Sam Bradford

A not-so-surprising Heisman Trophy first in NFC Championship Game

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The NFL’s conference championship weekend is set with another bout between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the AFC and the top two teams in the NFC, Arizona and Carolina, going toe-to-toe for the NFC championship. While there will be plenty of attention given to yet another meeting between Manning and Brady, the NFC Championship Game is making some history with a college football twist. With Cam Newton of the Panthers and Carson Palmer of the Cardinals set to start in the NFC Championship Game, we will see the first NFL postseason meeting between two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks.

At first glance, that comes across as a surprising factoid to consume, but it should not come across as a major shock. Given the track record of Heisman Trophy winner sin the NFL, we already know the Heisman Trophy is far from a guarantee for sustained NFL success. This is especially true for quarterbacks, although the jury is still out on a number of the more recent Heisman-winning QBs (Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota offer some good promise, and who knows if there is still time to save Robert Griffin III, for example). Also keep in mind that for the majority of the history of the Heisman Trophy, running backs were the dominant position before the turn of the 21st century gave way to quarterbacks taking control of the award more often than not.

Take a look through Heisman history and look at the quarterbacks who have won the stiff-arm trophy over the years. Just two quarterbacks won the award in the 1960s, Navy’s Roger Staubach and Notre Dame’s John Huarte. Staubach went on to have a stellar career. Huarte? Not so much. Two quarterbacks won the Heisman in the 1970s, and once again the careers of Jim Plunkett of Stanford and Pat Sullivan of Auburn took drastically different paths. Of the three quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy in the 1980s (Doug Flutie, Andre Ware, Vinny Testaverde), only Miami’s Testaverde proved to have a sustained NFL career, which included a couple of solid runs here and there, but he almost never faced another Heisman-winning QB during his lengthy career.

The 1990s saw four quarterbacks win the Heisman Trophy. Ty Detmer was essentially a career backup. Gino Torretta‘s run in the NFL was brief. Danny Wuerffel did not fare too much better. And Charlie Ward went on to play in the NBA instead of the NFL. Ward may have been the best NFL QB out of that bunch had he focused on the NFL instead.

Even the quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy since 2000 have been farther from competing for an NFL conference championship more often than not. This weekend, 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer just won his first postseason game as a starting quarterback since blowing out Iowa in the 2003 Orange Bowl. 2000 Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke has an NFC Championship ring, but that came as a backup. 2001 winner Eric Crouch played four years in the NFL with three teams and ended his playing career in the short-lived UFL with the Omaha Nighthawks. 2003 winner Jason White was not even drafted and stepped away due to bad knees. 2004 winner Matt Leinart never lived up to his perceived potential in Arizona and moved on to Houston, Oakland and Buffalo before getting into TV. 2006 winner Troy Smith was a career back-up, for the most part, behind Steve McNair and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Sam Bradford has been plagued by injuries and Robert Griffin III is looking to rejuvenate his career in a new situation in 2016. And I’m even going to spare you the talk about Tim Tebow and Johnny Manziel.

One more piece of information to keep in mind was the AFC and NFC Championship Game structure was not utilized until 1970 when the NFL merged with the AFL. For an award that was first handed out in 1935, that cuts out a number of quarterbacks from even having the possibility to play in an NFL conference championship game (Davey O’BrienAngelo Bertelli, Lee Horvath, Johnny Lujack, Paul Hornung, Terry Baker).

So yes, it is surprising we have not seen a matchup of Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in an NFL postseason game before, but it is not at all shocking given the history of the Heisman Trophy. And no, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady never won the Heisman Trophy either.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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Jameis Winston expected to end ACC’s No. 1 overall draft pick drought

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If Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the first draft entrant to hear his name called tonight by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he will be the second ACC player since 2000 to be named the number one overall draft pick. That would bring an end to the longest stretch among power conferences between top overall draft picks. Winston is widely considered to be the top choice for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who own the first pick in this evening’s NFL Draft.

Calling it a drought may be a tad harsh, but every power conference has had at least one number one overall pick since the last time the ACC had N.C. State’s Mario Williams be drafted with the first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Since then the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC and even the MAC have had a top pick. Assuming Winston goes first overall, the new longest stretch between top picks will be handed to the Big Ten. Michigan’s Jake Long was the most recent top pick from the conference in 2008.

No conference has had more top overall draft picks than — surprise, surprise — the SEC. The SEC has had five players drafted with the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. Last year it was South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

Whether it is Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, the history suggests the odds are good one of the quarterbacks will be the first pick. Since 2000, a quarterback has been the top pick in 10 NFL Drafts. Stanford’s Andrew Luck was the most recent in 2012.

Top Overall NFL Draft Picks Since 2000

2000 – DE Courtney Brown, Penn State (Big Ten)

2001 – QB Michael Vick, Virginia Tech (Big East)

2002 – QB David Carr, Fresno State (WAC)

2003 – QB Carson Palmer, USC (Pac-10)

2004 – QB Eli Manning, Ole Miss (SEC)

2005 – QB Alex Smith, Utah (Mountain West Conference)

2006 – DE Mario Williams, North Carolina State (ACC)

2007 – QB JaMarcus Russell, LSU (SEC)

2008 – OT Jake Long, Michigan (Big Ten)

2009 – QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia (SEC)

2010 – QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma (Big 12)

2011 – QB Cam Newton, Auburn (SEC)

2012 – QB Andrew Luck, Stanford (Pac-12)

2013 – OT Eric Fisher, Central Michigan (MAC)

2014 – DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina (SEC)

2015 – ?

SEC Network analyst Tim Tebow to sign with NFL’s Eagles

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In honor of CFT’s all-time comments record being shattered, and because it’s one of those offseason slooowww Sunday news cycle, I’ll just go ahead and offer up an update on the playing career of the subject of the previous record-holder.

FOXSportsJay Glazier and ESPN‘s Adam Schefter are both reporting Sunday evening that Tim Tebow has essentially finalized a contract that will make him a member of the Philadelphia Eagles — coached by former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, if you’ve forgotten.  Tebow had worked out for the NFL organization last month, but most observers of that league felt that there was a slim-to-none chance he’d be signed by the version of Kelly who wears the personnel-boss cap.

As has ofttimes been the case at this level and at the collegiate one, though, most underestimate Chip and how capable he truly is of not giving a spit or a duck (get it?) about your conventional wisdom.

Aside from Tebow winning a Heisman Trophy (2007) and helping to lead the Florida Gators to a pair of national championships (2006, 2008), how this relates to college football is that he is currently an analyst on the ESPN-owned SEC Network.  Tebow was hired for that role in December of 2013 and, to be honest, he’s actually good at it.  Surprisingly good, from my vantage point.

Tebow hasn’t played at any level since an “interesting” season with the New York Jets in 2012, so he certainly faces a difficult row to hoe just to grab a roster spot.  One thing is certain: there won’t be anyone on that roster who outworks him.

Speaking of which, joining Tebow on the Eagles’ quarterback depth chart (at the moment) is a veritable who’s who of recently successful college players: Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, the 2008 Heisman winner who was the No. 1-overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft; USC’s Matt Barkley, a four-year starter who holds most of the school’s all-time passing records; and USC’s Mark Sanchez, who left the Trojans early for the 2009 NFL draft after one season as the Rose Bowl-winning starter, opening the door for Barkley to emerge as the starter as a true freshman.  Not only that, there remains the possibility that Kelly could decide to trade up and nab 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, who Kelly recruited to Oregon and served as his head coach during the All-American’s first season as the Ducks’ starter in 2012.

As an aside, it’s at this point in the program where I remind readers that I really miss Kelly at the collegiate level…

If the Eagles blow up in Chip Kelly’s face, college football is always a welcomed option

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On Tuesday there was plenty of buzz involving the Philadelphia Eagles and the decisions made by head coach and general manager Chip Kelly, former head coach of the Oregon Ducks. As someone who lives in the Philadelphia region, I can tell you the sports radio phone lines are melting as we speak after Kelly has successfully moved the franchise’s record-setting rusher (LeSean McCoy traded to Buffalo), allowed his top receiver to leave via free agency (Jeremy Maclin signed with Kansas City) and, most recently, traded starting quarterback Nick Foles to St. Louis in exchange for former Heisman Trophy winner and Oklahoma Sooner Sam Bradford after missing the entire 2014 season.

In a city that is already seeing the basketball team reconstruct the entire roster from the ground up, and replacing some of the freshly laid bricks in the process, the alert level involving the city’s top sports team is at a critical level right now. If Kelly’s master plan fails to play out as he may be envisioning, could Kelly be run out of town? That depends who you ask.

First and foremost, I believe Kelly has a plan in mind and it has only just started to unfold. At this stage, it is unfair to suggest Kelly is done making moves when free agency has just started and the NFL Draft has yet to run its course. I believe Kelly is making moves right now with a grand vision he is reluctant to share with the masses, but the pressure is starting to build for the Eagles and Kelly. Entering year three as a head coach in the NFL, Kelly has to start winning games and making postseason progress. Depending on what happens in the draft (Marcus Mariota still an option), we could potentially be seeing the abrupt end to the Chip Kelly NFL Experience. Kelly will quickly run out of excuses if things blow up this season. I am not a believer this will ultimately be the case, but if Kelly does get run out of town this year or next, then college would be the ideal landing spot.

If nothing else, the developments in Philadelphia will be something to keep an eye on for any major college football programs that could be taking a ride on the coaching carousel in 2015 or 2016. If the Eagles struggle, Kelly will still be a very attractive option for a college program and he would likely sign a new contract quickly if no longer employed in Philadelphia (assuming he doesn’t coach Temple or Penn or Villanova, of course).

As a college football fan, I would welcome the return of Kelly to my Saturday line-up. Would you?