What the BCS title game means to the 2014 Heisman race

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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.

Michael Oher: Hugh Freeze is ‘man of God, man full of integrity’

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Hugh Freeze may have been blindsided by his unceremonious exit from Ole Miss, but at least one of his former players has his back.

Homeless for stretches of his teenage life, Michael Oher was taken in by the Freeze family — a 2014 Bleacher Report article notes that “Oher spent one to two nights a week at their house” — while Freeze was the head coach at Briarcrest Christian High School in Memphis.  Oher went on to play football for Freeze in high school, with his compelling life story forming the basis for the Academy Award-winning film “The Blind Side.”

The player and the coach have formed a deep bond that stretches back more than a decade, a bond that hasn’t been broken despite the latter’s resignation as Ole Miss head coach under a cloud of controversy.

“He is a man of God and a man full of integrity,’’ Oher told USA Today Sports of his former coach. “I don’t know the full story but I’m willing to bet that everyone in the world had made a mistake that they have wanted someone to forgive them for.”

The offensive lineman added that without Freeze, “there is no Michael Oher and no “The Blind Side.'”

The news dropped last Thursday night that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  While Freeze blamed the call on a misdial, the administration found a “pattern of misconduct” during a deep dive into his phone records, leading the school to confront the coach about the situation.

After meetings with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, it became apparent that, if he didn’t resign, the school was going to fire him.  Because of a moral turpitude clause in his contract, there was neither a buyout nor a settlement.

“God is good, even in difficult times,’’ Freeze said earlier this week in his first public comments since his departure. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”

“I got some good friends,” he added.

On the same day Freeze resigned, coincidentally, Oher was cut by the Carolina Panthers.  Earlier this offseason, Oher was arrested after an altercation with an Uber driver in which the player allegedly bit the driver on the back.

LSU still can’t say Arden Key will be available for opener vs. BYU

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The Magical Mystery Tour that has been Arden Key‘s offseason continues.

In mid-February, LSU announced that Key had “decided to take some time away from football… for personal reasons.” Four months later, the football program announced the defensive end had rejoined the team; at the same time, it was announced that Key had recently undergone shoulder surgery.

Thursday, first-year head coach Ed Orgeron indicated that Key will not be available for the start of summer camp because of the ongoing rehab — and couldn’t commit to the player being available for the opener as well.

“We don’t know when he’s going to be ready, but obviously we expect him to play this year and have a great year. We won’t know (his playing status) until the end of camp,” Orgeron said according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. “I’m going to listen to the doctors. Some days he’s able to get into uniform and practice, he’s going to do that, but I don’t see that happening in the next couple of weeks.”

When it comes to playing against BYU Sept. 2 in Houston? “There is a chance,” Orgeron allowed.

A four-star 2015 signee, Key was a consensus Freshman All-American his first season with the Tigers after starting nine games.  Last season as a true sophomore, he led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.  The latter total set a school record.

Following that breakout campaign, he was named second-team All-SEC.

Clemson transfer Scott Pagano progressing from foot surgery, but might miss Oregon’s opener

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There was good news and potentially not-so-good news on the Scott Pagano front Thursday for Oregon.

A transfer from Clemson this offseason, Pagano suffered a broken bone in his foot in the Tigers’ mid-November win over Pitt that forced him to miss the remainder of the regular season.  After moving on to the Ducks as a graduate transfer in mid-April, UO’s medical staff decided he needed to undergo surgery to repair the damage in his foot.

First-year head coach Willie Taggart Thursday declared the defensive lineman ahead of schedule in his recovery from the medical procedure, but didn’t guarantee he’d be on the field for the 2017 opener.

“Something he had that he needed to be corrected,” Taggart said of the surgery according to oregonlive.com. “He’s ahead of schedule right now. I don’t like putting certain weeks on guys because everybody heals differently.

“He’s one of those kids that has been rehabbing his tail off and is itching to get back out there. He’s ahead of schedule right now. Hopefully he’s there for the Southern Utah game.”

Coming out of high school in Hawaii as a four-star 2013 recruit, Pagano was rated as the No. 24 tackle in the country and the No. 2 player at any position in the state. He started 13 games the past two seasons, four of which came in 2016.

Before opting for UO, Pagano had taken an official visit to Oklahoma as he had whittled his to-do list down to those two. Arkansas, Notre Dame and Texas were also among the lineman’s five allotted official visits in his second round of collegiate recruiting.

CB Ryan Mayes no longer part of Miami football team

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There’s been a slight tweak to Miami’s defensive secondary ahead of the start of summer camp.

In a press release that consisted all of two sentences, the Hurricanes announced that Ryan Mayes is no longer a member of Mark Richt’s football program.  No reason was given for the separation, nor is it known whether the move was voluntary or involuntary.

A three-star member of The U’s 2014 recruiting class, Mayes was rated as the No. 48 cornerback in the country and the No. 92 player at any position in the state of Florida.  He held offers from, among others, Boston College and Syracuse.

As a true freshman, Mayes played in three games, then saw action in just one game the following season as he took a redshirt.  In 2016, the defensive back played in 11 games, mainly on special teams.

Prior to his departure, the redshirt junior was expected to fill a reserve role in the Hurricanes’ secondary.