About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.
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The coming McCarron boomlet

AJ-McCarron-2013

Some people have asked me why I still have A.J. McCarron in the top four of my Heisman Watch despite the fact that he has rarely appeared in my (or anyone else’s) straw poll this season.

How can a game manager on pace to throw for barely 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns compare to those Super Quarterbacks out there?

The reason I still have McCarron with a small, but not insignificant, chance to win the Heisman is because the most important factors that aid his candidacy will likely come to bear late in the season, just before Heisman voters send in their ballots.

Still remaining on the Tide’s schedule is No. 11 LSU, No. 8 Auburn and likely another ranked team in the SEC title game (if Alabama advances). The matchup with Auburn has the potential to be one of the three most high-profile games of the season. Because of the strength of the late stretch of the schedule, McCarron could make up a lot of ground with Heisman voters if he plays well in leading ‘Bama through it unscathed.

McCarron is set to benefit from the end run in other ways, too. Right now, in late October, chatter about Alabama’s quest for a third-straight national title is a bit muted. But it will start to build and, by late November and early December, it will reach a crescendo. It should be a burning topic among college football media. If Alabama gets through the regular season undefeated, the talk will be of the historic challenge it is on the verge of meeting in the BCS title game. I expect McCarron to be universally praised and, assuming he continues to perform at a high level, his Heisman support should increase.

The biggest current weakness in McCarron’s candidacy is his reputation as a ‘game manager’ (the quarterback equivalent of being called a ‘possession’ receiver), but later in the season that moniker will be viewed more positively, especially if Alabama is undefeated. Voters will be able to identify a hard metric — not only a bunch of wins, but a BCS berth and possible third-straight title to boot — to attribute to McCarron’s oft-maligned managerial tendencies.

Does this mean the coming McCarron boomlet is going to propel him to the Heisman? Barring the complete collapse of the Mariota and Winston candidacies, no. But what it may well do is send him to New York as the Tide’s third Heisman finalist in five years. All in all, a pretty good way to commemorate a very successful career.

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Who needs a Heisman moment?

Doug Flutie Hail Mary

The term ‘Heisman moment’ is something we hear quite a bit during a Heisman race. Some have even argued that every player needs one of these moments to win.

There’s no doubt that some plays stick out on a Heisman resume. We all remember Billy Cannon’s Halloween punt return, Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary (though it had no bearing on that year’s voting), Desmond Howard’s punt return and Robert Griffin III’s last-second strike to beat Oklahoma.

Those were true Heisman moments that will live on for the ages. In some cases, they helped that player capture the imagination of the Heisman electorate.

However, there are plenty of Heisman winners who never had a moment. Can you remember Jason White’s moment? How about moments by Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, or Sam Bradford? When was Charles White’s moment? Herschel Walker’s? Andrew Ware’s??

There’s more than one way to win a Heisman, and sometimes it just happens due to a dominant but dull and drama-less season by a really good player.

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The freshman hurdle

winston

Ever since Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman last season, the assumption has been that the floodgates are open and that a bevy of first-year players will now start to win the award.

But while Manziel definitely established himself as a pioneer in Heisman lore, it’s important to take into account the circumstances that allowed that to happen.

Last year was a particularly weak Heisman field. The front runner, Matt Barkley, was vanquished early. So, too, was Denard Robinson, Montee Ball and Marcus Lattimore.

The early boomlet for Geno Smith collapsed by the first week of October, leaving Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein as the front runner. In the meantime, Manti Te’o of Notre Dame started to build momentum as a candidate after leading the Irish over Oklahoma in late October.

The myth exists that Manziel’s performance in his team’s win over No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 10 is what clinched him the Heisman. But here’s what the HeismanPundit Straw Poll looked like after that weekend:

1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State – 26 (6)

2. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M – 18 (3)

3. Marqise Lee, WR, USC – 10 (2)

4. (tie) Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State – 4

Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame – 4

6. (tie) Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon – 2

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon – 2

Despite Manziel’s amazing game against the Crimson Tide, Klein was still the front runner for the award. All Klein had to do was win out and the trophy was going to be his. But the epic weekend of Nov. 17 changed all that. Baylor crushed Kansas State in such a fashion that the senior quarterback’s campaign was dealt a mortal blow. The rationale for his candidacy — that of a hard-nosed, blue collar player leading a hard-nosed, blue collar team to a BCS title berth — vanished.

But a few other things happened that weekend, too. USC’s Marqise Lee was knocked out of contention when he was bottled up by UCLA in a bad loss. Any chance Oregon’s Kenjon Barner had of making a late run at the Heisman was gone when his team was upset by Stanford. Meanwhile, Braxton Miller of Ohio State threw for 97 yards and rushed for 48 in a lackluster win over Wisconsin.

That left Te’o and Manziel as the only viable options. Given the choice between a ridiculously entertaining offensive player with a catchy nickname who happened to be a freshman and a Notre Dame linebacker, the voters chose the former (though not by much, as it turns out).

So as you can see, Manziel won the Heisman because of a very unique series of events. By comparison, previous freshmen who challenged for the Heisman were matched up against more formidable competition. Herschel Walker had George Rogers in 1980. Michael Vick had Ron Dayne, the all-time NCAA rushing leader, in 1999. Adrian Peterson couldn’t match the power of USC’s Heisman tradition when Matt Leinart won in 2004.

How does that relate to this season?

Well, we have yet another freshman making a run at the Heisman. This time, it’s Florida State’s Jameis Winston. But while the field arrayed against him is much stronger than the one that Manziel faced last year, he has also benefitted from a few timely occurrences. Miller, the front runner entering the season, got hurt in the early going and bowed out of the race as a result. Aaron Murray’s candidacy collapsed under the weight of all the injuries his team suffered, which led to debilitating losses to Missouri and Vanderbilt. Teddy Bridgewater was removed as a factor in the race when Louisville lost to UCF.

Of course, these things haven’t just helped Winston. They’ve also helped Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, too. But the Ducks quarterback is the current front runner because, unlike Winston, he does not have to overcome the hurdle of being a freshman. I’m not talking about the oft-talked-about ‘bias’ against first-year players. I’m talking about the nuts and bolts of why and how voters pick their candidates.

Let’s assume that the season-ending stat lines for both Mariota and Winston result in exemplary, yet virtually indistinguishable, production. Let’s also assume that both lead their teams to undefeated seasons.

What would be the deciding factor in the race?

I believe that, given those sets of circumstances, Winston’s status as a freshman will be what ultimately hands the Heisman to Mariota.

The freshman status affects Winston’s candidacy in two ways. First, there is a practical consideration that some voters will take into account when making their decisions. Since Mariota is eligible for the NFL draft and Winston is bound by the rules to return for another season, they might decide to pick Mariota now while they still can, the rationale being that they can always vote for Winston next year.

The other factor that would hurt Winston in this circumstance is the nature of publicity and name recognition. The Heisman is an election. As with any election, people vote for who they know best. Mariota is in his second season while Winston is in his first, which means that voters have been aware of the name ‘Mariota’ for a longer period of time than they have the name ‘Winston’. Mariota’s ‘brand’ has had two seasons to saturate with the Heisman electorate. They know what he looks like under the helmet, while Winston is more of a mystery. Also, from a pure data standpoint, voters will have a more complete picture of Mariota’s accomplishments than they will of Winston’s. At the time of the Heisman vote, Mariota will have played in 26 games while Winston will have played in only 13. Career accomplishments tend to carry more weight when two players of equal single-season value are being considered.

Besides these two factors, there still exists a small subset of voters who are somewhat reluctant to place a freshman atop their ballots, especially when there is a viable alternative. I don’t see them as being a deciding factor, unless the race is extremely close.

Winston’s freshman status will end up being less of a factor in the race if Oregon loses or if Mariota’s production falls off a cliff. If that were to happen, his role as the catalyst for Florida State’s undefeated season (‘return to glory’) combined with his remarkable single-season statistics would be more than enough to overcome whatever issues he faces as a freshman.

So class status by itself isn’t enough to disqualify Winston. But class status is a factor and could decide the race if everything else is perceived as being equal.

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Mariota maintains lead in HeismanPundit Straw Poll

mariota

A solid performance in a win over No. 12 UCLA helped Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota maintain his lead in the latest edition of the HeismanPundit Heisman Straw Poll released on Tuesday (Oct. 29).

Mariota’s five first-place votes and 22 total points duplicated his score from the previous week, while second-place Jameis Winston of Florida State saw one of his first-place votes shift to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Winston totaled 19 points and three first-place votes while Manziel had 13 points and two first-place votes from the weekly panel of Heisman voters.

Only five players appeared on the 10 ballots, reflecting a narrowing of the Heisman race. Mariota appeared on nine of the 10 ballots while Winston appeared on seven of 10 and Manziel was on eight of 10.

Now in its eighth season, the HeismanPundit.com Heisman Straw Poll is the college football world’s most trusted gauge of Heisman voter sentiment. It has been the most accurate Heisman poll in the country during the past seven seasons, with the final 2012 poll correctly picking the top five finishers and the final 2011 poll picking the top seven. This year’s poll is made up of 10 anonymous Heisman voters from across the country. Each week during the season they will pick three players. Tabulations for the preseason poll are tabulated like a real Heisman ballot, with three points awarded for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote.

Each week’s poll is released on Tuesdays throughout the season at HeismanPundit.com.

The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Straw Poll, 10/29/2013

Total Points (with first place votes in parentheses)

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 22 (5)

2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State — 19 (3)

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — 13 (2)

4. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor — 4

5. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois — 2

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Week 10 Heisman Watch

mariota

Here is the week 10 edition of the 2013 Heismanpundit Heisman Watch. After taking into account the games played so far, these are the players who have the best chance of actually winning the Heisman. I’m certain at this point that the Heisman winner will come from this group. This is not a prediction of the final order of the race, nor is it an endorsement of who would or should win if the vote were held today. It’s a long view of the race that takes into account schedule and statistical trends.

The next 12 days will go a long way toward revealing this year’s Heisman winner, as each of the remaining contenders face marquee opponents in games that could make or break their candidacies.

1. Marcus Mariota, So., QB, Oregon

One of the main tenets of the Heismandments is that you must play well in big games on television and that’s exactly what Mariota did in leading Oregon to a 42-14 win over No. 12 UCLA this past Saturday. He threw for 230 yards and went 10 for 10 in the second half to help the Ducks pull away from the pesky Bruins. In his two games this year against opponents who were ranked at the time, Mariota is completing 76 percent of his passes for 596 yards and four touchdowns while also adding another 106 yards and a score on the ground. More importantly, he has no turnovers in those games. Against UCLA, he extended his streak without a pick to a Pac-12 record 292 straight. He continues to be on pace for a remarkable season that would put him in the statistical realm of recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks. The upcoming game with Stanford is his ultimate test and if he produces a lights-out performance in a Duck victory, he has a chance to coast to the Heisman from that point on.

Last Game: 21/28, 230 yards, 1 TD, 0 Ints, 7 carries, 18 yards in a 42-14 win over No. 12 UCLA

Season Stats: 144/225, 2,281 yards, 64%, 20 TDs, 0 Ints, 178.49 rating, 56 carries, 511 yards, 9.1 ypc, 9 TDs

Next Opponent: No. 6 Stanford on Nov. 7

Projected stats by time of Heisman vote: 3,706 passing yards, 33 TDs, 0 Ints., 832 rushing yards, 15 TDs

2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Florida State seems to be firing on all cylinders thanks to the magnificent play of Winston, who threw for 292 yards and three scores in a 49-17 vanquishing of NC State. Like Mariota, he’s on pace for a season that easily fits the mold of recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks. The upcoming game with No. 7 Miami is his last chance to impress voters against a ranked opponent. If he leads the Seminoles to a win over the Hurricanes, it should be smooth sailing the rest of the way.  He’ll accumulate big numbers against a light schedule while FSU completes an undefeated regular season and a ‘return to glory.’ For this, Winston will reap enormous credit. However, if both Oregon and FSU finish undefeated and Mariota and Winston’s numbers are comparable, then Mariota will win the Heisman. So for Winston to actually win the trophy, he’s likely going to need Mariota to falter at some point.

Last Game: 16/26, 292 yards, 3 TDs, 1 Ints in a 49-17 win over North Carolina State

Season Stats: 128/183, 2,177 yards, 69.9%, 23 TDs, 4 Ints, 206.98 rating, 44 carries, 126 yards, 3 TDs

Next Game: No. 7 Miami

Projected stats by time of Heisman vote: 4,043 passing yards, 43 TDs, 7 Ints, 234 rush yards, 6 TDs

3. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

Petty threw for a career-high 430 yards against Kansas and now his season’s prologue is complete. To this point, he has dominated against a weak schedule, albeit in a way that no one has ever dominated such a schedule before. He has a chance to shatter the NCAA passing efficiency mark while leading perhaps the greatest offense of all time to a Big 12 title and a berth in the BCS title game. If that is going to happen, however, he must guide his team through a November gauntlet that includes No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 15 Texas Tech and No. 18 Oklahoma State, not to mention a season-ending matchup on Dec. 7 against a Texas team that will likely be ranked. No other candidate on this list has a schedule that offers so much reward and so much risk this late in the season. Petty could be knocked out of the race against OU, or he could be flying high afterward thanks to a grand performance in a Bear victory. The idea that Baylor could win two Heismans in three years seems preposterous on the surface and maybe when this season is over we’ll look back and laugh at the notion. But it would merely be a testament to the amazing coaching job done by Art Briles in Waco and the mastery that Petty has displayed in directing such an amazing offense.

Last Game: 20/32, 430 yards, 3 TDs, 0 Ints, 1 rushing TD in a 59-14 win over Kansas

Season Stats: 123/177, 2,453 yards, 69.3%, 18 TDs, 1 Ints, 219.01 rating, 28 carries, 73 yards, 6 TDs

Next Game: No. 13 Oklahoma on Nov. 7

Projected stats by time of Heisman vote: 4,205 passing yards, 31 TDs, 2 INTs, 125 rush yards, 10 TDs

4. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama

McCarron had another efficient game this past Saturday, throwing two touchdown passes in a blowout of Tennessee. He remains the ‘break glass in case of emergency’ candidate, meaning he’s the reliable option for voters if the other candidates in the race all mess up. With games against LSU, a resurgent Auburn, plus the SEC title game still on the schedule, the potential is there for him to make a late run at the trophy despite having relatively modest production.

Last Game: 19/27, 275 yards, 2 TDs, 0 Ints in a 45-10 win over Tennessee

Season Stats: 145/209, 1,862 yards, 69.4%, 16 TDs, 3 Ints, 166.61 rating

Next Game: No. 11 LSU on Nov. 9

Projected stats by time of Heisman vote: 3,042 passing yards, 26 TDs, 5 Ints

* * *

If the vote was held today:

1. Marcus Mariota

2. Jameis Winston

3. Johnny Manziel

4. AJ McCarron

5. Bryce Petty

6. Sean Mannion

7. Jordan Lynch

8. Teddy Bridgewater

9. Tajh Boyd

10. Braxton Miller

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Heisman Weekend Preview

mccarrron

AJ McCarron is excited about this weekend’s games. Are you?

The race has narrowed down to just a few challengers. Here’s what to look for from them this weekend:

North Carolina at Florida State, 3:30 p.m. ET

The Wolfpack have been giving FSU trouble of late, winning two of the past three, including a 17-16 upset last season. Could this be the game where Jameis Winston finally hits the freshman wall?  Or will he keep it churning at his usual stellar rate? Winston has the time slot mostly to himself and I’m sure some people will tune in just to see how he does. I’ll be one of them.

Tennessee at Alabama, 3:30 p.m. ET

If AJ McCarron is going to make a late run at the Heisman, it has to begin with this game. The Vols are no longer a pushover and will play the Tide hard, so McCarron has to be on top of things. With Winston playing in the same time slot, he may not get much attention for this one.

Baylor at Kansas, 7 p.m. ET

This should be another blowout for the Bears against a hapless opponent. The only question will be how long Bryce Petty gets to play against the Jayhawks, but he should have another 300-yard passing day by the end of the third quarter.

UCLA at Oregon, 7 p.m ET

This is the Heisman game of the day. While Brett Hundley’s hopes for the trophy have gone kaput, he can still ruin things for Marcus Mariota. If the Ducks quarterback has another big game and his team rolls, look for him to strengthen his lead in the Heisman race over Winston. If he struggles, however, Winston might overtake him.

Stanford at Oregon State, 10:30 p.m. ET

How good is Sean Mannion? We are about to find out as he faces his toughest challenge yet by going up against the Stanford defense. If Mannion’s numbers are as good against the Cardinal as they have been against everyone else and he leads the Beavers to the upset, then his status in the race will go from long shot to serious contender.

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Week 9 picks

Time to reveal my plays of the week. These are the 10 games I would bet on if I were a degenerate gambler. For those who don’t know already, the first team listed is my pick, unless it’s an over/under selection. Odds provided by DocSports. If I were you, I’d bet on these games. You can thank me (or hate me) later. I went 7-4 last week (I accidentally picked 11 games) and I’m hitting 59% on the season (47-34), so heed my advice!

Note: Because I accidentally picked 11 games last week, I’m picking 9 this week.

Auburn -24 vs. Florida Atlantic

The Tigers keep the offense rolling as Nick Marshall has another big day.

Auburn 56, FAU 21

Tennessee +28 at Alabama

This should be an easy game for Bama, but the Vols play hard and should keep this loss fairly respectable.

Alabama 31, Tennessee 10

Texas +2 at TCU

The Longhorns win their fourth in a row as their ground game pounds the Horned Frogs.

Texas 31, TCU 21

Stanford -4 at Oregon State

Sean Mannion comes down to earth a bit and the Cardinal suffocate the Beavers in Corvallis.

Stanford 29, Oregon State 17

Louisiana-Monroe -12 vs. Georgia State

The Panthers remain winless as Brayle Brown has his first stellar game for the Warhawks.

ULM 35, Georgia State 18

Baylor -35.5 at Kansas

If any team stops Baylor this year, it’s not going to be Kansas. I think we’ll see another 60+ point effort.

Baylor 66, Kansas 21

Hawaii +3 vs. Colorado State

After just falling short last week, the Warriors get their first win of the season against the Rams.

Hawaii 34, Colorado State 27

Iowa -4 vs. Northwestern

The Wildcats are reeling and might be without Kain Colter again. Hawkeyes get the win after playing Buckeyes tough last week.

Iowa 24, Northwestern 17

NC State +32 at Florida State

The Wolfpack always seem to play the Seminoles tough and have won two of the last three meetings. FSU will get the win, but won’t cover.

Florida State 41, NC State 14

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