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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This week in Heisman history: Vinny Testaverde shines against Oklahoma

testaverde

Miami dominated college football in the 1980s and early 1990s, winning four national titles between 1983 and 1992, while finishing second or third four other times.

The Hurricanes succeeded with ultra-fast, hard-hitting defenses and wide-open, single-back offenses run by cerebral and efficient pro-style quarterbacks.

Jim Kelly was the first of the great Miami quarterbacks, and he helped set the table for the amazing run that was to come. Bernie Kosar came next and put the program in the spotlight when he led the ‘Canes to the national title as a redshirt freshman in 1983.

Kosar left early for the NFL, but his replacement was arguably the best Miami quarterback of all time: Vinny Testaverde.

As a first-year starter in 1985, Testaverde threw for 3,238 yards and 21 touchdowns and nearly led Miami to another championship. A Sugar Bowl loss to Tennessee left the Hurricanes with a 10-2 record. But Miami entered 1986 as one of the favorites for the national title with Testaverde as the overwhelming front runner for the Heisman Trophy.

At the time, it appeared only one team stood in the way of both goals: Oklahoma.

The Sooners were the AP preseason No. 1 team, while Miami was tabbed at third withMichigan in between. But the Wolverines struggled in their opening 24-23 win over an unranked Notre Dame team (the Irish would become the first team ever to enter the rankings despite losing). Miami took over the No. 2 spot, setting up a home showdown with No. 1 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Sept. 27, 1986.

The hype and storylines surrounding the matchup were intense. The two teams epitomized the changing structure of college football in the 1980s, with Miami cast as the “new money” insurgent program and Oklahoma as the fading but still venerable “old money” traditional power. The Hurricanes’ outlaw reputation was countered by the arrogance of the Sooners and their outspoken linebacker, Brian Bosworth.

In other words, this game was a media dream.

It soon turned into an Oklahoma nightmare.

Oklahoma and Bosworth (who finished with 14 tackles) played inspired on defense from the start, and Miami led just 7-3 at the break. But the second half was a different story as Testaverde turned in a virtuoso performance. He went 9-for-9 in the third quarter and threw three touchdowns to break the game open. He ended up 21-of-28 for 261 yards and four touchdowns on the day. He also tortured the Sooner defense with several Tarkentonesque scrambles, showing tremendous nimbleness and athleticism for a 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback.

The final result: No. 2 Miami completely outclassed No. 1 Oklahoma, 28-16.

“In 21 years, I have never seen a better quarterback,” OU coach Barry Switzer said afterward (while also adding that he didn’t want to play Miami again).

Here’s a clip from the third quarter of the game:

The Hurricanes came out of the win No. 1 and in the driver’s seat for the national title, while Testaverde all but locked up the Heisman with his performance.

An undefeated regular season followed in due course for Miami. Testaverde threw for 2,557 yards and 26 touchdowns with a record 165 pass efficiency rating, which was more than enough to claim Miami’s first Heisman.

It wasn’t a particularly strong Heisman field that year. Temple running back Paul Palmer ran for 1,866 yards for a 6-5 team, while Jim Harbaugh was the star quarterback for a top-10 Michigan squad. Neither had the resume that Testaverde offered to Heisman voters, and his performance against Oklahoma stuck in their minds all season.

Testaverde won the Heisman going away, sweeping the regions while totaling 2,213 points to Palmer’s 672 and Harbaugh’s 458.

While he couldn’t lead his team over Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, he was drafted first overall that year by Tampa Bay and went on to a 21-year NFL career.

Testaverde’s greatness at Miami helped establish that program as a Heisman power. And it all began with that win over Oklahoma, 28 years ago this week.

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Picking this week’s games

I finally got on track this season by going 7-3 in my picks last week. On the year, I’m now 17-13 overall (.566), so hopefully I can keep my momentum going. Here are my 10 picks against the spread for this week, with my choices in bold. Lines courtesy of Docsports.

Baylor -23 at Iowa State

Colorado at California OVER 66 total.

Texas A&M -10 vs. Arkansas

Nebraska -21.5 vs. Illinois

WSU +13.5 at Utah

Oregon State +9 at USC

Notre Dame -10 at Syracuse

Louisiana Tech at Auburn OVER 61 total

Maryland +4 at Indiana

Michigan State -28.5 vs. Wyoming

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The CFB Experience Podcast, Week 5

Kent Brown and HeismanPundit Jr discuss all of the top matchups for week five, including Thursday’s big Pac-12 South tilt. Will there be a major upset this week? Plus, David & Kent strongly disagree on the Texas A&M-Arkansas game.

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Ameer Abdullah’s Heisman campaign begins

Looks like it’s in full swing as I just received this in the mail from Nebraska (click for full size pic):

AA8

Eight Double-A batteries (AA = Ameer Abdullah, 8 = his number).

Clever concept!

 

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Can Amari Cooper win the Heisman?

amari-cooper

No.

Next question.

(Just kidding).

Well, it really is no.

Sort of.

But let me explain.

First, let’s look at history. A wide receiver who doesn’t also shine in the return game has never won a Heisman. Very few have even managed to make it to New York.

Here are the wide receivers who have finished in the top five in the voting in Heisman history:

Marqise Lee, 2012, 4th
Justin Blackmon, 2010, 5th
Michael Crabtree, 2008, 5th
Larry Fitzgerald, 2003, 2nd*
Randy Moss, 1997, 4th*
David Palmer, 1993, 3rd*
Desmond Howard, 1991, 1st*
Raghib Ismail, 1990, 2nd*
Tim Brown, 1987, 1st*
Anthony Carter, 1982, 4th
Howard Twilley, 1965, 2nd
Jack Snow, 1964, 5th
Tom McDonald, 1956, 3rd
Bill McColl, 1951, 4th
Leon Hart, 1949, 1st
Larry Kelley, 1936, 1st

* — traveled to NY as finalists.

As you can see, only five receivers have been invited to the Heisman ceremony (1981 was the first year it was televised, so the practice of inviting finalists is relatively new). Outside of Larry Fitzgerald in 2003, most of the receivers who did well in the vote were also all-purpose dynamos.

But this shouldn’t mean that Cooper can’t be the first to break this glass ceiling, right? After all, if Fitzgerald could finish second in the Heisman vote as a sophomore while playing for an 8-4 Pittsburgh team in 2003, surely Cooper could win it as a junior for an Alabama squad that is challenging for a national title in 2014.

But here’s the issue with pure receivers trying to win the Heisman: They either get bottled up at some point, or their quarterback starts to share credit.

Let’s look at Cooper’s numbers. Through four games, he has a remarkable 43 catches for 655 yards and five touchdowns. Much of this production can be attributed to Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who has a habit of force-feeding his wide receivers, especially early in the season. For instance, Robert Woods had 41 catches through four games for Kiffin in 2011 (and 54 through five games), while Marqise Lee had 40 in four games (and 52 through five games) in 2012.

So we’ve seen this show before.

Woods tapered off after that hot start, catching just five passes for 36 yards in game six and two catches for five yards in game 10. Lee was held to two catches for 32 yards in game six and five catches for 75 yards in game 12. Both Woods and Lee wore down physically (and mentally) due to the burden of being the focal point of the USC offense, not to mention because they took on more hits from defenders, which led to more bumps and bruises over the long run…and diminishing returns.

Also, unlike Woods and Lee, Cooper does not have a top-flight No. 2 wide receiver to draw attention away from him.  At some point, defenses will adjust.

This is what happened to Larry Fitzgerald against Miami late in the 2003 season. Fitzgerald was unstoppable all year, but he was held to three catches for 26 yards by a determined Hurricanes defense that didn’t want him to win the Heisman on their watch.

It’s just much easier for defenses to scheme to stop receivers than it is to stop quarterbacks or running backs. Quarterbacks touch the ball on every play. Running backs are handed the ball in a generally secure manner by the quarterback. But for a receiver to catch the ball, a series of events MUST occur before anything else can happen.

(1) The receiver must get open.
(2) The quarterback must identify the open receiver (he may not be the only open receiver, at that).
(3) The quarterback must deliver an accurate pass.
(4) The receiver must catch the pass.

If any of these steps get disrupted, the receiver doesn’t produce. In general, the farther away you are from the ball when it is snapped, the harder it is to win the Heisman.

But let’s say that Cooper doesn’t wear down and continues to pile up huge numbers while the Crimson Tide remain undefeated. Alas! At some point, Alabama quarterback Blake Sims is going to start to take some credit for the production and those wins. After all, every pass caught by a receiver is also a pass thrown by a quarterback.

That’s why recent pure receivers who’ve made noise in the Heisman race have seen their candidacies diluted to some extent by their quarterbacks. Brandon Weeden drew attention away from Justin Blackmon, while Michael Crabtree had to share the spotlight with Graham Harrell.

So what’s a receiver to do?

Luckily, we have the Biletnikoff Award for pure receivers. Cooper seems a cinch to win that.

The Heisman is going to be far, far more difficult.

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Amari Cooper surges into second in HeismanPundit’s latest Heisman straw poll

cooper

There’s a new runner up in HeismanPundit’s latest Heisman Straw Poll released on Tuesday (Sept. 23).

Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper’s hot start has vaulted him past Georgia running back Todd Gurley into second place in the weekly survey of Heisman voters from around the country.

Cooper sat in fifth place with just three total points in last week’s poll, but his 10-catch, 201-yard, 3-touchdown performance in Alabama’s 42-21 win over Florida resonated with the panel. Cooper tallied 12 points and two first-place votes, while Gurley — runner-up the last two weeks  — dropped to third place with nine points points, including two first-place votes.

Despite Cooper’s surge, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota strengthened his grip on the top spot thanks to a 5-touchdown outing against Washington State. Mariota increased his point total from the previous week, appearing on all 10 ballots while tallying 24 points to go with his six first-place votes. Mariota has led the last three straw polls (and four out of five this season).

Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill was fourth (four points), while Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott tied for fifth (three points).

Now in its ninth season, HeismanPundit.com’s 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, 9/23/2014

Total Points (with first place votes in parentheses)

1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — 24 (6)

2.Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama — 12 (2)

3. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia — 9 (2)

4. Kenny Hill, QB, Texas A&M — 4

5. (tie) Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska — 3

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State — 3

7. (tie) Shane Carden, QB, East Carolina — 2

Taysom Hill, QB, BYU  — 2

9. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh — 1

Number of ballots

Mariota — 10

Cooper — 5

Gurley — 4

Kenny Hill, Ameer Abdullah  — 3

Prescott — 2

All others — 1

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Who’s on pace compared to recent Heisman winners?

While getting off to a hot start isn’t necessarily required to win the Heisman, it’s been the rule of late.

Here’s a look at the last six Heisman-winning quarterbacks, with their total offense and touchdowns after their first four games:

Jameis Winston — 1,159 yards, 14 TDs

Johnny Manziel — 1,460 yards, 16 TDs

Robert Griffin III — 1,481 yards, 19 TDs

Cam Newton — 1,168 yards, 14 TDs

Sam Bradford — 1,266 yards, 17 TDs

Tim Tebow — 1,454 yards, 17 TDs

It looks like producing at least 1,150 yards of total offense and 14 combined touchdowns by game four is a fairly good indication of who’s going to challenge for the Heisman…at least in the current college football climate.

Here are the quarterbacks who have hit those numbers so far in 2014:

Connor Halladay, WSU — 1,845 yards, 16 TDs

Marcus Mariota, Oregon — 1,349 yards, 16 TDs

Shane Carden, ECU — 1,488 yards, 14 TDs

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State — 1,342 yards, 14 TDs

Rakeem Cato, Marshall — 1,338 yards, 14 TDs

Obviously, things look pretty good for Mariota, especially considering he’s already gone up against one elite defense. Prescott is also promising, while Carden and Cato could stir up some long shot trophy talk if they continue this pace.

A few more quarterbacks are on the bubble, statistically, and could move into this group soon, including Kenny Hill, Taysom Hill, Maty Mauk, Dylan Thompson, Jacoby Brissett, Anu Solomon, Brandon Doughty, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel (who has 730 yards and 10 TDs in just 2 games).

Let’s keep in mind, though, that statistics aren’t everything when it comes to winning the Heisman. We’re unlikely to see Halladay get a single vote, even if he ends up leading the nation in total offense. That’s because voters take other things into account, such as team success, tradition, impact of system, quality of competition and career resume.

We’ll check in again on these numbers when we hit game six.

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