Where the Heisman race stands

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What to make of this year’s Heisman race?

In my 10 seasons covering the trophy, I’ve never seen a race this unsettled this late in the process.

Every candidate has at least two major drawbacks that in any other year would probably be disqualifying. In the end, it may come down to which candidate ends up dominating his region while appearing on just enough ballots nationwide to eke out a win. I envision the results of this race looking a lot like that of 2001, when Eric Crouch won the Heisman with just one region and 770 points (the lowest winning total since Terry Baker won with 707 points in 1962) while five other candidates totaled over 200.

Let’s do a rundown of what we’re dealing with.

— The tentative front runner, Jameis Winston of Florida State, has a major legal issue hanging over him that could potentially derail his candidacy. That issue is unlikely to be resolved one way or the other before Thanksgiving, which means that the decision could come just as the Seminoles begin preparations for the ACC title game. If he is not charged, then I think it’s likely that enough Heisman voters will give him the benefit of the doubt to enable him to win the trophy. Even then, he’s going to have a hard time benefiting much from what he does on the field from here on out because FSU’s remaining schedule includes the worst Florida team since 1979 and Duke in the ACC title game — hardly the type of matchups that will compel voters to tune in. Of course, if he is charged with a felony, he will likely be dropped from the majority of ballots and voters will look elsewhere.

— AJ McCarron of Alabama seems to be the safest candidate. After all, he’s the quarterback for the No. 1 team and a well-known and proven commodity. But to win he’ll have to overcome his relatively lackluster production and the perception that he’s not really the engine that drives Alabama’s success. Big games in his remaining matchups against Auburn and in the SEC title game could help him change that perception just enough to tilt the race in his direction. I have a feeling that, while he’s likely to appear on a lot of ballots, he’ll need to finish strong in his home region (the South) to have a shot at winning. That means putting distance between himself and Winston and Manziel — a tall order indeed.

— The conventional wisdom is that Bryce Petty of Baylor is now out of the race as a result of his team’s crushing defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State. But Petty has two more games left to add to his still-impressive resume and his one loss may not be that fatal given that none of the other candidates have been able to pull away from the pack either. The narrative aiding Petty until tonight was that he was leading an unstoppable offense on a Cinderella charge to an undefeated season. That’s now gone and all he’s got left are his numbers and, potentially, the best season in school history. But that attribute doesn’t capture the imagination of voters around the country the way it might with, say, a more traditional power. The problem with Petty is that he never got a chance to break out of his status as a quality regional candidate — he lost that shot tonight. But in a really close race with a lot of candidates getting support, it’s possible that he wins his region and remains a viable contender so long as he finishes strong against TCU and Texas.

— Is Marcus Mariota out of the race after throwing his first two interceptions of the season in his team’s second loss, this one a 42-16 drubbing by Arizona? I believe so. But, again, with so many candidates having so many weaknesses and the race likely coming down to hard-core regionalism, it’s still possible that Mariota’s production and name recognition could attract enough voters out West to give him influence over the final outcome. With Oregon now out of the Pac-12 title game, I can’t see a path to victory, but I can see him getting to New York.

— Heismandment No. 9 looks to be safe for another year and I’d venture to guess that if Johnny Manziel can’t overturn it, who will? Johnny Football had perhaps his worst game in his team’s loss to LSU and won’t win that second Heisman, but if he rebounds with a great outing against Missouri, I think there’s enough sentiment in his favor out there to allow him to have a respectable showing in this race. People know how good he is, even if they don’t think he had the most outstanding season this time around. He might end up weakening Winston (assuming he’s not charged) and McCarron in the South region while also sapping Petty’s strength in the Southwest. I think he’s headed to New York and will likely finish third.

— All the chaos of the day opens up the door for perhaps the most unlikely Heisman candidate in recent memory. I’m talking running back Andre Williams of Boston College. I don’t think he was on anyone’s radar until this weekend and I think most voters still don’t know who he is. But I suspect that is about to change (BC will need to give him a boost). After all, he’s now eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark with one game yet to play. With so many flawed candidates arrayed against him, I think voters might be more inclined to overlook his team’s 7-4 record — keep in mind Toby Gerhart of Stanford was on an 8-4 team in 2009 and he was the runner up in the vote by the closest margin in Heisman history. And it helps that his recent rushing explosion has spurred his team to a four-game win streak. There’s a possibility that Williams captures the vote in the Northeast and does well in the Mid-Atlantic as well. Again, in a close race spread out over several candidates, the winner might not need to capture more than one region. (Note: I think it’s interesting that the ACC could have two Heisman finalists this year after not having a single one since 2000)

— There are definite cases to be made for Jordan Lynch and Derek Carr, but I don’t expect them to be able to get enough national support to make it to New York. Ironically, Lynch and Carr did not benefit much from today’s meltdowns since the lack of a consensus Heisman front runner is more likely to depress their vote totals.  The presence of a clear cut winner usually makes it easier for a voter to take a flyer on a player like Lynch or Carr by putting them in the 2nd or 3rd spots on their ballot. But with so many options still remaining and voters still undecided on a leader, they are likely to be crowded out a bit by the remaining group of contenders. I expect Lynch to influence who wins the MidWest, while Carr will obviously be a factor in the West, but I can’t see either winning their region.

Yes, there are still games to play that will decide this thing. It seems that anything that can happen will happen, which is why we might end up with one of most suspense-filled races in Heisman history before all is said and done.

How would the race go if the vote was held right now? I think it would look something like this (don’t quote me…it’ll probably change next week):

1. Jameis Winston

2. AJ McCarron

3. Johnny Manziel

4. Bryce Petty

5. Andre Williams

6. Marcus Mariota

7. Jordan Lynch

8. Ka’Deem Carey

9. Derek Carr

10. Tajh Boyd

Nevada RB coach David White reportedly takes head coaching job with Mississippi high school

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We’ve seen an increasing influx of coaches who make the jump from the high school head coaching level into the college assistant ranks but those going in the opposite direction are few and far between.

You can apparently add one name to the list however as Nevada running backs coach David White has apparently been named as the next head coach/athletic director at a high school in the state of Mississippi.

Per the Meridian Star:

Needless to say, the timing could certainly be better in the middle of the spring but White has extensive experience at the high school level. He was head coach at Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman for several years and was also involved in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl as well. In addition to handling the running backs, White also led Nevada’s recruiting efforts too.

It’s unclear what direction head coach Jay Norvell will take with a replacement but he at least has an option on his current staff in Vai Taua, a former tailback at the school who is serving as the Assistant Director of Player Personnel and Recruiting.

Show me the money: Pac-12 seeking $750 million investment after bid book surfaces

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The Pac-12 hasn’t hired Jerry Maguire but they certainly are channelling their inner Rod Tidwell by asking others to show them the money.

Like, a lot of it.

According to an official investment bid book obtained by Sports Business Journal, the conference is seeking a whopping $750 million from investors as they go full steam ahead on a unique equity sale for the league’s media rights and TV networks. News of the plan first surfaced back in late December courtesy of the Oregonian but a skeptical $500 million figure was thrown around.

The Pac-12 appears to be nearly doubling down instead, seeking three-quarters of a billion in exchange for a stake in a new holding company controlling Pac-12 Networks and the conference’s other media rights.

“I would say that we’re, after today, just beyond exploring. We’re actively moving forward reviewing serious offers for this opportunity. And we heard from Joe Ravitch, co-founder of the Raine Group, today about the work they’ve done in recent weeks to find us potential partners,” Colorado chancellor Philip DiStefano said at the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament last week, confirming the process. “He told us that there’s significant interest for multiple parties. And we see this as a good sign in the process. And in the next month or two, Joe will be asking for more detailed, formal offers from these various groups. And when and if we reach a deal, as Larry pointed out, this would benefit the conference in a couple of ways.”

Needless to say, the moves are unprecedented in collegiate athletics and designed to help close the revenue gap a bit between the Pac-12 and their peers in the SEC and Big Ten. We’ll see what ultimately becomes of this plan but it’s not often one can own an actual slice of an athletic conference, much less a Power Five one.

Appalachian State suspends several players after video surfaces of fight over the weekend

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Head coaches are always worried about headlines this time of year because outside of those handful of ones about spring practice, chances are high that if somebody is writing about the program it’s because somebody did something wrong. Thanks to an assist from Reddit of all places though, that’s exactly what new Appalachian State head coach Eli Drinkwitz is dealing with.

As detailed by the Winston-Salem Journal, a video surfaced on the social media site in the AppState sub-reddit that apparently shows several football players involved in a fight at a house party. As one could guess from a thread labeled ‘St. Patrick’s day football team scuffle,’ this poses a bit of a discipline issue for the program and several players have been suspended this week as a result.

“We are aware of an incident involving our student-athletes,” a statement provided by the school read. “We are proactively handling matters, with some student-athletes being suspended from team activities pending further investigation of facts and details.”

The university is still trying to sort out what happened and the exact level of involvement from all the players but has gone ahead and suspended those involved from the Mountaineers football team. While the names of those suspended were not released by the school, they did confirm only that it was fewer than five players who will be away from the program until a final punishment is decided.

This probably isn’t the way that Drinkwitz imagined his first spring practice going with the Mountaineers but such is life for one of the Sun Belt’s top teams.

Three former Pac-12 refs blast Larry Scott in private letter over Woodie Dixon scandal

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Eventually, the Bad News Train tearing a hole up and down the West Coast will eventually come to a stop. Until that day arrives, though, that train just keeps on truckin’.

The latest incident arrives from the San Jose Mercury-News, where Jon Wilner — the Woodward to The Oregonian‘s Bernstein, with embattled commissioner Larry Scott serving as Richard Nixon in this metaphor — has the published a letter written by three former Pac-12 officials blasting the commissioner over his handling of the Pac-12’s officiating scandal.

As you’ll recall, last fall it was revealed that Pac-12 general counsel Woodie Dixon remotely intervened to incorrectly overturn a targeting call in favor of USC during the Trojans’ 3-point win over Washington State in late September. Scott said the incident was an isolated one and then triggered a comprehensive review of the league’s officiating process, but three refs have stepped forward to rebuke Scott, saying he’s looking at the wrong people.

The trio — Chuck CzubinFred Gallagher and Mack Gilchrist — have more than a century as Pac-12 refs between them, and in December they sent a letter to Scott and Pac-12 vice president of officiating David Coleman. They then sent the email to Wilner last month and to Pac-12 ADs Ray Anderson (Arizona State), Rob Mullens (Oregon), Scott Barnes (Oregon State), and Rick George (Colorado) three days after they sent it to Wilner; Wilner published it today. On the Dixon incident, the group writes:

Mr. Scott, you know from personal experience this is not the first time he has overstepped his bounds…. Woodie singlehandedly caused the exit of the former Supervisor of Officials, and it is well known that several years ago he wanted to fire the gentleman who is now your Replay Supervisor. After the latest incident there is no question the Conference was far more interested in covering this up and finding the source of the info, rather than dealing with Woodie. You did so by removing a very valuable training tool for IR (instant replay). In your blind and bumbled approach you hid our reports and grades. This info had previously been transparent, which allowed IR to confer within itself…. Instead of dropping the hammer on Woodie you dropped it on IR. 

The Pac-12 declined to comment on the letter, but Scott himself responded to Czubin, Gallagher and Gilchrist on March 5. “[W]e are always seeking new ways to improve our program, and have recently made the decision to hire an outside expert to initiate a review of our football officiating program. The review will include assessments of many of the areas you highlight in your letter, and will definitely take into account feedback from officials,” he wrote. The conference announced it had hired Sibson Consulting to examine its refereeing program on Feb. 23.

If further reporting details that Dixon has intervened on more games than just last year’s Wazzu-USC game and Scott was aware of it, it would call into question the integrity of Pac-12 football itself under Scott’s watch, and the commissioner’s tenure may then follow the footsteps of Nixon’s all the way out the door.