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CFT Preseason Previews: Heisman Watch

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The 2015 season was the Year of the Running Back in college football. Alabama’s Derrick Henry became just the second ball-carrier to claim the Stiffarm Trophy since the turn of the century, and running backs accounted for the top two and five of the top eight voting slots. Three of those five are back this season. With that in mind, will running backs continue their forward momentum and claim back-to-back Heismans, and the first non-Alabama running back Heisman, since 1998-99? Or will quarterbacks wrestle it back? Or how about a wide receiver, an offensive lineman or a defensive…. okay, let’s keep this realistic.

Leonard Fournette, LSU RB: Undoubtedly the most talented player in college football. Problem is, he knows it. The talk of him sitting out the season to devote himself to a nine-month NFL Draft prep is an odd crusade for some in football, but it’ll never happen. Still, though, Fournette is already dealing with injuries this season. He knows the pot of gold awaiting him on the other side of that rainbow. Will he dig deep, put his head down and charge for those two extra yards, or will he opt for self-preservation and do his best to simply ride this season out?

Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB: He’s got the skills, and he’s got the tools around him. Better yet, Clemson’s defense will probably take a step back this season, meaning he could stay on the field for more fourth quarters as the Tigers pile on points to put people away. So, yeah, everything is here to make a Heisman run. On the other hand, how often does the preseason favorite actually win the Heisman these days? There was Marcus Mariota in 2014, yes. Before that you may have to go back to Troy Smith all the way back in 2006.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB: The quarterback is new. The wide receiving corps and offensive line are re-tooling. Everyone in the stadium knows McCaffrey is getting the ball as often as possible, and in as many ways as the Cardinal can possibly get him the ball. Should his numbers remain anywhere close to his 2015 statistics, McCaffrey could benefit from voters’ desire to choose a “throw-back” candidate.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB: Cook’s numbers from a year ago — 229 carries, 1,691 yards, 19 touchdowns, a ridiculous 7.38 yards per carry, a full foot-and-a-half more than the next closest runner with at least 225 attempts — were Heisman-esque, yet only good enough to get him to seventh place in last year’s voting. Do that again on a team that should seriously contend for a national championship and Cook may jump all the way to first.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB: The knock against Mayfield is that he’s a system quarterback. But if you’re going to be a system quarterback, what better system to run than one with two All-America caliber running backs, playing in a conference where 40 points a game is a baseline, and with one of college football’s strongest brand names on your helmet?

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB: Barrett has been oddly overlooked this preseason. All he did two years ago was toss 34 touchdowns against 10 picks, hit nearly 65 percent of his throws for nine yards per attempt, finish second nationally in passing efficiency whilst rushing for nearly 1,000 yards — all as a redshirt freshman.

Quick hits on the rest of the field:

Josh Rosen, UCLA QB: Maybe the best pro-prospect in college football, but NFL scouts may like him more than Heisman voters.

Royce Freeman, Oregon RB: The overlooked running back of 2015 — 1,800 yards, 17 touchdowns. But will the Ducks’ defense hold his candidacy back?

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech QB: The most talented in the long line of prolific Red Raider quarterbacks. But can Texas Tech get enough stops to mount him a serious campaign?

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan ATH: Could he follow another Wolverine’s path to a do-it-all Heisman win?

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M DE: If the Heisman is going to a full-time defensive player, Garrett is it. But if Suh, Clowney, et. al., couldn’t break through that glass ceiling, why would Garrett?

Louisville to be without leading receiver vs. Kent State

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The reigning Heisman Trophy winner won’t have his favorite target in the passing game as his ongoing attempt at back-to-back stiff-armed hardware continues.

Bobby Petrino announced Saturday morning that Jaylen Smith will not play in today’s game against Kent State, set for a noon ET kickoff.  The wide receiver is dealing with an injury to his left wrist; it’s unclear when he sustained the injury.

The Louisville Courier-Journal writes that “[m]ore information on Smith’s injury should be available after the game.”

This season, Smith is far and away the Cardinals’ leading receiver, totaling 22 catches for 379 yards through the first three games of the season.  Seth Dawkins is next with 11 receptions, while Dez Fitzpatrick‘s 211 yards are second on the team.

Last season, Smith led the Cards in averaging 22.2 yards per catch.  This season, he was at 17.2 ypc.

Buckeyes backup QB has pointed words on Ohio State’s $1.5 billion valuation

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The archaic to some (most?) NCAA rules still won’t allow student-athletes to be compensated for the millions of dollars they make for the university nor do they allow them to profit off their likenesses or images — even as the universities do just that. One member of the Ohio State Buckeyes merely serves as the latest in a long line of players past and present to point out the hypocrisy of the current system.

Citing a study undertaken by Ryan Brewer, an associate professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the OSU football program is worth slightly north of $1.5 billion (with a “b”), making it the most valuable program in college football. Texas and Oklahoma were also part of the exclusive Billionaires Club.

Those financial numbers weren’t lost at all on Joe Burrow, a backup quarterback for the Buckeyes who took to social media to point out the how the current rules are severely tilted away from the student-athletes.

After getting some blowback from the “you’re on scholarship, you’re lucky you get an education for free, you whining, sniveling millennial” crowd, Burrow signed off for the night with another shot at the current system.

Somewhere, 2012 Cardale Jones applauds that latter effort. Also somewhere else, modern-day Jones no doubt applauds Burrow pointing out the NCAA’s ongoing exploitation of collegiate athletes.

17-year-old gets start at QB for Old Dominion vs. Virginia Tech… in Blacksburg

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Talk about being thrown straight into the fire. At least it’s not “Enter Sandman” at night, though, right?

Regardless, Old Dominion will travel to Blacksburg for an afternoon game at Lane Stadium in Week 4 later on today. Thanks to first-half struggles in ODU’s Week 3 loss to North Carolina, Bobby Wilder inserted Steven Williams at quarterback in the second half and he performed admirably in his first collegiate action — 139 yards passing, two passing touchdowns in two quarters of relief work.

Williams, it was confirmed earlier this week, will remain under center this weekend against Tech and will be tackling his first career start against the Bud Foster-led Hokies defense. The true freshman, though, is no ordinary first-time starter as he is just 17 years, 11 months (almost) old.

Based on our research, the 6-4, 196-pound Williams would become just the fourth FBS player in the last four-plus decades to start at quarterback before the age of 18. The others are Khalil Tate (Arizona, 2016), Nick Isham (Arizona, 2012) and David Walker (Texas A&M, 1973).

It’s believed that Walker, at 17 years, nine months, is the youngest ever to start at quarterback at the highest level of college football.

Despite his youth, Williams, a two-star 2017 signee, has the confidence of both his head coach and teammates.

“At 17 years old, he has to become the defined leader of this organization,” Wilder said according to the Virginian-Pilot. “I personally think he has the ability to do it. … He’s very dynamic. There’s a lot of things he does well.”

“I’ve been thinking about it over the past week, and I can’t imagine myself as a starting quarterback at 17,” redshirt junior wide receiver Travis Fulgham said. “But I think he can do it. That’s what’s crazy about it.”

Wyoming QB Josh Allen deleted Twitter off his phone following loss to Oregon

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Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen was one of the most heavily discussed signal-callers in the country this offseason and labeled by many as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick. Some thought he has the physical tools to transition effortlessly from the Mountain West to the NFL just like Carson Wentz.

By late September though, people are starting to hit the brakes on the hype train for the Cowboys QB and so, too, is the player himself it appears. The Associated Press published a long profile of Allen this week and one nugget seemed to jump out: following a 49-13 loss to Oregon last Saturday in which he completed just nine passes for 64 yards and an interception, the quarterback promptly deleted Twitter of his phone.

“Those guys on Twitter aren’t making draft picks and putting together teams in the NFL,” Allen said. “All I really care about is respect from my teammates and my coaches here.”

We’ve seen players delete apps or jump off social media when they face a little adversity on the field and it seems that the Wyoming star is the latest to join the bandwagon and swear off tweeting in the foreseeable future. We’ll see if it makes any difference on Saturday as his team takes on Hawaii at home to open Mountain West conference play.