brought both sides of the heated rivalry to their feet in unison.

That came early in the first quarter when Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was tackled after a three-yard run, suffering a gruesome ankle injury in the process that saw his foot point in a direction it certainly wasn’t supposed to. He was put in an air cast and carted off the field to perform x-rays immediately afterward and needless to say will not return to the game.

The productive signal-caller was just 1-of-5 passing with an interception and 16 yards rushing when he went down with the injury. Fitzgerald was approaching the 2,000 yard passing and 1,000 yard rushing marks for the season heading into the game and received plenty of support from his fellow football players around the SEC and beyond after suffering such a horrific-looking injury that appears to knock him out for the rest of 2017.

Freshman Keytaon Thompson replaced Fitzgerald behind center and went 3-of-5 passing for 32 yards and an interception. He’s known for his running ability at this stage and did manage a team-high 65 yards on the ground, including a 32 yard scamper. Running back Aeris Williams was fairly limited facing a stacked box against a new quarterback and ran for 41 yards in the half as turnovers (three of them) really hampered MSU in the half.

With Ole Miss ineligible for postseason play even if they won on Thursday night, it was not at all surprising to see the Rebels play better than they have in a long time. The team needed just three plays and 39 seconds on their opening possession to find the end zone and were punching far above their weight defensively too. Wide receiver A.J. Brown was the big play threat once again for the offense, with five catches and 90 yards after just a half of play. In the process, he set a new school single-season record for receiving yards and joined kicker Greg Wunderlich (all-time school leader in FG’s) in the record books for the visitors as they look to  get a little bit of payback for last year’s 55-20 loss in Oxford.

The two programs have split the last six meetings in the hotly contested Egg Bowl rivalry and both appear locked into another close one after a half of play. It’s too bad that an injury to an all-SEC player had to spoil things early on but both the Bulldogs and the Rebels will have to put that behind them as they emerge from the locker room hoping to secure a win after years worth of bad blood.

Odell Beckham Jr. gifts LSU players recently unveiled custom shoes ahead of regular season finale

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LSU has produced plenty of NFL stars in recent years but few identify with the Tigers quite like New York Giants wideout Odell Beckham Jr. does. The Baton Rouge native recently released his first “lifestyle” shoe with Nike last week and has been hitting the press circuit almost as hard as the rehab room as a result to showcase the new kicks.

Not one to forget where he went to school and blossomed into a first round pick, Beckham filmed a video for LSU’s football team this week and really gave the Tigers something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving by giving every player on the team a version of the shoe to wear when they’re suiting up in cleats.

The color isn’t quite a true match for LSU gold but it’s certainly pretty close and even comes with the longitude and latitude of Baton Rouge inscribed. You can probably bet that the team will be wearing them to Tiger Stadium prior to taking on Texas A&M on Saturday in the regular season finale for both sides.

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

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No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.