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Oh, what a wonderful Heisman race

mariotapetty

I admit to preferring some Heisman races to others over the years. As much as I love the Heisman selection process, it’s true that some campaigns have fallen short in the drama category, while a couple others have left a bit of an aftertaste, so to speak.

But I’m bullish on this year’s Heisman race to this point, mainly because it features the most varied and talented field in recent memory. I’d rate these candidates over the stellar groups from 2008, 2009 and 2011.

First, consider the quarterbacks:

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The HP Heisman Watch, week 5

Big Ten Championship Football

Here is the week 5 edition of the 2014 HP 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. 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.

1. Marcus Mariota, JR, QB, Oregon

Oregon had the week off, but Mariota’s numbers remain pristine. He leads the nation in passing efficiency (217.9) and completion percentage (74%) and is second in yards per attempt (11.8). He is one of six quarterbacks with over 90 throws not to have an interception. He has the spotlight to himself on Thursday when the Ducks will try to exact revenge for last year’s loss to Arizona, so it’s a good opportunity to bolster his status as the front runner in this race.

Season Stats: 71 of 96, 1,135 yards, 74.0%, 13 TDs, 0 INTs, 217.9 rating, 33 carries, 214 yards, 3 TDs

Season Pace: 3,689 passing yards, 42 TDs, 696 rushing yards, 10 TDs.

2. Todd Gurley, JR, RB, Georgia

Gurley had a career day in Georgia’s thrilling 35-32 win over Tennessee, rushing for 208 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. He is now sixth nationally in rushing yards per game and is averaging nearly nine yards per carry. More importantly, he is very close to getting on pace for the magical 2,000-yard mark. It may take a Bulldog appearance in the SEC title game for him to get there, which means Gurley has to lead his team to the SEC East title. Otherwise, he may be sitting at home on the last weekend of college football. It will be hard to win the Heisman if that happens, but he appears to be on pace to get to New York as a finalist no matter what.

Season Stats: 69 carries, 610 yards, 8.8 YPC, 6 TDs, 9 receptions, 29 yards, 100 yard kickoff return for a TD.

Season Pace: 1,830 rushing yards, 18 touchdowns.

3. Everett Golson, SO, QB, Notre Dame

Golson had another fine outing this past weekend, this time in a victory over Syracuse. Golson completed 32 of 39 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns (with two picks). At one point, he completed an FBS-record-tying 25-straight passes. The Irish take a step up on in class this weekend when they take on Stanford, which boasts one of the country’s top defenses. If Golson performs well and leads Notre Dame over the Cardinal, he will establish himself as the leading quarterback rival to Mariota in this race.

Season Stats: 94 of 135, 1,142 yards, 69.6%, 11 TDs, 2 INTs, 164.6 rating, 104 rush yards, 4 TDs.

Season Pace: 3,426 passing yards, 33 TDs, 312 rushing yards, 12 TDs.

4. Ameer Abdullah, SR, RB, Nebraska

I said last week that voters love 200-yard rushing games and Abdullah came back with yet another, his third of the season and second in as many weeks, as the Cornhuskers ripped Illinois. Abdullah had 208 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 carries. He is now second nationally in rushing yards per game and is on pace to reach the 2,000-yard mark — and that doesn’t even count a potential extra outing in the Big Ten title game. As he continues his march toward the all-time Nebraska rushing record, he’ll start to reap the benefits of being mentioned alongside the school’s all-time greats, which will give him an extra edge over other backs in the race.

Season Stats: 114 carries, 833 yards, 7.31 YPC, 8 TDs, 5 receptions, 108 yards, 2 TD.

Season Pace: 1,999 yards, 19 TDs, 12 catches, 259 yards, 5 TDs.

5. Melvin Gordon, JR, RB, Wisconsin

Gordon is starting to get on a bit of a tear. He rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns against South Florida and now has 434 yards and seven scores in the last two weeks. No other back on this list can pile up chunks of yardage the way Gordon can. Like Gurley, he’s approaching the 2,000-yard pace and there’s a good chance he’ll get there even if the Badgers don’t make it to the Big Ten title game. The schedule from her on out is certainly favorable, though only a late-season showdown with Nebraska promises to be high-profile enough for voters to want to zero in. Given the schedule and the strength of the field arrayed against him, Gordon’s best chance of winning the Heisman will probably require him to average around 180 yards and 2.5 touchdowns the rest of the way, which would give him roughly 2,200 yards and 31 scores for the season. I think he can do it.

Season Stats: 78 carries, 612 yards, 7.85 YPC, 8 TD, 5 receptions, 27 yards, 1 TD.

Season Pace: 1,836 yards, 24 TDs, 15 catches, 84 yards, 2 TDs.

6. Kenny Hill, SO, QB, Texas A&M

Hill had his most difficult outing of the season in A&M’s overtime win over Arkansas, completing just 51.2 percent of his throws. However, he did toss four touchdowns to bring his season total to 17, which puts him at second nationally. He’s on pace for a stellar season, but three-straight top 12 opponents are coming up, which could make-or-break his Heisman candidacy. If he leads the Aggies through that gauntlet, he’ll probably be on his way to New York.

Season Stats: 118 of 180, 1,745 yards, 65.6%, 17 TDs, 2 INTs, 175.9 rating, 136 rush yards.

Season Pace: 4,188 passing yards, 41 TD passes, 326 rushing yards.

7. Bryce Petty, SR, QB, Baylor

Petty threw for 336 yards and one touchdown and rushed for two more as Baylor crushed Iowa State, 49-28, this past Saturday. The Bears quarterback is starting to put up the yardage needed to challenge for the Heisman, but his touchdown production is lagging behind a bit. Since the Big 12 does not feature a championship game, Petty has just eight more games to make his case. He’ll probably need to average around 375 yards of  total offense and four total touchdowns per game the rest of the way to have a shot against this very strong field — which is totally doable in Baylor’s offense — though voters might not care as much about the details of his production if he leads the Bears to an undefeated season (including an impressive win over Oklahoma).

Season Stats: 66 of 101, 913 yards, 65.3%, 7 TDs, 1 INTs, 162.18 rating, 13 carries, 79 yards, 3 TD.

Season Pace: 3,347 passing yards, 26 TDs, 289 rushing yards, 11 TDs.

8. Dak Prescott, JR, QB, Mississippi State

Prescott and the Bulldogs are coming off a bye after defeating LSU in Baton Rouge. If Prescott leads MSU over the Aggies this Saturday and then past Auburn the following Saturday, he could move into this list’s top four.  Defeating ranked teams on three consecutive weekends might give him enough momentum to survive a loss later in the season and propel him to the Heisman, so long as he keeps up his statistical pace.

Season Stats: 58 of 96, 964 yards, 60.4%, 11 TDs, 2 INT, 178.4 rating, 62 carries, 378 yards, 3 TD.

Season Pace: 2,892 passing yards, 33 TDs, 1,134 rushing yards, 9 TDs.

9. Taysom Hill, JR, QB, BYU

Hill and BYU had off this past weekend and will face Utah State on Friday night. Hill remains on pace for an excellent season and, if BYU finishes 12-0 with no playoff berth available to it, some voters might send him to New York as a nice consolation prize.

Season Stats: 80 of 121, 876 yards, 66.1%, 6 TDs, 3 INT, 138.3 rating, 79 carries, 428 rush yards, 7 TDs.

Season Pace: 2,628 passing yards, 18 TDs, 1,284 rushing yards, 21 TDs.

If the vote was held today

1. Marcus Mariota*

2. Todd Gurley*

3. Ameer Abdullah*

4. Amari Cooper*

5. Dak Prescott*

6. Kenny Hill

7. Everett Golson

8. Melvin Gordon

9. Bryce Petty

10. Brett Hundley

* — finalist

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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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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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The HP Heisman Watch, Week 4

Ameer-Abdullah-Nebraska-2014

Here is the week 4 edition of the 2014 HP 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. 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.

1. Marcus Mariota, JR, QB, Oregon

Mariota’s production continues to soar after a 329-yard, 5-touchdown performance in Oregon’s 38-31 win over Washington State. He now leads the nation in passing efficiency and is on pace to put up 52 total touchdowns by the time the Heisman vote is due. Oregon has this weekend off, but Mariota has taken command of this race. If he maintains his current statistical pace and the Ducks don’t suffer any major letdowns, he might run away with the trophy.

Season Stats: 71 of 96, 1,135 yards, 74.0%, 13 TDs, 0 INTs, 217.9 rating, 33 carries, 214 yards, 3 TDs

Season Pace: 3,689 passing yards, 42 TDs, 696 rushing yards, 10 TDs.

2. Todd Gurley, JR, RB, Georgia

Gurley wasn’t called upon to do much in Georgia’s 66-0 win over Troy. The junior had 73 yards on six carries before giving way to freshman Sony Michel. He remains on pace for a Heisman-worthy campaign, but the Bulldogs probably need to win the SEC East for him to really have a shot.

Season Stats: 41 carries, 402 yards, 9.8 YPC, 4 TDs, 5 receptions, -1 yards, 100 yard kickoff return for a TD.

Season Pace: 1,608 rushing yards, 20 touchdowns.

3. Everett Golson, SO, QB, Notre Dame

Golson remains an intriguing prospect in this race due to the Notre Dame schedule. If he leads the Irish to wins over Stanford and Florida State in the next few weeks, he could conceivably jump to the top of this list. Even if Notre Dame wins just one of the games — and Golson plays well in both of them — he should emerge as a serious candidate. On the other hand, if the Irish lose both and Golson’s production collapses, he’ll most likely fall out of contention.

Season Stats: 62 of 92, 780 yards, 64.6%, 7 TDs, 0 INTs, 156.8 rating, 83 rush yards, 4 TDs.

Season Pace: 3,120 passing yards, 28 TDs, 332 rushing yards, 16 TDs.

4. Kenny Hill, SO, QB, Texas A&M

Hill’s production one-third of the way into the season is sterling. However, the schedule is about to get pretty tough, as October games with Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama loom. Can Hill emerge from this gauntlet unscathed? If he does, he’ll probably be on his way to New York. If not, he might have to wait until next year.

Season Stats: 97 of 139, 1,359 yards, 69.8%, 13 TDs, 1 INTs, 181.3 rating, 106 rush yards.

Season Pace: 4,078 passing yards, 39 TD passes, 318 rushing yards.

5. Ameer Abdullah, SR, RB, Nebraska

Heisman voters love 200-yard rushing games and Abdullah had his second of the season by rushing for 229 yards (with two touchdowns) against Miami. Abdullah is now on pace for almost 1,900 yards and could top the magical 2,000-yard mark if the Huskers make their way to the Big Ten title game. A big game against Michigan State on Oct. 4 might vault him over Gurley as the top running back candidate in this race.

Season Stats: 92 carries, 625 yards, 6.79 YPC, 5 TDs, 5 receptions, 108 yards, 2 TD.

Season Pace: 1,875 yards, 15 TDs, 15 catches, 324 yards, 6 TDs.

6. Melvin Gordon, JR, RB, Wisconsin

Gordon got back on track this past weekend with 253 yards and five touchdowns on just 13 carries in Wisconsin’s thrashing of Bowling Green. The junior has the ability to put up yards in bunches and I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes on a tear in the next few weeks. The 2,000-yard mark is within reach, but it will probably require that the Badgers make the Big Ten title game — which means beating Nebraska and Abdullah in mid-November.

Season Stats: 46 carries, 431 yards, 9.37 YPC, 6 TD, 5 receptions, 27 yards, 1 TD.

Season Pace: 1,760 yards, 18 TDs, 15 catches, 81 yards, 3 TDs.

7. Bryce Petty, SR, QB, Baylor

Petty and Baylor are coming off a bye week and will now jump into Big 12 play. Petty is off to a relatively slow start to the season and he doesn’t appear to be 100 percent healthy, but the potential is there for a rebound. I think he needs to average at least 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes per game the rest of the way to have a shot, but that should be doable in Art Briles’ offense.

Season Stats: 36 of 57, 577 yards, 63.2%, 6 TDs, 0 INTs, 182.9 rating, 4 carries, 32 yards, 1 TD.

Season Pace: 3,179 passing yards, 33 TDs, 176 rushing yards, 6 TDs.

8. Taysom Hill, JR, QB, BYU

Hill passed for 187 yards and rushed for 72, with three total touchdowns, in the Cougars’ win over Virginia this past Saturday. He remains on pace for an excellent season and, if BYU finishes 12-0 with no playoff berth available, some voters might see a Hill trip to New York as a nice consolation prize.

Season Stats: 80 of 121, 876 yards, 66.1%, 6 TDs, 3 INT, 138.3 rating, 79 carries, 428 rush yards, 7 TDs.

Season Pace: 2,628 passing yards, 18 TDs, 1,284 rushing yards, 21 TDs.

9. Dak Prescott, JR, QB, Mississippi State

Prescott might be turning into this year’s dark horse. He’s on pace for a Heisman-worthy campaign after a brilliant performance in MSU’s road win over LSU. He’ll make a huge jump on this list if he can guide the Bulldogs over Texas A&M and Auburn in the coming weeks.

Season Stats: 58 of 96, 964 yards, 60.4%, 11 TDs, 2 INT, 178.4 rating, 62 carries, 378 yards, 3 TD.

Season Pace: 2,892 passing yards, 33 TDs, 1,134 rushing yards, 9 TDs.

10. Nick Marshall, SR, QB, Auburn

Time is running out for Marshall to produce the statistics he needs to compete in this race, but Auburn plays seven ranked opponents the rest of the way…which means he can make up lost ground in a hurry. Nonetheless, he’ll drop out of contention unless he explodes this Saturday against Louisiana Tech.

Season Stats: 31 of 56, 382 yards, 55.4%, 3 TD, 1 INTs, 126.7 rating, 29 carries, 168 yards, 2 TDs.

Season Pace: 1,651 passing yards, 13 TD passes, 728 rushing yards, 9 TDs

If the vote was held today

1. Marcus Mariota*

2. Todd Gurley*

3. Amari Cooper*

4. Kenny Hill*

5. Ameer Abdullah*

6. Dak Prescott

7. Bryce Petty

8. Melvin Gordon

9. James Conner

10. D.J. Foster

* — finalist

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Winston suspended

jameis winston

Defending Heisman winner Jameis Winston was suspended for the first half of Florida State’s upcoming game against Clemson after the Seminoles quarterback allegedly shouted an obscenity into a microphone on campus.

You can pretty much wave bye-bye to Winston’s Heisman hopes at this point.

Winning that second Heisman was always going to be an uphill battle. We didn’t even have Winston on our preseason list due to Heismandment No. 9, which states there will never be another two-time winner.

But this latest incident could be the last straw for many Heisman voters.

Last year, voters gave him the benefit of the doubt after a late-breaking rape accusation ended with the Florida attorney general’s decision not to charge him with a crime. He went on to win the Heisman in comfortable fashion. Since then, however, he’s had a hard time keeping his nose clean. Voters are likely to be less forgiving this time around.

It’s really hard to win the Heisman once. It’s next-to-impossible to win it again, especially when people think you are a knucklehead.

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