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The HP Heisman Watch, Week 8

Now for my list of the players who currently stand the best chance of actually winning the Heisman.  This is not a predicted order of the final vote, nor the order of how the vote would go if held today.  Some players not on this list are likely to receive support, but not enough to win. 

So, here is the HP Heisman Watch after eight weeks of football.  We are down to three players.  Barring injury, all three of them will make it to New York, but just one will win the 2010 Heisman:

1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn–It’s been quite a journey for Newton.  The last player to come straight from junior college and make such a splash in the Heisman race was O.J. Simpson, who finished a close second to Gary Beban in 1967.  Well, Newton’s 49-yard run against LSU was certainly Simpson-esque the way he weaved through the Tiger defense.    That run and the 217 rushing yards he put up on LSU has pushed him into the front of this watch list.  The Heisman is his to lose and, looking at Auburn’s remaining schedule, it looks like he’ll be in good shape in this race right up until the last game against Alabama.  I believe he can clinch the trophy by playing well against the Tide, win or lose.  If he leads the Tigers to a win there, followed by an SEC title game victory, he’ll capture the Heisman in a runaway.  If he plays well but Auburn loses to Alabama, he’ll still be the favorite heading into the ceremony, though the vote will be much closer.  If he plays poorly in the runup to that game, or the Tide defense shuts him down, that will open the door for other candidates to snatch the Heisman away from him.

Current Stats: 90/138 (65.2%), 1,364 yds, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 172.1 rtg; 157 att, 1,077 rush yds (6.9 ypc), 14 TDs

Projected Season Stats*: 2,046 passing yds, 20 TDs, 8 INTs; 1,615 rush yds, 21 TDs

2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon–James helped his cause by having a nice game in a romp over UCLA last Thursday (123 yards, 2 touchdowns), but whatever ground he gained in the race was given back after Newton’s performance against LSU.  James has a chance to get some of that momentum back this Saturday when the Ducks take on USC.  If he has a monster game against the Trojans and the Ducks roll, he’ll be in good shape.  However, the buzz around James pales in comparison to all the talk of Newton at the moment.  A modern day quarterback who can run and pass–and one who is a physical specimen at that–seems especially hard for voters to ignore.  James will have to be extra special from here on out if he wants to catch Newton. 

Current Stats: 134 att, 971 yards, 11 TDs, 7.2 ypc; 4 catches, 121 yards, 1 TD

Projected Season Stats*: 1,780 yards, 20 TDs; 7 catches, 207 yards, 2 TDs

3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State–Moore and his team were idle last week, but the Broncos have a Tuesday night matchup against Louisiana Tech.  Moore remains the candidate of last resort in that voters find him to be a perfectly acceptable choice but are not exactly rushing to proclaim him to be the most outstanding player just yet.    His campaign for the Heisman mirror his team’s quest for the BCS title.  It will require the more exciting players ahead of him to falter a bit for him to have a shot.  At the same time, he’s probably already assured himself of no worse than a third-place finish in the race.  He will appear on almost every ballot, so he’s within striking distance.  It helps that his numbers are quickly becoming ridiculous.  He leads the nation in passing efficiency with a mark of 190.36, which as it stands is an NCAA record.  Furthermore, he now has 55 touchdowns and just four interceptions in his last 20 games.  His record as a starter is 32-1 and BSU has now won 20-straight under his leadership.  It could well be that his numbers alone end up making his case–not to mention his status as the quarterback for an undefeated team–but it would really help him if the players ahead of him–especially Newton–screw up.  Also, I think Boise State’s sports information people need to start making the case for Moore, or all his impressive stats will get lost in the hubbub over Newton’s spectacular play.

Current Stats: 105/151 (69.5%), 1,567 yds, 16 TDs, 1 INTs, 190.36 rtg

Projected Season Stats*: 3,132 passing yards, 32 TDs, 2 INTs

*–Denotes projected stats at time of the Heisman vote

If the vote were held today

1. Cameron Newton

2. LaMichael James

3. Kellen Moore

4. Denard Robinson

5. Terrelle Pryor

6. Andrew Luck

7. Taylor Martinez

8. Justin Blackmon

9. Blaine Gabbert

10. Matt Barkley

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The Heisman Pundit Heisman Poll, Week 6

As I tried to explain earlier this week, Denard Robinson is still the leader for the time being…

Total Points (with first place votes in parentheses)

1. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan — 18 (5)

2. (tie) Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State — 16 (4)

2. (tie) LaMichael James, RB, Oregon — 16 (2)

4. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State — 14 (2)

5. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn–9

6. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford–4

7. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska–1

About the poll
The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll is made up of 13 Heisman voters from across the country. They vote for three players each week. Tabulations are made on a 3-2-1 basis, with three points awarded for a first-place vote, two points for a second-place vote and one point for a third-place vote.  The last two years the Heismanpundit poll was the most accurate in the country, picking five of the top six finishers in the Heisman vote in 2008 and the top four in 2009.

Members of the panel include: Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, Teddy Greenstein and Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, Olin Buchanan and Tom Dienhart of Rivals.com, Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman, Bruce Feldman of ESPN.com, J.B. Morris of ESPN the Magazine, Austin Murphy, B.J. Schecter and Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated, plus Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News.

Chris Huston, owner of Heismanpundit.com, coordinates and also votes in the weekly poll.

HP’s Thoughts
Denard Robinson didn’t vault to the top of the Heisman race in just one week and he wasn’t going to fall from the top in just one week, either.  Despite a three-interception game against Michigan State, Robinson still put up solid overall numbers and maintained the faith of Heisman voters…for now.  Lurking close by in the race is Kellen Moore (who is unlikely to fall very low or rise very high for a while), LaMichael James and Terrelle Pryor.  If Robinson falters against Iowa this week, there will be a free-for-all for the top spot.  If Robinson comes through with, well, another Robinson-like performance, then look for his margin to (once again) increase.

From a Voter
“Denard Robinson may very well lose his frontrunner status in the coming weeks with Michigan’s schedule, but he’s been the best player in the nation so far this season. Even in the Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State last Saturday he put up 301 yards of total offense. LaMichael James has been the nation’s best back as Oregon has rolled, and Terrelle Pryor has a chance to make a statement with a big performance against Wisconsin on Saturday. Watch out for Nebraska freshman Taylor Martinez; he’s quickly moving up the list.” — B.J. Schecter, Sports Illustrated.

Heisman Game of the Week
No. 15 Iowa at Michigan
 — This game could go a long way toward determining the Heisman winner.  If Robinson bounces back from a sub-par (for him) game last week, then he’s likely to retain his front runner status until the Wolverines play Wisconsin on Nov. 20.  If Iowa shuts him down, then it will break the race wide open and give Pryor, Moore and James a chance to move into the top spot. 

Player to Watch
Terrelle Pryor — Pryor gets his second real test of the season this Saturday as Ohio State travels to Madison to take on Wisconsin.  Pryor was just 5 of 13 for 87 yards against the Badgers last year, but all indications are that his passing has improved markedly.  It will be a boon to his Heisman hopes if he can put together a complete game here and lead the Buckeyes to a win.

This Week in Heisman History
Pat Sullivan threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns–at one point completing an SEC-record 13-straight passes–as Auburn beat Georgia Tech, 31-14, in 1971. The Tigers trailed Tech, 7-6, entering the fourth quarter before exploding for 25 points.  Sullivan would go on to win the 1971 Heisman Trophy, beating out Ed Marinaro of Cornell and Greg Pruitt of Oklahoma.

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The 2009 HP Preseason Heisman Watch

Here is my list of the players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman.  It is not a predicted order of finish, so some players NOT on this list are still going to receive votes and finish somewhere in the top 10, but will in reality have no chance of actually taking home the trophy.

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–Last year’s Heisman runner up has accomplished the impressive feat of keeping up with Tim Tebow’s publicity machine in the offseason.  For instance, while Tebow is on the cover of Sports Illustrated, McCoy is on the cover of ESPN The Magazine.  McCoy is the senior quarterback of a traditional Heisman power and will help his team compete for a national title.  The perception out there is that perhaps he should’ve won the award last year and, as a result, voters will look to him first in 2009.  He had fantastic numbers in 2008, but they weren’t so amazing that they can’t be duplicated or surpassed.  He will have big games on TV against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M (on Thanksgiving) to impress the voters (and also the possibility of the Big 12 title game).  He’s got most of his offensive line returning, plus plenty of weapons at receiver, so his stats should not suffer.  Last year, he finished second to Sam Bradford in the Southwest and Far West regions, so much of Bradford’s support in those areas could go his way in 2009.  He is a likeable guy and so far has not been oversaturated in the media.  All other things being equal, McCoy has the best chance of winning the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

2. Tim Tebow, Florida–In previous years I would not put a player on this list who had already won a Heisman, mainly because I believe there will never be another two-time Heisman winner.  However, Tebow is one of those unique figures in college football history for whom an exception must be made.  He was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, so if anyone can win it a second time, it’s him.  He is helped by the fact that the glow of his Heisman season is two years in the past.  If he wins, he would be the Grover Cleveland of the Heisman (Cleveland being the only U.S. president to win non-consecutive terms).  I think winning two Heismans non-consecutively is a far more likely possibility than back-to-back Heismans.  The advantages Tebow has in this race are legion.  He is of course the quarterback for the No. 1 team and defending national champ.  He is the most famous player in college football right now and his name recognition is off the charts.  He is universally recognized as a great player and many see this season as his chance to establish himself as perhaps the greatest player in college football history.  He will once again put up excellent numbers in his inimitable style.     He’ll have marquee matchups against LSU, Georgia and Florida State (plus the SEC title game) to make his case.  So why isn’t he at the top of this list?  Mainly because History is a tough thing to overcome.  Heisman voters are fickle and will not give out a second trophy very willingly.  The burden of proof for Tebow to win again will be tremendous and it will only happen if there is not a viable alternative.  Plus, Tebow Fatigue will play a real factor (we saw it in last year’s vote as well).  So don’t believe those who think this race is Tebow’s to lose.  It isn’t.   

3. Jahvid Best, California–In an era dominated by spread quarterbacks, there is still room for a flashy running back.  There has been only one running back Heisman winner in this decade (Reggie Bush) and Best’s style is very similar to that winner.  He is coming off a fantastic sophomore year (1,580 yards, 15 TDs, 8.1 ypc) and has a chance to better those numbers if he stays healthy.  His big advantage is that he could be seen as the top running back alternative to all the quarterbacks in the race.  He also is a dazzling breakaway back who will be a staple of the highlight shows.  His big disadvantage is that he plays for a non-traditional Heisman power.  This means his Heisman run is at the mercy of his team’s success.  It will all boil down to how he does against USC.  If Cal beats the Trojans and he does well, then he becomes a serious Heisman contender.  The other issue is his durability.  A healthy Best likely approaches 2,000 yards and you don’t need accounting college to know he’ll require every one of those yards to have a shot at the Heisman.   

4. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State–The last two Heisman winners have been sophomores, so maybe the trend continues here.  In order for a sophomore to win, he’s got to play for a traditional power and put up some crazy numbers at the same time.  Pryor has the chance to do just that, but it will depend on how well his passing has improved in the offseason.  Obviously, he’s a brilliant talent and if he comes into his own in 2009, he can make a serious Heisman run.  He’s got a big game in week two against USC in which to establish his Heisman candidacy.  If he leads a Buckeye win over the Trojans, he’ll be in the Heisman race all year.  If Ohio State loses, he’ll crawl his way back into it as the season progresses–big games against Penn State and Michigan could help–but he will not be a serious factor and will actually be setting himself up nicely for a run in 2010. 

5. Daryll Clark, Penn State–Clark had an excellent season as a first-year starter in 2008 and he should improve upon his numbers in 2009.  The Nittany Lions have a chance to run the table and if they do, Clark will get most of the credit.  His schedule isn’t exceptionally conducive to a Heisman run, but he does play Ohio State.  If some of the other candidates mess up or get injured, he could be seen as a viable alternative as long as the Lions are undefeated.

6. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–You can never count out a Notre Dame quarterback.  Clausen has name recognition and should put up pretty good numbers in 2009.  The Irish play an easy schedule, so Clausen has a shot at leading his team to a BCS bowl.  Of course, his big chance to make a Heisman statement will come against USC (do you see a trend here?).  If Notre Dame beats the Trojans and the Irish go on to win, say, 10 games, then Clausen will get some Heisman buzz.  His best chance of winning is for the main candidates to screw up and for Clausen to be seen as the reason behind the resurgence of Notre Dame football.  He’s got the receivers to have a huge year, but will he actually do it?  There’s the rub.

7. Max Hall, BYU–Only one school from a non-BCS conference has won the Heisman in the modern era and that’s Brigham Young.  The great tradition of Cougar quarterbacks gives Hall an outside chance at making a Heisman run.  Above all, he’s got the schedule to prove his mettle as BYU plays Oklahoma and Florida State in the early going.  If the Cougars come out of that unscathed, then Hall will be a legitimate candidate.  Whether he’d be able to overcome the McCoys and Tebows is another question, but he’d be seen as a viable alternative if they falter. 

8. Jevan Snead, Mississippi–Ole Miss is the hip choice as this year’s dark horse title contender.  If the Rebels live up to their billing, it will be because of the play of Snead, who is a potential first round pick.  He had a pretty good year in 2008 and if he can improve upon his numbers and keep Ole Miss in the title hunt, he’ll be a Heisman candidate.  But if the Rebels lose a game or two, his Heisman hopes will be finished.

9. Noel Devine, West Virginia–Devine has pretty good name recognition and a solid sophomore season to build upon.  He’d have to shatter the 2,000-yard mark in spectacular fashion to be a real factor in the race.

10. Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State–Bryant is the only multi-purpose athlete in the race.  He is already recognized as a fantastic receiver and return man.  If he can duplicate what he did last year as a sophomore and maybe drive a stake or two in the hearts of some of the elite Big 12 teams (like OU and Texas), then he can pick up a lot of Heisman votes.  Nothing thrills Heisman voters like timely, deadly punt returns and Bryant will have the chance to do just that.

If the vote were held right now

1. Colt McCoy

2. Tim Tebow

3. Sam Bradford

4. Jahvid Best

5. Dez Bryant

6. Eric Berry

7. Daryll Clark

8. Jeremiah Masoli

9. Max Hall

10.Taylor Mays

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The 2009 HP Preseason Top 10 Teams List

The Coaches Poll is out today and, to no one’s surprise, Florida is No. 1.  Now, my top 10:

1. Florida

2. Texas

3. USC

4. Alabama

5. Oklahoma

6. Penn State

7. Ole Miss

8. Oklahoma State

9. Brigham Young

10. Ohio State

On the cusp: LSU, Cal, Notre Dame, Georgia, TCU, North Carolina, Clemson, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech

Five Darkhorses:  Stanford, Baylor, Arkansas, Illinois, Auburn

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Thrill List

Check out Austin Murphy’s list of the most thrilling players in college football history who were the “all-time bests at quickening the pulse and evoking a visceral response from those fortunate enough to have witnessed their artistry”

His No. 1?  The great Vince Young.

Others I might add to this list:

–O.J. Simpson

–Rocket Ismail

–Hugh Green

–Peter Warrick

–Anthony Carter

–Barry Sanders

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