Jameis Winston

What the BCS title game means to the 2014 Heisman race


It’s not unusual for bowl games to serve as launching pads for Heisman campaigns.

Matt Leinart’s MVP performance against Michigan in the 2004 Rose Bowl set the USC quarterback up as the 2004 Heisman favorite. Of course, he would go on to win the trophy.

Troy Smith’s running and passing explosion against Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl catapulted the Ohio State quarterback into the Heisman conversation the following season. He, too, would go on to win the award.

Even Tim Tebow’s goal-line proficiency against Smith’s Buckeye team in the 2007 BCS title game made him a known quantity heading into his Heisman-winning season.

So how will this year’s BCS title game shape the 2014 Heisman race?

Well, there’s one thing we can pretty much be sure of: No matter how well 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston plays against Auburn on Monday, the odds of him repeating as the Heisman winner in 2014 are remote.

There has been only one two-time winner in the history of the award, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974-1975. The list of winners who have failed to repeat since Griffin reads like a Who’s Who of college football lore.

Billy Sims. Ty Detmer. Jason White. Matt Leinart. Tim Tebow. Sam Bradford. Mark Ingram. Johnny Manziel. None of them were able to win that second trophy.

Only Sims finished higher than third the year after winning the Heisman. You have to ask yourself: If recent legends like Leinart, Tebow and Manziel couldn’t repeat, what kind of season will Winston have to have to be any different?

Think about all that had to happen for Winston to win the award just once. Ohio State’s Braxton Miller — the preseason fave — had to get hurt early. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota had to lose to Stanford and Arizona in November. A whole combination of wins and losses and disappointing performances by a variety of players were necessary to clear the way for yet another freshman to take home the trophy (just like in 2012).

Things will be different next fall. Heisman voters will be looking for fresh faces…and reasons not to vote for the guy who already won the award.

That means the opportunity is there for Nick Marshall and 2013 Heisman finalist Tre Mason (assuming he returns) to set themselves up in the upper echelon of Heisman contenders heading into 2014.

The BCS title game is the biggest stage in college football. If Marshall and Mason play well in an upset of FSU, their roles in Auburn’s magical run will be the focus of the sport during the offseason. This will be to their benefit in the Heisman race, as it will increase their Q rating with voters. One can reasonably expect both players to improve their numbers in 2014, especially given that they’ll be in their second year in Gus Malzahn’s system — the same system that helped Cam Newton produce a Heisman in 2010. If Auburn once again has a successful season and either Marshall or Mason are seen as the key protagonists in helping the Tigers get there, one of them could run away with the bronze statue.

Even if FSU wins, Marshall and Mason should join Mariota, Miller, Baylor’s Bryce Petty and UCLA’s Brett Hundley (if he returns) among the main preseason contenders for the 2014 Heisman. And Winston? Make no mistake about it, he’ll be in the mix as well, just like Manziel was this past year and Tebow was in 2008 and 2009. But for him to win again will require lightning to strike the same spot twice.

And if you are looking for some names out of the blue who might make a run at the Heisman next fall, here’s a list of five players (so far) who’ve raised their national profile the most by virtue of their bowl performances:

Jake Waters, Kansas State — He threw for 271 yards and three scores and added another 42 rushing yards against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. He could be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 next fall.

Cody Kessler, USC — The sophomore’s 345 yards and four touchdown passes in USC’s route of Fresno State in the Vegas Bowl showed he has the potential to have a highly-productive junior season.

Davis Webb, Texas Tech — Webb, a freshman, threw for 403 yards and four touchdowns in the Red Raiders’ upset of Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. You know he’s going to put up huge yardage in the Tech system next year.

Trevor Knight, Oklahoma — The redshirt freshman had his best game as a Sooner, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s upset of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. He could be one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in 2014.

Derrick Henry, Alabama — Sure, the Crimson Tide lost to OU, but the freshman tailback was electric, rushing for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries while also adding a 61-yard touchdown catch. It’s going to be hard to deny Henry carries next fall, even if the Alabama backfield is crowded.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
AP Photo

It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.