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.

Five-star Penn State WR Justin Shorter tweets transfer to Florida

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The Florida Gators football program is the latest to benefit from Ye Olde Transfer Portal.

In late November, Justin Shorter took the initial step in transferring from Penn State by entering the NCAA database.  Two months to the day later, the wide receiver took to Twitter to announce that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career as part of the Florida Gators football team.

As of yet, UF has not announced Shorter’s addition to the roster.

A five-star member of the Nittany Lions’ 2018 recruiting class, Shorter was rated as the No. 1 receiver in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of New Jersey; and the No. 8 recruit overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Only defensive end Micah Parsons was rated higher than Shorter in Franklin’s class that year.

Limited to four games as a true freshman in large part because of injuries, Shorter caught three passes for 20 yards in 2018.  In 11 games this season, Shorter caught 12 passes for 137 yards.

Barring the unexpected, Shorter will have to sit out the 2020 season to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws.  He would then have two seasons of eligibility beginning in 2021.

World of college football reacts to tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, 13-year-old daughter in helicopter crash

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As is the case across the entire world of sports, college football is reacting to the devastating news involving Kobe Bryant.

Sunday morning, Bryant was one of nine people killed — initial reports had the number at five — in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on his way to a travel basketball event.  The former NBA superstar, who retired from the sport following the 2015-16 season, was 41.

Adding to the devastation, one of Bryant’s daughters, who was also a player on her father’s travel basketball team, 13-year-old Gianna Maria Bryant, was killed in the crash as well.

Kobe and Gianna are survived by wife/mother Vanessa and three daughters/sisters.  The oldest is 17, the youngest will turn one in June.

In the hours after the heartbreaking news was confirmed, the world of college football mourned the passing of Kobe Bryant. Below is just a sampling.

 

Georgia state rep. proposes pay-for-play legislation with a twist that will make no one happy

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Ever since California’s SB 206 passed last September, more than a dozen states followed with their own versions of the Golden State’s Fair Pay to Play Act, to go along with a number of concurrent pushes in Washington. No matter your stance on the pay-for-play issue or what side of the political aisle you sit on, it seems we can all agree that politicians are not the people to solve this issue, and yet the NCAA kept dragging its feet, and dragging its feet, and draaaaggging its feeetttt and, well, here we are. And Sandra Scott‘s bill a large reason why.

Scott, a state representative in Georgia (D-Rex) has introduced HB 766, a type of compromise bill that will make no one happy.

The appeal, at least from the outside, of California’s SB 206, is that it would allow college athletes to capitalize on their popularity during the lifetime of that popularity while costing the school very little money, since the money would come from third-parties.

Scott’s bill does neither. In fact, it goes out of its way to do the opposite.

According to HB 766, Georgia would require its schools to set aside a third of all monies earned in postseason play into an escrow account, which would then be given to players upon graduation.

Read for yourself below.

To recap, Scott’s bill would cost the schools millions of dollars and also shut out a lot of the players who generate those millions. Why should, say, Jake Fromm be barred from having a hand in the money he produced for Georgia just because he went pro?

In short, Scott’s (well-meaning) bill would anger both schools and athletes while continuing the overly paternalistic attitudes adults have adopted toward college athletes that applies to no other demographic in college sports.

Trey Holtz set to join father Skip’s staff at Louisiana Tech

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Coaching is the family business for the Holtz family, and now two of them will work under the same roof.

As first reported by Bleed Tech Blue, Louis Leo Holtz, Jr., better known as Skip Holtz, has hired Louis Leo Holtz III, better known as Trey Holtz. The younger Holtz will serve as Louisiana Tech’s wide receivers coach.

Trey Holtz played his college ball at Texas under Mack Brown and Charlie Strong. A reserve quarterback, Holtz appeared in 23 games as a holder in 2015-16.

He then moved into the family business at Ohio State, where he worked as a graduate assistant for the past three years. Holtz worked with the Buckeyes’ running backs and tight ends, but will now coach receivers for his father’s staff. He replaces Todd Fitch, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.

For the Holtz family, Skip hiring Trey is an act of history repeating itself. After serving as a GA at Florida State and Colorado State, Skip’s first full-time job came on his father Lou Holtz‘s staff as Notre Dame’s wide receivers coach in 1990. Skip was promoted to offensive coordinator in 1992 and became Connecticut’s head coach in 1994.