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

No. 17 Kentucky leads five newcomers in this week’s AP poll

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Carnage littered the AP Top 25 landscape following Week 4’s games, as seven ranked teams lost games — five of them to unranked opponents, and a sixth in horrific fashion.

As such, five new teams are in, led by No. 17 Kentucky. Following a 28-7 smashing of then-No. 14 Mississippi StateMark Stoops‘s Wildcats are 4-0 overall and off to their first 2-0 start since 1977. As such, they graced the AP Top 25 for the first time since Nov. 11, 2007, and just the second time since 1984. The No. 17 ranking is UK’s highest ranking since Oct. 21, 2007.

Also joining the rankings are No. 18 Texas, who was No. 23 in preseason, did not earn a single vote after losing at Maryland and now has vaulted back into the rankings after back-to-back double-digit wins over ranked opponents (both of whom are now unranked). Elsewhere, a pair of unbeaten Power 5 teams have joined the rankings for the first time this season in No. 22 Duke and No. 24 California, and Texas Tech came in at No. 25 after smashing then-No. 15 Oklahoma State by 24 points in Stillwater.

Only two of the seven losers remained in the poll: Oregon, who actually climbed a spot to No. 19 after blowing a 17-point third quarter lead to No. 7 Stanford and No. 23 Mississippi State for absolutely no reason whatsoever. (I expected this from the good-for-literally-nothing coaches’ poll, but I expected better from you, AP voters.)

Elsewhere, LSU leapfrogged Oklahoma for No. 5 after Army took the Sooners to overtime in Norman, and Penn State jumped Auburn for No. 9 ahead of a massive game Saturday night in Happy Valley.

Michigan, Miami and BYU moved up five spots, while UCF, Wisconsin and Michigan State gained three.

The full poll:

1. Alabama — 1,523 total points (60 first-place votes)
2. Georgia — 1,422
3. Clemson — 1,409 (1)
4. Ohio State — 1,363
5. LSU — 1,238
6. Oklahoma — 1,201
7. Stanford — 1,143
8. Notre Dame — 1,067
9. Penn State — 1,001
10. Auburn — 987
11. Washington — 946
12. West Virginia — 923
13. UCF — 727
14. Michigan — 698
15. Wisconsin — 662
16. Miami — 571
17. Kentucky — 541
18. Texas — 308
19. Oregon — 297
20. BYU — 270
21. Michigan State — 256
22. Duke — 244
23. Mississippi State — 241
24. California — 118
25. Texas Tech — 106

Five ranked-on-ranked matchups await us in Week 5:

No. 12 West Virginia at No. 25 Texas Tech (noon ET, ESPN2)
No. 4 Ohio State at No. 9 Penn State (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC)
No. 7 Stanford at No. 8 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC)
No. 20 BYU at No. 11 Washington (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX)
No. 24 California at No. 19 Oregon (10:30 p.m. ET, FS1)

Three new teams join coaches’ top 25

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Nearly a third of the coaches’ top 25 tasted defeat on Saturday, five of them to unranked teams. But the coaches’ poll voters are typically slow to react to the events unfolding in front of them, and so four of them remain in Sunday’s top 25.

Texas A&M, Boston College and TCU dropped from the rankings, while Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State and Oregon remained in the poll. Texas A&M and TCU have two losses so they have to go, even though A&M lost to No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson, and TCU lost to No. 4 Ohio State and newly-ranked Texas.

Virginia Tech remains ranked thanks to a now-worthless Labor Day win at Florida State, and despite a loss to previously winless Old Dominion. Mississippi State has yet to beat anyone with a pulse. Oklahoma State does own an impressive win over Boise State, but the Cowboys followed that up with a 24-point home loss to Texas Tech. Oregon fell back just one spot as punishment for its collapse to No. 7 Stanford.

Kentucky joined the poll for the first time this season, vaulting all the way to No. 17. Texas re-joined the rankings at No. 22, one spot ahead of undefeated Duke.

The full poll:

1. Alabama — 1,597 total points (61 first-place votes)
2. Clemson — 1,497 (2)
3. Georgia — 1,473
4. Ohio State — 1,431 (1)
5. Oklahoma — 1,300
6. LSU — 1,234
7. Stanford — 1,206
8. Notre Dame — 1,136
9. Penn State — 1,108
10. Auburn — 997
11. Washington — 959
12. West Virginia — 946
13. Wisconsin — 776
14. UCF — 705
15. Michigan — 603
16. Miami — 554
17. Kentucky — 531
18. Michigan State — 376
19. Mississippi State — 311
20. Oregon — 281
21. Oklahoma State — 199
22. Texas — 171
23. Duke — 170
24. Virginia Tech — 160
25. Boise State — 145

Gene Smith addresses report saying Ohio State considering making Ryan Day head coach-in-waiting

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It was another wild Saturday in college football, but perhaps the biggest development came from off the field.

After Urban Meyer returned to the sideline for the first time this season, Ari Wasserman of The Athletic reported Ohio State is considering naming offensive coordinator Ryan Day its head coach-in-waiting.

Day, of course, served as the No. 4 Buckeyes’ acting head coach through training camp and the first three games of this season, leading the club to three wins. And Ohio State was impressed with him well before August, too. After his first season in Columbus, Ohio State promoted him to offensive coordinator, handed him a 3-year contract and made him the school’s first $1 million coordinator.

But Saturday’s report indicated Ohio State is considering tying Day to the program for the long-term on a more formal basis.

On Sunday, Ohio State AD Gene Smith addressed the report, largely by talking around it.

“We obviously are appreciative of Coach Day’s great work, and hope he continues to be one of our offensive coordinators for a long time, but we are more than confident Coach Meyer will be our head coach for quite some time,” Smith tweeted.

Wasserman’s report said the plan is still in the discussion phase and that Ohio State is in no hurry to push Meyer out of his job, and this statement doesn’t contradict or refute that.

Smith could have ended all speculation by saying something to the effect of, “There are no discussions of naming Coach Day or any other assistant as our head coach-in-waiting. Coach Meyer is our head coach and will remain so as long as he likes.”

But he didn’t, and so the speculation lives.

 

No. 10 Washington rides defense to win over slumping Arizona State

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Take one of the Pac-12’s best rushing attacks, mix in the league’s best receiver on the other sideline and stir after dark to get some wild, offensive-laden craziness in Seattle, right? Uh, not even close.

No. 10 Washington rode their incredible defense and used a handful of big plays from their offensive veterans to secure a bruising 27-20 win on Saturday night and drop the fighting Herm Edwards’ of Arizona State to a slumping .500 on the season.

Huskies QB Jake Browning crossed the 10,000 yard passing plateau for his college career and continued closing in on several school records with an efficient 202 yard game. That included three excellent throws into the end zone for touchdowns, one to Aaron Fulleranother to Ty Jones and the best of the bunch in the fourth quarter to help salt the game away to a tip-toeing Cade Otton.

The signal-caller’s play balanced out another solid (if not quite the usual spectacular) effort from Washington’s one-two punch in the backfield as Myles Gaskin recorded 86 yards on the ground and Salvon Ahmed chipped in with 71 more on limited carries. The team punted just three times all game and probably could have gotten off to a better start had their signature Chris Petersen trick play on the first play of the game — in this case, a double-pass — not been picked off.

The real star of the show might have been the defense though. Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven looks like a budding All-American and finished with 20 tackles and two forced fumbles while the entire front seven was a load for the Sun Devils to handle. Eno Benjamin had just one long run on his way to 104 yards plus a TD and otherwise had to fight for running room on every carry.

He was still a bright spot for ASU all things considered… namely how rough of an outing it was for QB Manny Wilkins (104 yards passing) and star receiver N'Keal Harry (five catches, 20 yards). The entire group seemingly continued their struggles from last week’s loss against San Diego State and will now need to find some way to regroup with the heart of their Pac-12 slate coming up next month. After grabbing the nation’s attention with a victory over Michigan State, now will really be the time we’ll find out what Edwards can do as a college coach as he tries to rebound from a losing streak for the first time.

The Huskies, meanwhile, can rest easy knowing they didn’t get swept up in the wild nature of the day in college football with so many ranked teams falling to unranked squads. It was by no means a crisp outing for Petersen’s group but it is a precious win nevertheless and does set up a very intriguing game next Saturday night against a ranked BYU squad. At this point late into the night on Saturday, surviving and advancing is nothing to overlook and, thanks mostly to their defense, Washington did just that against Arizona State.