CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Heisman Watch List

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With the last two Heisman winners, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, off to the NFL, a fresh batch of contenders will make up the pool of preseason candidates to potentially take home the 2015 version of the Heisman Trophy.  And, perish the thought, a running back could actually (gasp!) claim an honor that’s become yet another annual quarterback award.

In fact, six running backs were among the baker’s dozen of favorites in the most recent set of Heisman odds released by Bovada.lv last month.  The other seven, of course, were quarterbacks.

With that as a backdrop, let’s take a snapshot look at a handful of players, in alphabetical order so as not to offend anyone, who could become the next first-time winner of the most prestigious trophy in college football.

CARDALE “J.T.” JONES-BARRETT, QB, OHIO STATE
2014 STAT LINE: J.T. Barrett — 203-of-314 passing (64.7 percent), 2,834 yards, 34 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 171 carries for 938 yards (5.5 ypc), 11 touchdowns | Cardale Jones — 56-of-92 passing (60.9 percent), 860 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions; 72 carries for 296 yards (4.1 ypc), one touchdown.
QUICK HIT: By now, everyone knows the tale of these two quarterbacks’ tapes.  Barrett led the Buckeyes to the cusp of a College Football Playoff berth as he set a Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season prior to sustaining a serious leg injury in the regular-season finale against Michigan.  That opened the door for Jones to shine in the postseason, helping OSU to three straight wins to claim its first national championship in over a decade.  Whoever wins the much-discussed starting job coming out of summer camp will be one of the in-season front-runners for this year’s version of the trophy — and I have a sneaking suspicion that player’s going to be Barrett.

TREVONE BOYKIN, QB, TCU
2014 STAT LINE: 301-of-492 passing (61.1 percent), 3,901 yards, 33 touchdowns, 11 interceptions; 152 carries for 707 yards (4.7 ypc), eight touchdowns.
QUICK HIT: The highest finisher in the Heisman voting last season (fourth) of any returning player this season, Boykin is poised to improve upon a breakout 2015 campaign.  Boykin will have the kind of pass/run totals that catch the eyes of voters, while his Horned Frogs will likely be ranked among the top two or three teams for a sizable chunk of the regular season, shining an even brighter spotlight on the player.  High-profile games against Minnesota, Oklahoma and Baylor won’t hurt his candidacy either — provided he rises to the occasion in winning efforts, of course.

NICK CHUBB, RB, GEORGIA
2014 STAT LINE: 219 carries for 1,547 yards (7.1 ypc), 14 touchdowns; 18 receptions for 213 yards, two touchdowns.
QUICK HIT: The first of three true sophomore backs on this list, one could make the argument that Chubb is the most talented of that trio.  He backed up such talk with an outstanding first season in Athens, with his 1,547 yards rushing serving as the second-most ever for an UGA freshman, behind only the 1,616 yards put up by the great Herschel Walker in 1980.  The most impressive part of Chubb’s debut?  He rushed for a modest 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the first five games of the 2014 season; then, after Todd Gurley went down for the rest of the season, ripped off 1,323 yards and 12 touchdowns in the final eight games.  With the Bulldogs breaking in another starting quarterback, Chubb should once again be the focal point of the offense — and the opposing defense as well, to be fair.

CONNOR COOK, QB, MICHIGAN STATE
2014 STAT LINE: 212-of-365 passing (58.1 percent), 3,214 yards, 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions; 51 carries for 80 yards (1.6 ypc), two touchdowns.
QUICK HIT: The good news for any Heisman candidacy Cook entertains is that the Spartans should be good enough to be a Top-10 presence throughout most of the regular season.  The bad news?  Cook likely won’t put up the type of numbers that grab the attention of voters.  The past two seasons, he’s accounted for just under 6,000 yards passing and 46 touchdowns, while he’s ran for less than 160 yards and three touchdowns in that span.  Still, if he can lead MSU to an unbeaten regular season — that would mean an upset over the likely top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes — Cook, as a quarterback, will be in the thick of the Heisman discussion late into the year.

EZEKIEL ELLIOTT, RB, OHIO STATE
2014 STAT LINE: 273 carries for 1,878 yards (6.9 ypc) and 18 touchdowns; 28 receptions for 220 yards.
QUICK HIT: Prior to last month’s set of odds, Bovada had Elliott tapped as its Heisman wagering front-runner on two different occasions.  That status made sense, given how the true junior was coming off a postseason in which he ripped off nearly 700 yards in wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon.  With all of attention now focused squarely on the quarterback situation in Buckeye Land, Elliott stands the best chance of any player to break the stranglehold quarterbacks have on the award, a streak that now stretches back five years since Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the honor in 2009.

LEONARD FOURNETTE, RB, LSU
2014 STAT LINE
: 187 carries for 1,034 yards (5.5 ypc), 10 touchdowns; seven receptions for 127 yards.
QUICK HIT
: If Chubb isn’t the most talented super soph back in the country, this guy is.  His ill-timed Heisman pose notwithstanding, Fournette was mostly up in an up-and-down start to a much-hyped debut.  Fournette had five 100-yard rushing efforts last year, with four coming in the second half of the season.  On the flip side, he was held to 50 or fewer yards five times, with the lowpoint coming on a five-carry, nine-yard performance in a 17-o loss to Arkansas in mid-November.  His two top rushing performances, though, came in the last two games of the season — 146 vs. Texas A&M, 143 vs. Notre Dame — so he had some modicum of momentum heading into the offseason.

CODY KESSLER, QB, USC
2014 STAT LINE: 315-of-452 passing (69.7 percent), 3,826 yards, 39 touchdowns, five interceptions; 55 carries for -152 yards (-2.9 ypc), two touchdowns.
QUICK HIT: For whatever reason, and despite outstanding numbers, Kessler was on the outside of the Heisman discussion looking in last season.  With the Trojans expected to be a much-improved squad, to the point where they could very well spend a considerable amount of time in and around the Top 10, Kessler should be a season-long presence in the stiff-armed talk.  Perhaps the biggest question mark for Kessler is whether or not the skill players around him can help him get back to, or surpass, his 2014 production as his rushing prowess — or lack thereof — won’t gain him any points with the voters.

SAMAJE PERINE, RB, OKLAHOMA
2014 STAT LINE: 263 carries for 1,713 yards (6.5 ypc), 21 touchdowns; 15 receptions for 198 yards.
QUICK HIT: If Chubb or Fournette aren’t the most talented sophomore back in the nation, Norman’s finest would certainly qualify for that honor.  Perine, of course, set an FBS single-game rushing record with his 427 yards in a late October win over Kansas.  That yardage was part of a four-game stretch in which he ran for 925 yards — and 10 touchdowns for good measure — to close out the 2014 season.  As Perine didn’t become a focal point of the offense until a third of the season was in the books, he should have the kind of full-season numbers that puts him squarely in the Heisman mix.

DAK PRESCOTT, QB, MISSISSIPPI STATE
2014 STAT LINE:
QUICK HIT: Prescott was one of the Heisman favorites for the first month and a half of the 2014 season before the combination of the MSU quarterback stumbling a bit and the rise of Mariota put an end to any such talk.  Still, he nearly became one of just a handful of FBS quarterbacks to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season.  Prescott’s plummet from the Heisman radar coincided with his Bulldogs’ tumbling from a No. 1 ranking; if MSU can avoid such a swoon again, Prescott will be in the discussion yet again.

DESHAUN WATSON, QB, CLEMSON
2014 STAT LINE: 93-of-137 passing (67.9 percent), 1,466 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions;
QUICK HIT: There seems to be little question about Watson’s talent level; as a true freshman, he was wise beyond his years in seeing the field and had the production to match it.  If the injury-plagued Watson had played just one snap in one additional game, even if he didn’t attempt a pass, his pass efficiency rating of 188.6 would’ve been the best in the country, ahead of Mariota‘s 184.4.  The biggest “if,” though, when it comes to Watson is his health as he missed five full games and parts of two others with injuries.  If he can stay healthy, Watson possesses the type of talent that can get him into and keep him in the Heisman discussion for the better part of the upcoming season.

SCOOBY WRIGHT, LB, ARIZONA
2014 STAT LINE:
QUICK HIT: A defensive player will ultimately win the most prestigious award in the country, right?  Right?!?!?  If one should happen to break through this season, Wright, a former two-star recruit, could very well be the one on that side of the ball.  As a sophomore last season, Wright seemingly came out of nowhere to finish ninth in the Heisman voting as just a sophomore.  He led the nation in tackles and forced fumbles on his way to winning three of the top honors a defensive player can claim in the game — the Bronko Nagurski trophy, the Lombardi award and the Chuck Bednarik award. Thanks in part to his status as an “underdog,” Wright, if he can match his performance from a year ago, stands a good chance to improve upon that ninth-place finish this season.

Washington dismisses DL Mosiah Nasili-Kite for violation of team rules

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A violation of team rules has led to Washington sophomore defensive lineman Mosiah Nasil-Kite being shown the exit door from the Huskies program. Washington announced the dismissal with nothing more than a brief statement and confirmation nobody from the program, including head coach Chris Petersen, will address the issue any further.

The specific violation of team rules was not detailed or reported.

Nasil-Kite was a three-star recruit in Washington’s Class of 2018. He did not play in any games for the Huskies last season while taking a redshirt season in his first year on campus.

UCF voted AAC preseason favorite for second straight year

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Defending American Athletic Conference champion UCF is entering the 2019 season being viewed as the team to beat in the conference, again. The preseason media poll released by the AAC on Tuesday during the AAC media day event in Newport, Rhode Island saw the Knights once again be chosen as the preseason favorite to win the conference. UCF and Memphis were each selected as the preseason division favorites in the East Division and West Division, respectively.

UCF received 19 first-place votes in the preseason media poll, earning the Knights a conference-high 169 total points in the tabulation. Cincinnati, coming off an 11-win season, received 11 first-place votes in the East Division. The gap was a bit closer in the West Division at the top. Memphis was picked as the division favorite for a third straight preseason with 15 first-place votes in the division, but Dana Holgorsen and his Houston Cougars received 14 first-place votes. The Tigers and Cougars are separated by just three points in the preseason poll. SMU also received a first-place vote in the West Division, although the Mustangs finished fourth overall in the preseason media poll.

UCF was the leader in conference championship picks with 12 votes going to the Knights. Cincinnati had the second-most votes for the AAC title, suggesting the balance of power resides in the East Division this season. The Bearcats received eight votes for the AAC title, with Memphis receiving six and Houston picking up the remaining four votes in the mix. It is worth noting that just two preseason AAC polls in the six-years of the conference’s existence have correctly predicted the eventual conference champion. Cincinnati was part of a three-team tie for first place in the conference after being labeled the preseason favorite in 2014 (UCF and Memphis tied for the title in the last season before the introduction of the AAC championship game). UCF successfully lived up to the preseason poll’s expectations last season.

EAST DIVISION

  1. UCF (19 first-place votes) – 169 points
  2. Cincinnati (11) – 157
  3. USF – 107
  4. Temple 101
  5. East Carolina – 66
  6. UConn – 30

WEST DIVISION

  1. Memphis (15 first-place votes) – 165
  2. Houston (14) – 162
  3. Tulane – 108
  4. SMU (1) – 87
  5. Navy – 70
  6. Tulsa – 38

AAC CHAMPIONSHIP

  • UCF – 12 points
  • Cincinnati – 8
  • Memphis – 6
  • Houston – 4

Conference USA also released its preseason poll today, with Marshall and North Texas being named preseason favorites.

Clemson TE Garrett Williams to pass on final year of eligibility

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Clemson tight end Garrett Williams will not suit up for the defending national champions this fall. Instead, Williams will look to assist the program in other ways and begin his quest to become an officer in the United States Marine Corps.

Williams expressed his desire to pursue a military career back in February when he suggested he was probably not coming back to play for the Tigers. That decision now is official, according to a report from Tiger Net. Although he is not going to play for Clemson as the program searches for back-to-back national titles, he is expected to assist head coach Dabo Swinney as an assistant coach of some kind.

Williams is still rehabbing a torn ACL that he suffered in the spring of 2017. The injury likely forced Williams to begin thinking about some alternative plans to football, which led him to the military path. Although Williams returned to the football field for the 2018 season, in which he appeared in 13 games, the redshirt senior has made it known for quite some time the Tigers will likely have to prepare for the 2019 season without him on the depth chart.

Big 12 cooridinator of officials clears up when ‘horns down’ is and is not a penalty

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Opponents of the Texas Longhorns have been flashing more and more “Horns Down” hand signals in recent seasons, and the Big 12 attempted to put an end to it. They did not, and now the conference’s coordinator of officials is letting it be known the gesture is OK, as long as it doesn’t go too far.

Big 12 Coordinator of Football Officials Greg Burks explained the context for what would draw a flag on a “Horns Down” gesture to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN at Big 12 Media Days in Arlington, Texas. In short, as long as a player doesn’t flash it at an opposing player, it will probably not get flagged. Per Rittenberg’s report;

“Like any play, there is a degree — who it’s directed at,” Burks said Tuesday at Big 12 media days at AT&T Stadium. “If they do it in their bench area, we’re not going to look at it. It would be like any other celebration foul, so it has to be like any other foul we have. Does it rise to the level we need to deal with that? It’s a hot topic.

“I know people want us to be definitive on that, but it’s like any touchdown celebration. Is it directed at an opponent or just celebration with your teammates?”

One example used to emphasize the interpretation of the Big 12’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was last year’s game between West Virginia and Texas. In that game, WVU quarterback Will Grier flashed a “horns down” while celebrating a two-point conversion, and he was penalized for the celebration after flashing the symbol to the Texas fans. Because the gesture was aimed at the Texas fans, the penalty would still be called today.

Basically, the Big 12 officials will have to interpret how the gesture is being used. Is it being used in celebration purely between teammates or into a television camera? If so, then the flag should stay in the pocket. If the gesture is aimed at an opposing player or fans, then the flag will be thrown if it is witnessed by an official.

It’s one thing to say players should not flash a “horns down” anyway and show good sportsmanship, but on the other hand, if the players want to have fun and lash out at the opposing fans, a “horns down” is a far cry from the most offensive thing a player could do.