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.

No. 7 Washington wins Pac-12 title game rematch with Colorado thanks to stifling second half defense

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For a half, Colorado had No. 7 Washington just where they wanted in a Pac-12 Championship Game rematch from a year ago. Just like in that matchup in Santa Clara 10 months ago, the Buffs trailed by just a score going into halftime and looked surprisingly sharp against their highly ranked opponents from Seattle.

Just like it did last December though, the third quarter rolled around and Huskies reminded everybody why they reign supreme in the Pac-12 until further notice, capping off a dominant second half to capture a key road win in Boulder 37-10 over the Buffs.

While Jake Browning still didn’t seem to figure out Mike MacIntyre‘s defense the second time around (11/21, 160 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), it’s not like the UW signal-caller needed to with the effort his run game and defense were able to provide on a rainy night under the Flatirons. Tailback Myles Gaskin had no problem shouldering more of the load with his backup out, rushing for 202 yards and two scores while breaking off big run after big run to slowly crush the home crowd’s spirits. If there was anything that did really go wrong for the offense in the second half, it was the fact that wide receiver Chico McClatcher was carted off after a gruesome ankle injury that figures to sideline him for some time to come.

Still, the impressive performance on the scoreboard was really the result of the Huskies’ stifling defense coming to play after some adjustments in the locker room. Linebacker Azeem Victor hit the double-digit mark for tackles and corner Myles Bryant pulled down a pick-six — one of three interceptions on the night. As a result, what was a close game for about two and a half quarters, ended up turning into a runaway win for the defending Pac-12 North champs.

While it was a tough night on the scoreboard with nothing going in the second half, there were some positives for the Buffs early on. Quarterback Steven Montez did look sharp working the middle of the field until the pressure was turned up and running back Phillip Lindsay managed 68 yards and a touchdown against one of the stiffer run defenses in the country. Given some of USC’s early struggles, it’s pretty clear that Colorado will remain a factor in the Pac-12 South battle if nothing else.

In the end though, it was the same ol’ same ol’ out West as Washington remained unbeaten and looking again like a College Football Playoff contender once again.

Jim Harbaugh advises President Trump to ‘check the Constitution’

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The latest controversy surrounding President Donald Trump has reached college football.  And, of course, it’s Jim Harbaugh doing the reacting.

At a campaign rally in Alabama earlier this past week, the POTUS let loose on those NFL players who have decided to use the National Anthem as a vehicle for protesting social injustice.  In essence, Trump called for those who participate in the demonstrations to be summarily dismissed.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!'” Trump was quoted as saying. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.'”

Suffice to say, that hasn’t even remotely happened as condemnation of the fiery rhetoric has been far and wide from the NFL community and beyond.  It was also condemned by a former member of the NFL community as Harbaugh, whose former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, played a significant role in a story that’s enveloped professional football over the past year, had some choice words on this latest kerfuffle.

“No, I don’t agree with the president,” Harbaugh said following Michigan’s win over Purdue. “Listen, that’s ridiculous. Check the Constitution.”

Harbaugh, who was already at odds with Trump over the slashing of one particular program, also stated initially that he didn’t respect Kaepernick sitting out the anthem before apologizing for misspeaking shortly thereafter.  In the spring, Harbaugh referred to the still-unsigned quarterback as a hero.

Notre Dame has no trouble with mistake-prone Michigan State

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Notre Dame probably would’ve beaten Michigan State on Saturday night if the Spartans pitched a perfect game. But instead the Spartans hit three batters, tossed a handful of wild pitches, aiding the Irish in a 38-18 blowout in Spartan Stadium.

The 20-point margin represents Notre Dame’s largest victory over Michigan State since a 36-14 whipping on Sept. 18, 1993 and the largest win by either team since a 45-23 Spartans win on Sept. 12, 1998. The Irish have now won four of the last five in a series that dates back to 1897.

The Irish (3-1) opened the game with a 7-play, 78-yard touchdown drive punctuated by a 16-yard Brandon Wimbush run, then immediately capitalized on a Michigan State (2-1) mistake as Julian Love returned a Brian Lewerke interception 59 yards for a touchdown.

Michigan State rebounded with its best drive of the night, knifing 75 yards in seven snaps for a touchdown. But another Lewerke turnover, this time a fumble in his own territory, set up Notre Dame with a short field, which Wimbush turned into an 8-yard touchdown pass to Dexter Williams. The Spartans threatened to pull within 21-14 until their third and costliest turnover of the first half, an L.J. Scott fumble at the goal line that took six points off the board and handed Notre Dame the ball at the 20-yard line. Notre Dame needed only five plays to push its lead to 28-7, where it would remain until halftime.

In addition to the three turnovers, Michigan State also committed nine penalties, dropped a handful of passes and lost a possession to a turnover on downs.

Michigan State opened the second half with a Matt Coghlin field goal, but Notre Dame answered that field goal and then some with a 9-yard Deon McIntosh touchdown run. Justin Yoon pushed the lead to 28 with a 46-yard field goal with 4:51 to play.

Michigan State completed the scoring with a cosmetic touchdown — a 25-yard toss from Lewerke to Gerald Holmes — and 2-point conversion with 3:09 remaining.

Wimbush was the star for Notre Dame, hitting 14-of-20 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown with eight carries for 52 yards and a touchdown. Lewerke carried the load for Michigan State, connecting on 31-of-51 passes for 340 yards — many of them junk — with a touchdown and an interception with nine carries for 56 yards and a fumble.

Michigan State will remain in East Lansing next week to host hard luck loser Iowa, while Notre Dame returns home to face Miami (Ohio).

Disaster averted as walk-off TD pushes No. 4 Penn State past Iowa

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Entering Week 4, the last three teams ranked in the Top Five entering Kinnick Stadium had exited with a loss.  In dramatic fashion, No. 4 Penn State flipped that script.

Trailing 15-13, Iowa scored on a 35-yard touchdown run by Akrum Wadley that put Iowa up, after a failed two-point conversion, 19-15 with 1:42 left in the game.  Penn State then proceeded to go 65 yards in 12 plays and 1:42 of game time, with Trace McSorley connecting with Juwan Johnson on a seven-yard touchdown pass with zero ticks left on the clock to secure a wild 21-19 win.

That fourth quarter also featured Penn State blocking a field goal… only to see Iowa return the favor 10 minutes later to set up what would’ve been the game-winning touchdown by Wadley.

If you simply looked at the box score, however, you would’ve thought this was a blowout that swung heavily toward the visitor.

The Nittany Lions outgained the Hawkeyes 579-273.  In fact, Penn State had more yards rushing (295) than Iowa had total offense. First downs?  PSU 29, Iowa 11.  The Nittany Lions held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game for good measure.

In the end, however, it was Penn State that came out on top on both the scoreboard as well as the stat sheet as the Nittany Lions kept their perfect season afloat as, after games against Indiana and Northwestern the next two weeks, they get set for season-defining games against No. 8 Michigan (Oct. 21) and No. 10 Ohio State (Oct. 28).  And Saquon Barkley, who set a single-game school record for all-purpose yards — 211 rushing, 94 receiving, 53 returns — will get to continue to state his case as the best football player in the country and one of a handful of Heisman Trophy front-runners.