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Heisman Weekend Wrap Up: The First Quarter

It’s tough to even type but there is no way around it, in terms of games the college football season is more than a quarter over. Over the course of four games (or two for Oregon State) the storylines for this season have drastically changed. Of the 25 teams that began the season ranked only two have lost two games, Michigan and Arkansas. Both started the season ranked in the top 10 (and both faced Alabama).

There are only two undefeated teams in the Big Ten that are bowl eligible, Northwestern and Minnesota. In the Big 12 seven of the ten teams are undefeated and two more have only lost one game (then there is Kansas).

We’ve talked at length about those who won’t win the Heisman but take a look at our preseason watch. The top seven looked like this: 1. Barkley 2. Ball 3. Robinson 4. Jones 5. Murray 6. Manuel 7. Smith. Through the first quarter of the season, our preseason watchlisters one through four have faltered or fallen off while five, six, and seven have stepped right in. This speaks to the accuracy of the Heisman Watch.

Fortunes will change during the next three quarters of the season. We may see a couple phoenix candidates rising from the ashes of their preseason hype. We are also about to see how tough conference play really is for Heisman contenders. Geno Smith, Braxton Miller and Aaron Murray haven’t had to play any ranked opponents yet so it remains to be seen who will shine and who will fade.

Quick Hits

– Oregon State is gaining a reputation for ending Heisman dreams for running backs. Stepfan Taylor, Kenjon Barner, and De’Anthony Thomas take note.

– HP preseason all-american honorable mention Cobi Hamilton caught ten passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns in a LOSS to Rutgers.

– Notre Dame has its eyes set on a BCS game now that it has taken care of its tough early schedule. A win against USC, Stanford, or Oklahoma and the Irish will likely finish 10-2.

– This

– The finalists have been announced for the 2015 National Championship Game, the four BCS Bowls, as well as the Cotton Bowl and Chik-Fil-A Bowl.

LeVeon Bell quietly had over 250 rushing yards on Saturday. Unfortunately it was against Eastern Michigan in a game the Spartans looked unimpressive winning 23-7.

 

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Heisman Weekend Preview

There won’t be a change at the top of the Heisman watch lists after this weekend. Geno Smith and Braxton Miller will have no problem putting up impressive numbers against Maryland and UAB respectively.

Even with Smith and Miller more then likely keeping their top spots, the middle of the list will become a lot clearer after separation Saturday (part one).

Middle-of-the-pack players EJ ManuelJonathan Franklin, and Denard Robinson all have tests that will make or break their Heisman campaigns. Manuel has yet to put up Heisman-worthy numbers but he has been bolstered by his efficiency with the ball and given the benefit of the doubt because he hasn’t seen much of the third or fourth quarters this season. With a top 10 Clemson team coming to Tallahassee on Saturday, you can be sure that Manuel will be under the microscope. A loss or a poor performance from Manuel and his Heisman dream…might become just that.

Franklin is just starting to get real recognition for being the the nation’s leader in rushing and all purpose yards. He’s knocked off a nationally ranked Nebraska team and had back to back 200 yard rushing games. All that means nothing if he gets chewed up by Oregon State the way it neutralized former Heisman hopeful Montee Ball. It could also solidify Franklin’s Heisman hopes if he can make the Oregon State defense look like Rice or Houston.

Robinson has already had a major test this year, which most would agree he failed (in Heisman terms). If Alabama was a week one test, then this game is Robinson’s mid-term (and Shoelace knows the subject). In two career games against Notre Dame, Robinson has 954 total yards and seven touchdowns.  Robinson will need a performance that looks more like the 2010 game (258 rush yards 244 pass yards, 3 total touchdowns) to get back on the voters’ radar. Another loss or three interception game (which he had in 2011) and Robinson will fall too far to recover.

Further down the list Collin Klein and Landry Jones face each other in a marquee match up. A decisive victory for either could give them some sorely needed national recognition.

Games to Watch

Clemson at Florida State  

No brainer, game of the week. Quick, name the last big game Florida State has won… take your time. The Seminoles beat a 12th-ranked BYU team in 2009, but the last time they beat a top 10 team was in 2007 against 10th ranked Boston College. Since then they  are 5-13 versus ranked teams (wins over 12, 15, 22, 23 & 25). None of the players on this team have ever won a big game, so this is an important opportunity for these guys. Can EJ Manuel get it done or will Tajh Boyd spoil FSU’s return to glory?

Michigan at Notre Dame

Before the season everyone said that Notre Dame’s schedule was too tough to be successful. It still has USC, Oklahoma and Stanford left but a win against Michigan means it will probably only need to win one of its three tough games to sneak into a BCS bowl. Then we’ll never hear the end of it.

Kansas State at Oklahoma 

The Belldozer (Blake Bell) vs. the Kleinbacker (a nickname I’m trying out for Collin Klein) [HP: I prefer K(lein)-State]. Vegas needs to have a line for which quarterback has more two yard (or less) touchdown runs in this game (I’m guessing it’s Klein -1/2 -115). Don’t bet against Bob Stoops at home versus ranked teams. Plain and simple he has never lost to a ranked opponent at home (and he’s only lost three games at home total).

Arizona at Oregon

Oregon’s first game against a BCS conference team (apparently Savannah State wasn’t available this week).

HP v HP Jr. picks coming up this afternoon.

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Heisman Weekend Wrap Up

Matt Barkley and the USC Trojans lost on Saturday, greatly affecting Barkley’s Heisman hopes. To read more about that go here and here.

Now on to the regularly scheduled Heisman Weekend Wrap Up.

The one take away from this weekend is that the Heisman race is wide open.

Barkley’s loss was the final straw that did it. Before him, Montee Ball looked unimpressive in a win against Northern Iowa and then was completely stymied against Oregon State. Boom, Heisman chances done. Denard Robinson took a nose dive in week one against Alabama throwing two interceptions and losing the game badly. Robinson can still work his way back into the race but his designation as a favorite is long gone.

So where does that leave us? Somewhere between Geno Smith as an untested favorite (otherworldly numbers against an FCS team and Marshall) and Braxton Miller, a physical freak who needs to avoid injury to make a true Heisman run.

Throw in the likes of Jonathan Franklin, Aaron Murray, Collin Klein, EJ Manuel, De’Anthony Thomas, and Tajh Boyd who all have legitimate Heisman resumes thus far and you can see that this race is just beginning.

Take a look back at the list of eight players I just named. With the exception of Manuel and Murray, most of these guy can afford to lose a game or two and keep their Heisman hopes alive. For Manuel and Murray, their narrative is similar to Barkley’s in that they have to lead their team to undefeated seasons while putting up respectable numbers to be considered Heisman hopefuls. The rest of the group just needs to play their asses off.

Smith is really in the drivers seat. No one (outside of Morgantown) expects West Virginia to go undefeated in its first year in the Big 12 (though they might be talented enough to). No one is going to say that the Mountaineers season is lost if they falter against a good Oklahoma or Texas (or both). Smith just needs to follow the Robert Griffin III model, win impressively, and always be the best player on the field. a 10-2 season with over 4,000 yards and a glut of touchdowns could be more than enough for Smith to book his room at the Times Square Marriott.

For Miller the road is a little bit tougher but anything he does this year is just gravy for his junior season. Miller doesn’t have to win the Heisman this year, but he could, and that right now is enough for everyone in Columbus. Only two foreseeable drawbacks arise. First is the over-saturation that comes from being in the Heisman spotlight for such a long amount of time. Ask Colt McCoy how that worked out. Second, Miller will most likely be the Heisman favorite going into 2013 and we’ve seen how the favorite has fared recently. Ask Andrew Luck how that worked out.

Quick Hits

–This is always my favorite stat of the early season. Geno Smith has as many touchdowns as incompletions (talk about following the RG3 narrative).

–HP’s pet stat this season has been De’Anthony Thomas’s touches-to-touchdown ratio. It currently stands at 31-7 or a TD every 4.42 touches.

–Jonathan Franklin leads the nation in rushing through three games but hasn’t scored a touchdown on the ground in his last two games.

–This

–Mississippi State wide receiver Chad Bumphis caught six balls on Saturday, three went for touchdowns (72yds, 58yds, and 25yds) on his way to 180 receiving yards.

–Via @MattRHinton Through three weeks, Texas is averaging 49 points on 514 yards per game and neither number ranks in the top half of the Big 12.

–I can’t wait for the Clemson-Florida State game.

 

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Heisman Weekend Preview

Matt Barkley’s Heisman campaign began on December 22nd, 2011, the day he decided to return for his senior season. Denard Robinson’s and Montee Ball’s began even earlier in the month, on December 10th immediately after Robert Griffin III won the trophy.

That’s the way the Heisman works these days. The first thing I was asked when last years winner was announced was, “Who is the favorite for next year”? Here on Heisman Pundit we had a full piece on early Heisman contenders posted just three days after the ceremony (what took us so long?).

Even relative newcomers to the Heisman scene, Collin Klein, Braxton Miller, or De’Anthony Thomas have been on watch lists all offseason and their schools have been working to push them on us as if they were Heisman shoe-ins.

For some though, their Heisman campaign begins tomorrow.

Take Le’veon Bell of Michigan State. Before week one he was a relative Heisman unknown (We did have him as a preseason dark horse). After his monster game against Boise State on the opening Friday of the season his name was on the tongue of every Heisman prognosticator in the game.

He followed up his stellar week one performance with a mediocre outing this past weekend and was quickly forgotten. At Heisman Pundit we know that one mediocre game isn’t going to kill your Heisman chances completely, but two will.

Bell used his bad game card pretty early in the going so he’s going to have to be an absolute beast for the rest of the season. Bell’s campaign for the Heisman begins this week against a ranked Notre Dame team on national television in primetime. I couldn’t think of a better place for a campaign kickoff (or concession speech).

In Los Angeles, Bruin die hards are complaining that the Jonathan Franklin for Heisman bumper stickers should have been printed a week ago after he had arguably the best rushing performance of week one. I actually gave Franklin my player of the week honors (HP gave it to an also deserving Geno Smith) in week one but he stayed off of our Heisman Watch as we waited for more statistics on him.

The data is in and it’s impressive. Two weeks into the season Franklin is the nations leading rusher and averages over ten yards per carry. You could argue that Franklins first campaign tour stop went right through the Nebraska defense but I’d have to disagree. Watching that game it felt like it was Brett Hundley time. Franklin didn’t come on strong until late in the game and by then it was more about the upset than any specific player. Franklin’s greatness in that game had to be digested and computed for a few hours before we could see it for what it was worth.

Now all eyes are on Westwood (via Pasadena) as Franklin takes on his second team from Houston in the past three weeks. This Saturday it becomes official, there are two Heisman campaigns in Los Angeles.

Or three? Marqise Lee probably thinks there should be three. Lee is caught in a tough position, all of his production (which has been prolific thus far) comes from the current Heisman favorite, Matt Barkley. Even with that  rather large hinderance Lee has put up numbers that if sustainable for a full season would at least warrant his presence in New York City in early December.

Games of the Week

There are three match ups of ranked opponents (there would have been four but Arkansas couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain with Alabama) this weekend led most notably by the USC-Stanford and Notre Dame-Michigan State games. Florida takes on Tennessee in a very important SEC East match up to round out the trifecta.

Barkley, Lee, and Bell will obviously be the spotlight of these match ups but don’t forget about Tennessee quarter back Tyler Bray, a Heisman dark (very dark) horse candidate. Bray has been impressive in his first two games of the season and a win over Florida with say 350 yards and three (or four) scores might be enough to make him a serious contender (it might also cool Derek Dooley’s hot seat).

Almost every other Heisman hopeful faces a cupcake (Braxton Miller faces California) so there will be impressive numbers put up this weekend but take them with a grain of salt. Geno Smith is expected to put up insane numbers against James Madison, it would be more alarming if he didn’t. The same goes for Aaron Murray against Florida Atlantic, Robinson versus UMass, Franklin against Houston and Klein versus North Texas.

HP v HP Jr. picks coming up this afternoon.

 

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The Heisman through the Lens of 9/11

Each year on this day we are reminded that there are more important things than sports. We are reminded that nothing should be taken for granted, that the freedom we are blessed with does not come without a cost. Eleven years ago today the worst foreign attack on American soil was perpetrated by terrorists bent on destroying our country.

Looking back on that day, I distinctly remember thinking that the world I lived in had changed forever. Our sense of domestic security was threatened that day in a way it had never been before. We felt vulnerable as a nation. I felt vulnerable as 10th grader in rural New Hampshire.

Sports didn’t matter that day. The Red Sox had just finished a three game series with the Yankees, but the morning of September 11th neither team existed in my world. Two things mattered, my grandparents who flew out of Boston that day and my two older brothers who were in the military at the time. My grandparents ended up being safe and while one of my brothers ended up in Iraq, the both finished their military service unharmed.

September 12th felt much the same as the previous day with one exception, instead of thinking solely about the horrors of the previous day, we collectively began to think of how to return to normal or at least accept a new normal. By the weekend the decision had been made to cancel all sporting events (remember, airports were barely beginning to re-open in the Northeast). The decision was necessary, sports were still irrelevant when compared to the tragedy we had just suffered, but sports would eventually return and would have to find a place in the new normal.

When all sports seasons resumed the following week the teams and sports took on a different meaning. First, it helped with the healing of the nation. The displays of patriotism and remembrance each team performed as they returned to the field for the first time united the country in a sort of vigil for those who lost their lives in the September 11th attacks. Second it marked the first time many Americans were able to turn off their over worked brains and enjoy something again. Sports began to help us form the new normal.

The Heisman would be awarded in December of 2001 to quarterback Eric Crouch of Nebraska just three months after the attacks. Unfortunately the ceremony would be affected by the events of September 11th.

The Downtown Athletic Club was located just a half mile from the World Trade center and while it did not suffer any damage, the building was forced to be evacuated and closed for an extended amount of time. Because of the forced closure the Downtown Athletic Club had to declare bankruptcy and was closed.

Seventeen Heisman winners collected their trophy in that building, and then went on to serve in the military to preserve the freedoms the terrorists sought to destroy eleven years ago. A majority of those men responded to a similar attack that changed their lives, the attack on Pearl Harbor.

HP and I travel to New York every year to attend the Heisman ceremony and we normally stay in the financial district just blocks away from Ground Zero. This year on an off day we walked down to the WTC memorial, passing by the closed Downtown Athletic Club. HP, a Navy veteran, and I talked about how our lives had been changed by the event and how the world we lived in was drastically different.  We didn’t talk about sports.

We didn’t need to. Sports are part of the new normal.

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Heisman Weekend Wrap Up

Braxton Miller is a beast. Probably a very tired beast.

Against the University of Central Florida, Miller did a little bit of everything…and a lot of rushing. Miller was competent through the air, completing 18 of 24 passes for 155 yards with a touchdown, but on the ground he was spectacular, rushing for 141 yards and three scores.

The running backs at Ohio State combined for 24 rushing attempts and 115 yards, but Miller attempted 27 rushes (a week after Urban Meyer told the media that Miller’s 17 rushes the week prior were too many).

LSU stud running back Kenny Hilliard hasn’t had his number called 27 times all year!

Miller looks fantastic so far this season (against suspect competition) but the main question that arises is whether he can handle this workload through out the Big Ten conference slate.

Another Big Ten quarterback, Denard Robinson, had a breakout beginning to a season a couple years ago but was hampered by minor injuries and shake-ups due to the hits he was taking from running the ball. Miller could learn a thing or two from his chief rival.

Speaking of the Wolverines, their defense will be ready for a talent like Miller after practicing against ‘Shoelace’ all season. Denard might have to serve as the scout team quarterback that week.

Miller wasn’t the only quarter back who found the end zone three times on the ground. Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein also scored three times but did it in a far more workmanlike fashion (22 carries 71 yards). Klein and the Wildcats have quietly averaged 51.5 points through the first two games and, with North Texas coming to Manhattan on Saturday, expect that number to rise.

Quick Hits

–The jury is still out on the strength of Pac-12 but week two sure helped the quiet the naysayers. Week three sends Cal to Ohio State and Utah has to face BYU.

– Apropos of the previous quick hit, Sacramento State is 2-0 against the Pac-12 in the last two years.

–Michigan State is the Big Ten’s last realistic hope for national championship representation. The only other undefeated (bowl eligible) teams in the Big Ten? Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota.

Munchie Legaux is a lot of fun to watch (and say) but his name makes me wish he played at LSU.

– San Diego State was back to kicking extra points and punting the ball against Army. The one game experiment went poorly for the Aztecs in week one when they failed two two-point conversions and were stuffed on a fourth down.

Matt Barkley tied his own school record of six touchdown passes but had somewhat of an off week in a game that was delayed for nearly an hour due to weather.

–This

–Pittsburgh is in trouble. The Panthers suffered two ugly losses, they are shoddy in all three phases and this week they welcome in Virginia Tech. (Gardner Webb is the week four opponent).

–Two quarterbacks have thrown for over 790 yards this season. Both of them are 0-2 (Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and David Piland of Houston)

–The Big East announced that a name change might be nigh in the near future and then said that the name is staying. San Diego State will be in the Big EAST next season.

–A wide receiver from Clemson named Sammy Watkins returns from a two game suspension this week and the Furman Paladins are not happy to hear this.

Brett Hundley is really exciting to watch.

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Heisman Weekend Preview


If you looked at the college football schedule in early February, the best week two matchup would immediately stand out. Your eye would be drawn to the game that featured two top-10 teams with two legitimate Heisman contenders.

That game doesn’t exist anymore.

Back in the olden days when West Virginia was in the Big East, they signed a home and home contract to play Florida State in 2012 and 2013. Because of the Mountaineers move to the Big XII they had to drop a non conference game.

Thankfully WVU saved its game against FCS opponent James Madison instead of playing the lowly Seminoles. If not for the sacrifice of the FSU game, WVU might have had to give up a game against the mighty Maryland Terrapins, winners of two games last year. If you think about it West Virginia had to keep its rivalry with Marshall intact (a game that has been played exactly 12 times, and the Thundering Herd has lost every time) or else West Virginians would never know who was the best team in the Mountain State (hint: it’s The Mountaineers).

Even with all the snark, I think WVU made the right move. At HP we know that the team that matches an easy schedule with decent talent has the best chance to find themselves in a BCS game. The Mountaineers know this. 10 times out of 10 you have to drop FSU.

Even if it would have been the matchup of the week and excited the hell out of every college football fan. (Poor Savannah State.)

So what is the game of the week? Three games you might not expect. For most prognosticators Georgia-Missouri is at the top followed by maybe Washington-LSU and some U versus State game. Chew on these:

Utah at Utah State. Utah State is a good football team. Last year the Aggies seven regular season wins under represented the talent of the team. In 2011 only one of their six losses was by more than a touchdown.

Not much to say about Utah other than the fact that they probably deserve Stanford’s place in the top-25 polls.

This looks like the last Utah-Utah State game for the foreseeable future so expect both teams to come out swinging for the fences. This could be the game of the weekend, before the weekend even starts.

Vanderbilt at Northwestern. In my eyes this game looks like a repeat of last weeks NW-Syracuse game. You might not particularly care for either team but you will still be sucked in.

Nebraska at UCLA. Is Taylor Martinez actually good now? Can Jonathan Franklin replicate his week one heroics? Will Rex Burkhead be back to 100%? Is Jim Mora for real? Will there be more Nebraska fans at the Rose Bowl than Bruins? This game has intrigue.

HP and I would normally put up our weekly picks her but we are going to do a head to head feature each week to see who has got a better feel on the pulse of Vegas. Expect our picks later today.

 

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