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.

Air Force and Boise State reach halftime knotted at 10-10

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A matchup of undefeated Mountain West Conference teams has been everything it was supposed to be. Air Force is giving Boise State a good battle on the strength of their running game. The two teams are tied 10-10 at the break.

After a scoreless first quarter, Air Force and Boise State exchanged touchdown drives in the second quarter. The Falcons opened the scoring with Donald Hammond III running eight yards for a score. Boise State answered with Hank Bachmeier tossing a 36-yard pass to CT Thomas for a score.

After forcing Air Force to punt on the ensuing possession, the Broncos took their first lead of the game minutes later. Eric Sachse booted a 40-yard field goal to give the home team a 10-7 lead.

As expected, Air Force has thrived by chewing up yards on the ground, but a pass completion from Hammond III to Ben Peterson late in the second quarter moved the football to the Boise State 13-yard line and a first down. That late drive ended with a field goal by Jake Koehnke to send the teams to the locker rooms all squared up.

We should have a good finish coming up on the blue turf in the second half.

USC QB Kedon Slovis injured on second play of game vs. Utah

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USC quarterback Kedon Slovis started Friday night’s game against Utah, but he may have been knocked out of the game after just two plays. Matt Fink has replaced Slovis, at least for now, after Slovis headed to the USC locker room early in the first quarter. According to a sideline report on the telecast, Slovis was being treated for a possible head injury.

Utah defensive tackle Leki Fatu came charging at Slovis on a 2nd-and-1 play on the second snap of the game. After Fink got the ball away, Fatu finished off a clean play in the college game (FS1 analyst Brock Huard correctly noted the follow-through to take the quarterback to the ground would be flagged in the NFL). Slovis struggled to get back on his feet as he attempted to get off the ground.

Fink, USC’s third-string quarterback behind Slovis and J.T. Daniels (who was injured and out for the year after the season opener), got right to work to finish off the opening drive. Fink missed on his first throw but then connected on his next three attempts, including a 29-yard pass to Tyler Vaughns for the early lead. Utah cruised down the field on the ensuing possession to tie it up.

This post will be updated with more information on Slovis once it becomes available.

Conference championship Saturday now locked in with confirmed kickoff times

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Feel free to update your planner accordingly, because the ACC and Big 12 championship games now have confirmed start times.

The Big 12 Championship Game will kick off Championship Saturday on Dec. 7 with a noon eastern kickoff. The game will be televised on ABC and will share a time slot with the MAC Championship Game (on ESPN or ESPN2).

The ACC Championship Game will once again be played in primetime with a 7:30 p.m. eastern start time scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7 on ABC. It will once again go opposite the Big Ten Championship Game on FOX, although the ACC will get a half-hour jump on the Big Ten title game.

With the ACC and Big 12 now on the schedule, here is the updated look at the conference championship game schedule:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6

  • Pac-12: 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC (Santa Clara, CA)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7

  • Big 12: 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC (Arlington, TX)
  • MAC: 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN 2 (Detroit, MI)
  • Sun Belt: 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2 (TBD*)
  • Conference USA: 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network (TBD*)
  • American: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (TBD*)
  • Mountain West: 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN (TBD*)
  • SEC: 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS (Atlanta, GA)
  • ACC: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Charlotte, NC)
  • Big Ten: 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX (Indianapolis, IN)

* = The highest-seeded team in the conference hosts the conference championship game

Mark Dantonio responds to accusation made by former staffer

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A day after an alarming story accused Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio of recruiting a player he was warned could be a potential problem, Dantonio has responded alongside his lawyer. Dantonio defended himself against the claims of former assistant Curtis Blackwell and re-directed to previous comments Dantonio made regarding the player in question.

“The fact that Mr. Blackwell’s contract was not renewed has nothing to do with Auston Robertson,” Dantonio said in a statement on Friday. “Two years ago, I spoke at length about Auston Robertson when he was dismissed from the team in 2017. Rather than engage in a public argument with a former staffer, I refer you to those previous statements. Further, there have been multiple investigations into the program’s handling of sexual assaults, including Jones Day in 2017 and the NCAA in 2018, and they concluded that the program and myself committed no violations.”

Blackwell, a former Michigan State recruiting director, claimed he and multiple coaches asked Dantonio not to continue recruiting Robertson, who was guilty of misdemeanor battery in high school and later was arrested and charged with assault to his girlfriend just after his freshman season in East Lansing. Robertson was later removed from the program.

Dantonio concluded his statement by saying he will have no further comment due to ongoing litigation.

“Mr. Blackwell’s lawsuit concerns his allegations that his contract was not renewed because he refused to co-operate with investigations being conducted by the MSUPD and a law firm hired to evaluate the MSU football program’s compliance with sexual assault reporting policies,” Dantonio’s lawyer, Tom Kienbaum, said in a separate statement. “The lawsuit has nothing to do with the recruitment or actions of any student athletes, including Auston Robertson.”