There’s no doubt that Thursday night games are prime opportunities for Heisman candidates to highlight their abilities. LaMichael James helped himself considerably last night by rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in front of a national audience. Barring unforeseen collapses, or injuries, I think James, Kellen Moore and Cameron Newton are headed to New York.
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Another neat thing about this year’s Heisman race is that it has featured not only some great players, but also some of the best offensive minds in college football. If there is a better offensive scheme than Auburn’s under Gus Malzahn, it’s got to be Chip Kelly’s at Oregon or Chris Petersen’s at Boise State. Each of these coaches spread the field in different ways and at different tempos, but the results are the same: Lots of points and yards, highly-efficient passing, running backs averaging a lot of yards per carry and explosive plays all over the place.
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The Auburn-LSU game tomorrow is being billed as a case of a great offense going against a great defense. But is LSU’s defense really that good? Sure, the Tigers currently rank third nationally in yards allowed per game, but their opponents to date are ranked 63rd, 102nd, 55th, 64th, 97th and 91st in yards produced each game. So LSU has built its reputation while not playing a single top-50 offense. I think we’ll know just how good LSU’s defense really is after it plays Auburn, but I get the feeling that if Newton and Co. have a productive game offensively, there will be more marvel over how well it did against a ‘great’ defense, than realization that LSU wasn’t all that good to begin with.
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One issue bound to come up again as we get closer to the Heisman ceremony is the checkered pasts of both Newton and James.
Newton was arrested in November of 2008, on felony charges of burglary, larceny and obstruction of justice after allegedly purchasing a stolen laptop from a student at the University of Florida. He was subsequently suspended by the team after the laptop was in fact found to be in his possession. All charges against Newton were dropped after he completed a court-approved pretrial diversion program. He left Florida and went to Blinn JC before landing at Auburn.
To his credit, Newton has been very forthcoming about the incident–fully explained here:
Newton paid $120 and took possession of a computer valued at more than $1,000. He knows how stupid it sounds now. He also understands now that buying stolen property isn’t much better than stealing. “Knowing what I know now, would I have done it? No,” he said. “I wouldn’t even think twice about doing it. But I did it. I made my mistake.”
Given his explanation and his openness about the issue, I don’t think Newton’s Heisman chances will be hurt too much by this.
As for James, he was arrested on charges of domestic violence this past February, the result of an argument with an ex-girlfriend that turned physical. The woman claimed he grabbed her by her neck and shoved her to the ground.
James spent two days in jail. He eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor harassment charge and Ducks coach Chip Kelly suspended him for the opener.
We haven’t heard as much from James about the incident as we have from Newton about his. In court, he did apologize, saying the victim bore no responsibility for the incident.
“I am so sorry that she has been treated by some people as though she deserved blame for this. She does not. I ask people to treat her with respect. She has not done anything wrong,” James said.
The full story on the incident paint a less sinister picture than just a cursory look at the charges:
“When the victim learned that the defendant had a female house guest from outside Oregon, she went to the defendant’s residence to speak with his guest,” according to the district attorney’s memo. “The house guest was alarmed, refused to let the victim into the residence, and subsequently called the defendant.
James arrived at his apartment and asked Siebenlist (the victim) to leave and “physically removed the victim from the area immediately in front of his residence door.”
While James held on to her arms, Siebenlist grabbed his necklace and told James she wouldn’t let go unless he let her go.
“During the ensuing push-and-pull, the defendant’s necklace broke and he became angry,” according to the DA.
James grabbed Siebenlist by her collar and pushed her against his car. Siebenlist got in James’ car and pulled his keys from the ignition. James grabbed Siebenlist to pull her from his car, but she kept his keys and ran from the car.
James, a Texas state champion sprinter in high school, caught up to her and grabbed her waist. The two fell into bark mulch on the ground.
James got his keys back, “ending the physical interaction,” the DA wrote. “The parties talked without further physical contact before the defendant drove away.”
Two days later, police arrested James, and he spent a day and a half in jail before being released with an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle — and the scrutiny of media from Eugene to Portland to ESPN on his case.
I think, in this case, his one-game suspension was appropriate and that the overall punishment fit the crime. However, the full story seems to make the case that James is not a stereotypical brutish abuser of women. It could well be that some Heisman voters won’t get the full story and will hold this incident against James, but I don’t think the numbers will be significant (although in a close race, you never know).
In both cases, the proper PR remedy for each school is to make both players accessible, to let them show off their good sides as much as possible and answer all appropriate questions about what happened.
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Here’s an interesting look at non-conference scheduling in the BCS era.
Pretty clear which conferences are trying to skate by in the OOC portion of their slate.
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Newton, Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez are all on pace to easily break the NCAA record for rushing yards in a season gained by a quarterback. The current record is held by Beau Morgan of Air Force, who rushed for 1,494 yards in 1996. On the current pace (including bowl games), Newton would get 1,599 (1,722 if he plays in the SEC title game), Robinson would get 1,884 and Martinez would get 1,764 (assuming a Big 12 title game appearance).
The fact that three players are likely to break this mark will dilute its overall effect on the Heisman race. If one player had done it, it would’ve been more impressive and given voters more reason to select that player. Now, it’ll probably serve as a nice item on the resume, but not a clincher by itself.