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The role of conference realignment in Heisman voting

Last year, Heisman Pundit wrote about how conference realignment gave West Virginia’s Geno Smith a unique advantage in the Heisman race.

While Smith failed to finish in the top 10 of Heisman voting due in large part to a poor showing in a week 8 matchup against fellow Heisman hopeful Colin Klein and Kansas State, one player did end up as the beneficiary of conference realignment in last year’s Heisman voting: Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.

Heisman balloting is divided into 6 geographic regions: Far West, Mid Atlantic, Mid West, North East, South and Southwest. When the BCS was introduced in 1998, the 6 BCS automatic-qualifying conferences were each mostly contained within a single region: the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) was in the Far West, the ACC mostly was in the Mid Atlantic, the Big 10 was mostly in the Mid West, the SEC was mostly in the South and the Big 12 was mostly in the Southwest. The Big East was more spread out across the east coast.

BallotingRegions

As discussed before, voters have a tendency to vote for players from their region. Looking at voting from 1998 through 2012, with the exception of the North East region, which has had only two finalists in that span, every region on average gives the highest vote totals to players from within that region.

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Examining a conference breakdown of regional votes over the same period, we see a similar pattern of conference preference by region.

Screen Shot 2013-10-25 at 10.28.09 AM

Conference realignment has adjusted the relationship between region and conference. More schools are playing in conferences that are concentrated in regions different from where the school is located.  So, in addition to writers and reporters in their school’s region, players now receive more media exposure in their conference’s region.

1998Regions

2013Regions

Texas A&M’s move to the SEC put it in the unique position of being located in Texas, the major media outlet center of the Southwest region, while playing in the SEC, concentrated in the South region.

The Aggies’ conference schedule set up some high profile games played in the South region, namely a marquee match-up with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which earned Manziel major support in the South region, and nationwide. With no offensive Heisman candidates from the South region and no other candidates from schools in Texas, Manziel was the clear standout candidate in two regions. Manziel went on to receive the highest vote total in every balloting region except the Mid West, where Manti Te’o of Notre Dame (located in the Mid West region) received the highest total. With all of these schools changing conferences, which ones are in the best position to benefit?

Missouri and Texas A&M moving to the SEC, West Virginia moving to the Big 12 and Colorado moving to the Pac-12 provide the most exposure for these schools in a new region. With the structure of the ACC and American Athletic Conference, moves to these conferences does less to help players’ exposure within a region outside of their own. Of course, regardless of realignment, players have to perform well enough to garner Heisman consideration.

Let’s see if anyone steps up to take advantage of the changing landscape.

* * *

The author of this post, Daniel Heard, is a PhD candidate in Statistical Science at Duke University. He has dedicated a significant portion of his research to examining trends in Heisman Trophy voting and developing a model to forecast the voting each year.

You can contact Daniel at danielpheard@gmail.com.

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Week 8 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 6-4 last week so I’m hitting 57% on the season (40-30), so heed my advice!

Oregon State -11 at California

The Bears are reeling and the Beavers are rolling right now. Expect more of the same on Saturday

Oregon State 56, California 24

Missouri +3 vs. Florida

No one knows much about Maty Mauk, but the guy can throw. I think Mizzou doesn’t skip a beat with him in the lineup this week and the Tigers get the mild upset.

Mizzou 24, Florida 17

Baylor -33 vs. Iowa State

The Bears get that incredible offense back on track at home against the Cyclones. Huge game for Lache Seastrunk.

Baylor 63, Iowa State 21

Oklahoma State -7.5 vs. TCU

The Horned Frogs continue to struggle and OSU finally gets its offense back on track.

OSU 35, TCU 21

Utah +4 at Arizona

Utah keeps its momentum going after last week’s upset of Stanford, slows down Ka’Deem Carey in outright win.

Utah 31, Arizona 27

Ohio -16 at Eastern Michigan

The Bobcats bounce back from last week’s loss to Central Michigan with a good all-around effort vs. Eastern.

Ohio 38, EMU 17

Maryland -6 at Wake Forest

The Terps get CJ Brown back and Stefon Diggs has a big game as Maryland rolls.

Maryland 31, Wake Forest 17

Ohio State -18 vs. Iowa

The Buckeyes are well-rested after a bye week. Braxton Miller with the monster game as OSU takes it to the Hawkeyes.

Ohio State 45, Iowa 17

Georgia -6.5 at Vanderbilt

The Bulldogs bounce back after the upset loss to Mizzou as Aaron Murray comes through once again.

Georgia 27, Vanderbilt 17

OVER 63.5 Florida State at Clemson

Not sure who will win this one, but I think points will be scored a-plenty. Let’s give the edge to the home team in a barn burner.

Clemson 41, Florida State 38

Stanford -4.5 vs. UCLA

Lots of people picking the Bruins in an upset, but Stanford’s defense is too good (and proud) to get taken advantage of two weeks in a row. Stanford gets serious and comes away with the solid win.

Stanford 34, UCLA 24

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HP’s mid-season All-Americans

melvin-gordon

Here are my mid-season All-Americans.

Note: I pick a fullback because, after all, it is still a position in football (albeit a dying one).

Another note: I also pick an offensive line unit as opposed to individual OL players because otherwise I’d be pretending that I knew how well an individual lineman was performing from week to week.

OFFENSE

QB — Marcus Mariota, Oregon

He’s got 25 touchdowns running and passing. And no turnovers. That says it all.

RB — Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin

He’s been crazy explosive, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.

FB — Kiero Small, Arkansas

He’s turned into a real weapon in the Razorback offense.

WR — Brandin Cooks, Oregon State

On his way to shattering Pac-12 receiving records.

WR — Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Already has five catches of 60-plus yards.

WR — Mike Evans, Texas A&M

Johnny Football’s No. 1 target and slayer of the Bama defense.

TE — Eric Ebron, North Carolina

Physically gifted tight end who can block as well as catch.

OL  UNIT — Texas A&M

One of the reasons Johnny Manziel is able to run around and improvise so much is that this unit gives him so much time and space to do so.

DEFENSE

DE — Vic Beasley, Clemson

The nation’s sack leader with 9 and the best end in the state of South Carolina.

DE — Michael Sam, Missouri

He’s got 10 tackles for loss already this season.

DT — Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh

Has a remarkable eight sacks and 12 tackles for losses despite playing on the interior.

DT — Leonard Williams, USC

Leads USC in tackles — rare for a lineman — and tackles for loss.

OLB — Anthony Barr, UCLA

Already has four forced fumbles and 10 tackles for loss.

OLB — Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State

Tied for the national lead with 12.5 tackles for loss.

ILB — Chris Borland, Wisconsin

Has 56 tackles, including 16 against No. 4 Ohio State.

ILB — C.J. Mosley, Alabama

The Tide’s field general on defense leads the team in tackles with 48.

CB — Ifo Ekpre-Olumu, Oregon

A true shutdown corner and one of the reasons for the much-improved Duck defense.

CB — Jason Verrett, TCU

Has 10 pass breakups and a pick so far this season.

S — Deone Bucannon, WSU

As hard a hitter as there is in college football; has four interceptions, 64 tackles.

S — Vinnie Sunseri, Alabama 

Instinctive player with two interceptions returns for touchdowns already this year.

Placekicker — Andy Phillips, Utah

He’s a perfect 11 for 11 this season.

Punter — Zac Murphy, Miami (OH)

He leads the nation with a 47.7 average.

Punt returner — Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa

Already has two TDs, averaging nearly 26 yards per return.

Kickoff returner — Ty Montgomery, Stanford

His work in the return game is the most positive thing going on at Stanford the last two weeks.

All-Purpose runner — Marion Grice, Arizona State

He has 10 touchdowns on the ground, 5 through the air. His 15 total TDs lead the nation.

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The round up

Here’s the latest chatter about the Heisman…

The buzz surrounding Mariota and Mannion is good for the state of Oregon.

Is Jameis Winston ready for a ‘Manziel’ moment against Clemson?

This Heisman voter likes Mariota.

Bryce Petty is launching Baylor’s offense to new heights.

Gregg Doyel has Mariota as his front runner, too.

As you can tell, Mariota’s hype is picking up steam.

There’s always Super Bowl Bets and 2014 World Cup Betting.

Gus Malzahn called Johnny Manziel the greatest that ever played, along with Cam Newton.

Is Manziel even better this year?

Bobby Bowden says Winston is as good as anyone FSU has ever had.

This voter likes Tajh Boyd.

Brett Hundley could makes his case for the Heisman against Stanford.

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Week 7 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 had my first losing week of the season last week, going 4-6, but I’m still hitting 57% on the season (34-26), so heed my advice!

Here are this week’s picks:

Texas A&M -6.5 at Mississippi

Johnny Football had two weeks to prepare and I think the Aggies come out on fire in this one. I think we’ll see lots of scoring with A&M pulling away at the end.

Texas A&M 45, Ole Miss35

Stanford -9 at Utah

The Utes just don’t have the dynamism to attack the Stanford defense. Meanwhile, I think the Cardinal will snap back from a tepid offensive performance last week.

Stanford 34, Utah 13

LSU -7 vs. Florida

Florida has excellent corners and this will be a tough challenge for Zach Mettenberger, but I think the wheels come off Tyler Murphy a bit and LSU asserts itself on defense.

LSU 24, Florida 14

Oregon -13 at Washington

I think Washington invested a lot in its loss to Stanford last week. That was a game that better-suited UW’s style. This one, not so much. The Huskies get some points but can’t stop the Oregon juggernaut.

Oregon 52, Washington 35

Northwestern +10 at Wisconsin

The Wildcats nearly pulled off the upset of Ohio State last week and I think they’ll bounce back and beat Wisconsin outright as Venric Mark has a big game.

Northwestern 27, Wisconsin 24

Alabama -27 at Kentucky

The Tide are quietly putting together a nice stretch of defense, having allowed no touchdowns in its last 12 quarters. I think there’s a chance that streak goes to 16 against the Wildcats.

Alabama 38, Kentucky 9

Oregon State +2 at Washington State

I’m a little surprised that WSU is favored in this one. Sean Mannion has another huge day and the Beavers get the mild upset.

Oregon State 42, Washington State 28

Boise State -7 at Utah State

Without Chuckie Keeton, I don’t think Utah State will get much done on offense. Joe Southwick should play well and lead the Broncos to an easy win.

Boise State 31, Utah State 10

Nebraska -15 at Purdue

The Cornhuskers are actually starting to roll a bit with Tommy Armstrong at QB. But Taylor Martinez should also be back from injury as well and the Nebraska offense should overwhelm Purdue.

Nebraska 49, Purdue 21

Baylor -17.5 at Kansas State

The Wildcats have played fairly tough the past two weeks but I don’t think they can stop the Baylor offense. The Bears won’t score 70, but they’ll score over 45 and win this one going away.

Baylor 52, Kansas State 27

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Week 6 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 6-4 in my picks last week and I’m hitting 60% on the season (30-20), so heed my advice!

I’m out of town at a wedding so just doing the picks without commentary.

Clemson -14 at Syracuse

Miami -6.5 vs. Georgia Tech

Oregon -40 at Colorado

Arkansas +13 at Florida

Oklahoma -9 vs. TCU

Stanford -9 vs. Washington

OVER 57 points Auburn vs. Ole MIss

Arizona State -6.5 at Notre Dame

UCF -10 at Memphis

North Carolina +8 at Virginia Tech

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Advice for USC on its coaching search

NCAA Football: Utah State at Southern California

Now that USC has fired Lane Kiffin, the silliness over who will replace him has begun.

I’m not talking about the usual silliness that ensues in the media or with the fans, with reports about this coach or that being spotted at LAX or on USC’s campus.

I’m talking about the silliness that has always marked the USC hiring process.

This is a school that hasn’t conducted a serious, grown-up coaching search since 1925, when it hired away Howard Jones from Iowa. Since then, every head coach save two has had some sort of direct connection to USC. While this approach worked well enough during the era of unlimited scholarships and disparity in college football, it has not gone nearly as well in the modern era.

For USC, past success has turned out to be its enemy when it comes to hiring coaches.

John McKay was wildly successful from 1960 to 1975 which meant USC spent the next 25 years trying to find the next McKay. While the rest of college football changed, Trojans administrators and fans remained stuck in the past. The I-formation tailback and Student Body Right were the obsession and winning was seen as a birthright, something that could be attained simply by finding the right coach who could get back to that specific style. After all, if it worked with McKay, why couldn’t it work now? was the thought.

When the Trojans hired their offensive coordinator, Ted Tollner, to replace John Robinson in 1983, the main worry among USC people was not whether he would win a bunch of games or not — that was taken for granted — but that he would pass the ball too much. After all, he had come to USC from BYU and who the heck wanted USC to be like BYU? Their worries were unfounded since the rather meek Tollner did little to tinker with the status quo. When Tollner failed after four seasons, USC brought in Larry Smith from Arizona. Smith was a Bo Schembechler protege who promised to bring that physical mentality back to Troy. But Smith had found his level at Arizona and he lacked the stature and personality to coach at a place like USC, where he was also distrusted as an outsider who didn’t ‘get’ the tradition. He, too, failed and a chastened USC administration took the lazy route and brought back John Robinson for another go-around. Robinson promised to run Student Body Right as much as Student Body Left and the fan base swooned. A return to glory was imminent!

Meanwhile, college football had changed drastically — not that USC noticed. The BYU offense and the one-back style run by Miami was infiltrating the sport. Sophisticated passing offenses were in vogue. The power run game as exemplified by what USC did in the 1970s no longer worked. Defenses were too quick, plus scholarship restrictions meant parity ruled the day. USC no longer held a monopoly on athletes.

Nonetheless, when Robinson’s second go-around failed, USC clung to its past and went with another coach with connections to the school, this time hiring Paul Hackett, who was Robinson’s assistant when it had last won a national title back in 1978 (you see, because Hackett had coached on a national title team 20 years earlier, that made him qualified to coach USC in the ’90s).

Hackett was a disaster, but his hiring had one major upside: It made USC realize it had finally hit rock bottom. The school came to terms with the notion that winning wasn’t a birthright and that it did not have the luxury of choosing how it would win. It finally understood that if it wanted to return to glory, it had to change with the times.

That’s when USC hired Pete Carroll. Now, this was also another bungled coaching search, done without the proper due diligence but, for once, the Trojans lucked out. Carroll was a failed NFL coach who was hungry to prove himself. What’s more, he understood the landscape of college football at the time, which is why he said the following when he was hired:

“Today’s game, it’s different. This is a time when the game is evolving. It’s a wide open, spread the field, use the space, calling on the athletic ability of your players to take advantage of that. At this university, we have the players that can get that done. In all phases of our game, we have to learn to play a spread the field type of football. That’s what we will have to do to win the Pac-10, that’s what we will have to do to realize all the dreams that we want to realize.”

He was dead on. And with USC fans hungry to win by any means possible — even by, shudder, passing the football — the old mentality of Student Body Right was finally laid to rest. Carroll brought in former BYU offensive mastermind Norm Chow and the Trojans installed a cutting edge offense. It took 20 years, but USC was finally ready to compete in the modern era.

What happened next is what always happens when you combine elite talent with good coaching — you win a lot of games. Carroll and USC dominated college football from 2002 until 2008, winning two national titles along the way.

But there was a downside to it (and I’m not talking about NCAA matters).

With the success of the Carroll era, USC fans and administrators unlearned their previous hard-learned lesson and once again came around to seeing winning as a birthright. The idea that USC had the ability — nay, the right — to choose how it would win games returned. And so, when Carroll left for the NFL, the overarching concern was to find a coach who would continue to do things exactly how Carroll did them.

Of course this outlook ignored a lot of new trends that had been taking place in college football. Namely, the advent of the spread (starting around 2005) was changing how the sport was being played on both sides of the ball. Mobile quarterbacks were putting up huge numbers in these systems and programs that were once considered rinky-dink were able to compete with the big boys. In other words, a sea-change in college football was taking place of the same magnitude that happened in the early 1980s.

Just like in the early 1980s, USC put its head in the sand and, after a very unserious search, hired Kiffin to replace Carroll. It was the equivalent of tasking a general schooled in World War I tactics to fight World War II. As a result, USC and the French circa 1940 shared the same fate.

And so, USC must now hire a new coach.

But before it hires a new coach, it must decide what kind of USC it wants to be.

Is winning the priority or is the priority to win a certain way?

If it really wants to win, USC must not make the same mistake it made in 1983. It must let go of the notion that USC football is necessarily synonymous with a particular style. It must recognize that college football has changed a lot since the last time USC won a national title. The offensive scheme that USC ran in 2003 and 2004 was the optimal offense in college football at the time. That is no longer the case. USC must change like it did in 2001 if it wants to win championships again.

The best offenses in college football, schematically speaking, currently reside at schools like Baylor, Oregon and Texas A&M, where the shackles of tradition and the arrogance borne of repeated success have not blinded progress. USC should hire a coach who is dedicated to running an offense similar to the ones run by these schools.

Now, I know. Alabama has won three national titles running a basic, smashmouth offense. But the Tide won their championships despite its offense, not because of it, and has twice backed into the BCS championship game under fortunate circumstances — after less-talented teams ranked ahead of it lost late. What’s more, Nick Saban is arguably the best coach in college football. Unless you get Saban himself, good luck trying to duplicate what he does.

Even more important than finding the right style is for USC to finally mount a serious search for a proven college head coach. The path of least resistance should not be a viable option.

That means no coaches with ties to the school, no NFL retreads, no coaches from the Pete Carroll coaching tree, no coaches who need on-the-job training.

Start fresh. Renew the tradition, but do it by ushering in a new era.

That means no Jack Del Rio. No Steve Sarkisian. No Herm Edwards.

Anyone who follows college football knows what the list of possible coaching targets should be and it begins with these guys:

Art Briles
Kevin Sumlin
Chris Petersen
Gary Patterson
Pat Fitzgerald
James Franklin

These are the types of guys USC should be going after — proven college head coaches who know how to do more with less. All these coaches have the potential to be very successful at USC. Remember, it is the situation that generally tends to make a coach great and USC will be a perfect situation for the right coach.

I’m under no illusion that USC will listen to this advice, though I think there’s a good chance we might finally be on the same page. Of course, if it had listened to me in the first place, it would not be in this mess right now.

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