The season’s first night opened up with Jadeveon Clowney gasping for air and ended with Derek Carr and Fresno State walking away with a thrilling overtime victory over Rutgers.
– Everyone anticipated seeing Clowney work his magic against the Tar Heels. “I can’t be the only one hoping South Carolina wins the toss and defers, so we can see Clowney on the first series,” one national writer breathlessly tweeted. And, indeed, the 6-6, 275-pounder was a whirling dervish at times, gliding in from the backside in pursuit of ball carriers, rushing UNC quarterback Bryn Renner into making some early throws and causing general consternation for the Tar Heels offense by lining up from every possible angle. But one thing Clowney didn’t actually do was make any plays (though he often looked amazing in not making them). Aside from three tackles, his stat sheet was clean on a night when North Carolina’s offense ran 79 plays. Worse, he sat out for long stretches of the game, gasping for air, hands on knees. ”The night before I had a stomach virus… All night long until this morning,” Clowney said after. But his conditioning and overall effort was definitely called into question on national television and via Twitter. Not that it mattered to some writers, who made allowances for his play while shoehorning the facts to fit the preseason narrative of Clowney as some sort of supernatural force. “Clowney quietly effective,” was the headline from USA Today’s man on the scene, proving the point I’ve been making all along that defensive players just aren’t held to the same standard as offensive players, at least when it comes to the Heisman. Clowney’s already remote hopes for the trophy took a huge hit anyway, as the rest of the college football world seemed to sober up to the fact that, despite all chatter to the contrary, the game we love really is still all about the ball. Look for the Clowney for Heisman hype machine to rev down a bit in the coming weeks and be sure to check back next week for his first Defender Rating of the year.
– Chuckie Keeton did as much as he could, but it wasn’t quite enough as Utah State fell to rival Utah, 30-26. The junior quarterback completed 31 of 40 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns and added another 85 yards on 15 carries on the ground (plus another touchdown). Getting 399 yards of total offense was a good start for the dark horse Heisman candidate but, ultimately, losing this game makes his campaign an even longer shot than it already was. There is a chance for redemption in a few weeks at USC, though the value of beating the Trojans is at a 12-year low. One way he can stay relevant is to put up 400 yards of offense very week. Sounds easy, right? Watching the way Keeton — whose name was pronounced sans the t by Fox’s dreadful play-by-play guy during the telecast — carved up the Utes certainly lends credence to the possibility.
– If Fresno State’s Carr is going to follow in the footsteps of his brother as a Heisman candidate, Thursday night was a good way to start. He attempted an amazing 73 passes against Rutgers, completing 52 of them for 456 yards and five touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ thrilling 52-51 overtime win over the Scarlet Knights. Put him officially on the outer edges of the Heisman doppler radar, but pulsating.
– I think we can pretty much count out Marqise Lee as a Heisman candidate. Not because he’s not a really fun player to watch, but mainly because the USC offense looks straight-up putrid at this point. Last year’s Biletnikoff winner struggled at times in USC’s 30-13 win over Hawaii, dropping two long passes and fumbling a punt, but he did finish with eight catches for 104 yards. With the Trojans still unsettled at quarterback, Lee’s numbers are sure to suffer.
– Kent State’s Dri Archer injured his ankle early against Liberty and was forced to leave the game after rushing for just 10 yards on three carries. Just goes to show you how hard it is to win a Heisman, much less challenge for one. Besides the pressure to perform week in and week out, you must stay healthy. Archer will bounce back, no doubt, but this was an inauspicious opener for the comic book hero.
Did anyone else emerge as a possible candidate on night one? Nope, not really. We’ll see Duke Johnson and Ka’Deem Carey tonight while keeping an eye on the debut of new Kansas State QB Jake Waters but, otherwise, most of the good stuff comes on Saturday.