Tag Archives | Heisman Watch

The HP Heisman Watch

Now for the 14th–and penultimate–HP Heisman Watch of the 2009 season.

With one week of games remaining, we finally have clarity in this race.  One player is now the overwhelming favorite to capture this year’s Heisman Trophy, though he’s been the leader in this watch for 12 of the past 13 weeks. 

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–HP’s preseason favorite is thisclose to capturing the Heisman going away.  Putting together a Heisman-winning season takes a lot of talent, grit, fortitude, timing…and some luck.  It just so happens that McCoy had his best game of the season on Thanksgiving night, just a week after ballots had gone out to voters.  So, many voters who were paying extra-close attention to things for the first time saw him pass for 304 yards and rush for 173 while totaling five touchdowns in a rather entertaining, but crucial win over Texas A&M. 

Whereas McCoy struggled early in the season, he is now on a roll and his numbers after 12 games read:

3,328 passing yards
72% completion percentage
27 touchdown passes
9 interceptions
368 rushing yards
2 rushing touchdowns  

He has one more game to go to add to these totals.  His numbers are definitely Heisman-worthy, meaning that they are in the same realm as the numbers of previous winners and also quite good in the context of the current race.   While his slow start to the season opened up the trophy to other candidates, he was always in a strong position to catch fire with the Heisman electorate so long as he produced in the end.  After all, as the returning Heisman runner up and a quarterback for a traditional power challenging for the national title, he was as well-known and compelling as any candidate in the field when the campaign started.   By producing a Heisman-worthy season statistically, he has given voters who were predisposed to him in the first place the proper cover to mark him at the top of their ballots.

There are some who will say that McCoy has produced these numbers against inferior competition.  They will cite the Texas strength of schedule and the relative decline of the Big 12 as proof.  However, this will not be an issue when it comes to the Heisman.  Why?  Because voters already know McCoy is a great player.  That was made clear in 2008, when he had a dominant season against a very tough schedule.  The 2009 season wasn’t about McCoy proving himself to be a great player, but rather about whether he could maintain his level of play while leading Texas to the national title game–something he couldn’t do in 2008.  He is one win away from accomplishing that feat and voters will reward him accordingly. 

So what could stop McCoy from winning the Heisman at this point?  I think nothing less than a disastrous performance in a loss to Nebraska in the Big 12 Title game would bring that about.  If Texas beats the Cornhuskers, his level of play in that game will determine his margin of victory in the Heisman vote.

2. Mark Ingram, Alabama–Just a week ago, Ingram looked like he could win the Heisman if he finished the season strong.  But a 16-carry, 30-yard performance against Auburn when many Heisman voters were watching him closely for the first time was about the worst thing–next to a  ‘Bama loss–that could’ve happened to his candidacy. 

Ingram has 1,429 rushing yards (a 6.5 average) and 12 touchdowns on the season, plus another 28 receptions and three touchdowns through the air.  He was dinged up against Auburn and his status for the Florida game is uncertain.  I think it will take a Willis Reed-like performance against the Gators coupled with a McCoy disaster against Nebraska for Ingram to win the Heisman.

Equally bad for Ingram’s candidacy are the late surges by Toby Gerhart and Tim Tebow.  Gerhart’s rushing numbers on the year are markedly superior to Ingram’s, while Tebow also plays for an undefeated SEC team.  Both players therefore serve to erode a bit of the rationale for Ingram’s candidacy.  For instance, a voter inclined to support a running back might be attracted to Gerhart based on his superior stats, while another voter might think Tebow is the most deserving SEC player on an undefeated team.  Now, if Alabama beats Florida, then the Tebow issue is moot as far as Ingram goes, but he will still need to prove he is the top running back in the race.  That means a monster game against Florida.  Given his health issues and the stoutness of the Gator defense, this seems to be a highly unlikely proposition.  

3. Toby Gerhart, Stanford–It is necessary to insert Gerhart on this Heisman Watch primarily because of the following scenario:  

What if McCoy plays poorly and Nebraska beats Texas while Alabama beats Florida without any significant help from Ingram?  Who wins the Heisman?

I think in that scenario, we’d see a severely fractured race and possibly Gerhart eking it out. 

Gerhart is fresh off a huge game against Notre Dame–something that always helps when it comes to the Heisman.  He rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns and also threw a touchdown pass to help Stanford beat the Irish.  On the year, he leads the nation with 1,736 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns.  Of the four serious candidates for the trophy, he has produced the best season statistically.

As it stands, Gerhart is practically a lock to win the West Region.  But in the end-of-season cataclysm I just depicted, I think he would also do well in the Midwest (thanks to his game against Notre Dame) and in the Northeast due to his alluring status as a blue-collar running back from an elite academic school (the kind of combination that propelled Cornell’s Ed Marinaro to a second-place Heisman finish in 1971). 

What about Tebow?  What if McCoy does poorly in a loss and the Gators beat Alabama behind the 2007 Heisman winner?  Obviously, this would push Tebow up in the race, but I don’t think he’ll have enough gas in the tank to top the rest of the field.  Ingram would still eat into his support in various regions, while others would see McCoy and Gerhart as still being superior statistically.  Meanwhile, players like C.J. Spiller, Kellen Moore, Ndamukong Suh and Case Keenum would grab some extra votes here and there.  And then there are those who just don’t think Tebow deserves a second Heisman, no matter how great a player he is.  In this scenario, Gerhart or McCoy still might eke it out.

If the vote were held today

1. Colt McCoy

2. Toby Gerhart

3. Tim Tebow

4. Mark Ingram

5. C. J. Spiller

6. Kellen Moore

7. Case Keenum

8. Golden Tate

9. Ndamukong Suh

10. Jacquizz Rodgers

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The HP Heisman Watch

Now for my weekly Heisman Watch.  This is my list of the players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman.  It is a projection of how the race is most likely to take shape based on current information.  From what I see, there are only four players out there who can still win the Heisman:

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–McCoy holds a slight edge after completing 16 of 21 for 171 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions against Oklahoma State.  He also rushed for 34 yards.  He’s on pace to complete 72 percent of his passes for 3,212 yards, 24 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.  While these aren’t spectacular numbers in the context of recent winners, it is probably good enough to win the trophy this season, especially given his status as the returning Heisman runner-up who is the senior quarterback for a (likely) undefeated team.  If he doesn’t win, it will be because one of the other candidates finishes the season in a markedly stronger fashion and has a clear-cut case for the trophy.  However, I do think McCoy is set up nicely to pick up strong support due to his being the top candidate West of the Mississippi.  He also benefits from the possibility that the two SEC candidates could sap each other’s strength in the voting.      

2. Mark Ingram, Alabama–Ingram sat out last week as Alabama had a bye.  He maintains his status as a strong Heisman contender, but this Saturday’s game versus LSU could make or break his chances.  He’s got 1,004 yards and eight touchdowns on the season, so he’s on pace to have 1,631 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns by the time of the Heisman vote.  A big game against LSU could put him in clear control of this race, but a poor game could end his run.

3. Tim Tebow, Florida–Tebow had maybe his best game of the season against Georgia, throwing for 164 yards and two touchdowns on 15 of 21 passing, while also rushing for 85 yards and two scores.  He’s now on pace to have the following numbers at Heisman voting time:  2,149 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions, plus 897 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.  The Gators don’t have any marquee games left on the regular season schedule, so he’ll need to accumulate more yardage away from the spotlight before the (likely) mega-matchup against Alabama in the SEC title game.  The best chance for Tebow to win the Heisman is for Ingram to be eliminated as a viable candidate before that title game and then for him to lead the Gators to the win against the Tide.  That will make Tebow the main SEC candidate and help give voters more reason to rally his way.    

4. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–Clausen lurks in the background of this race, waiting for something to happen to the other candidates.  He’s the stat king of the bunch and is coming off a game against WSU where he went 22 of 27 for 268 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.  He is on pace to have 3,477 yards, 27 touchdown passes and just three interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.  These numbers are superior to all the other top candidates in the race, but he’s still hampered by the perception that Notre Dame hasn’t beaten a good team yet.   His best chance of winning comes if he finishes the season strong–with the Irish going 10-2–and Alabama and Florida both lose (with Tebow and Ingram taking major hits to their candidacies).  In that scenario, he’d have a chance to steal the race from McCoy, whose numbers pale in comparison and whose schedule wasn’t exactly the toughest, either.

The race could come down to which school makes the best case for its candidate, which is why the campaigns need to start heating up.

If the vote were held today

1. Mark Ingram, Alabama

2. Tim Tebow, Florida

3. Colt McCoy, Texas

4. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame

5. Case Keenum, Houston

6. Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska

7. Jacquizz Rodgers, Oregon State

8. C.J. Spiller, Clemson

9. Eric Berry, Tennessee

10. Golden Tate, Notre Dame

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The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll, 10/13

HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll, 10/13
(total points, with first-place votes in parantheses)

1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida–50 (6)

2. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas–35 (2)

3. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame–34 (2)

4. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati–25 (1)

5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston–20

6. Ndamkong Suh, DT, Nebraska–11 (2)

7. Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State–5
     Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech–5

9. Eric Berry, DB, Tennessee–3

10. Todd Reesing, QB, Kansas–2
     Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame–2

12. Jacory Harris, QB, Miami–1
      Rolando McClain, LB, Alabama–1
      Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech–1

About the Poll 

The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll is made up of 13 Heisman voters from across the country. They vote for five players each week. Tabulations are made on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis, with five points awarded for a first-place vote, four points for a second-place vote and so on.  Last year’s final Heismanpundit poll was the most accurate in the country, picking five of the top six finishers in the Heisman vote.

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 of HeismanPundit.com coordinates and also votes in the poll.

From a Voter

“If the award is for the most outstanding player in college football, you have to be awed by how dominating Ndamkong Suh has been this season. Other guys who become the default frontrunners due to their reps linger near the top and will be tough to beat in the end, but I’m going with Suh at this point. He’s made the Huskers a big deal again and he’s doing some things nobody at his position does. What’s really amazing is that you talk to coaches who go up against him and they focus on him so much in their game plans and he still makes plays.”– a Heisman voter.

Heisman Game of the Week
No. 3 Texas vs. No. 20 Oklahoma.  This could be where McCoy wins or loses the Heisman.  The voters will be watching closely to see if the Texas quarterback can recapture his magic from last season, when he finished second in the balloting.  While he’s been solid so far this year, he has thrown more interceptions and fewer touchdowns than many expected.  But if he plays well and leads Texas to a win, he’ll be hard to beat for the Heisman.  If he stumbles badly in a loss, however, he might have a hard time getting back to New York.

Player to Watch

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma.  Last year’s Heisman winner won’t repeat thanks to a shoulder injury that kept him out of the last three games, but he could still play the role of Heisman spoiler.  He showed few signs of rust in throwing for 389 yards in his return to action last week against Baylor, which augurs well for his matchup on Saturday against Texas and McCoy. If Bradford flashes the form that led to his record-setting season in 2008 and the Sooners win, he might even start appearing on some Heisman lists again.

This Week in Heisman History

Oklahoma running back Steve Owens rushed for 112 yards on 28 carries and scored four touchdowns, eclipsing the 100-yard barrier for the 14th-straight time, as the Sooners held off Colorado, 42-30, in 1969.  Late in the game, Owens broke the NCAA record for career rushing attempts (683) held previously by Wisconsin’s Alan Ameche.  He went on to beat out Purdue’s Mike Phipps to become Oklahoma’s second Heisman winner.

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The HP Heisman Watch

This has not been the Heisman race everyone thought it would be.  Thus far, the peformances by the top preseason contenders have been a bit underwhelming.  I believe that October will reveal the eventual winner, but there is also a chance the race will be re-set (a concept I discuss here) and that some new candidates will emerge.  Until that happens, though, there still appears–at this point–to be only four candidates with a chance to actually win the Heisman.

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–He threw for 265 yards on 32 of 39 passing, with a touchdown and one interception in the Longhorns’ win over Colorado.  These are solid numbers, though not spectacular.  On the year, he has 1,410 passing yards (73.4%), with 10 touchdowns and six picks.   His rushing numbers are down considerably from last year, as he has just 58 yards and one touchdown on the season.  He is on pace to have around 3,500 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.

McCoy’s Heisman run, if it comes, begins this week versus Oklahoma.  Given the paucity of marquee matchups on the Texas schedule–a byproduct of the Big 12’s drop in quality relative to 2008–losing to the Sooners would probably be fatal to McCoy’s Heisman hopes, unless the other candidates in the running also slip up.  He should have the full attention of Heisman voters, as Texas-OU kicks off at noon ET, while Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen will be playing at the same time in the 3:30 ET time slot.  Simply put, this is McCoy’s chance to put his stamp on the race.

If McCoy gets past OU, then keeps putting up the kind of passing yardage he has so far, while adding a few four or five-touchdown games and keeping his interception rate low (and his team undefeated), he’ll win the Heisman.

2. Tim Tebow, Florida–Tebow’s Heisman hopes improved considerably thanks to his gutty performance in Florida’s win over LSU.  While he didn’t dominate statistically, he showed why he is so valuable to the nation’s No. 1 team.  Does Florida lose without Tebow?  Given the way the Gators played defensively, I’m not so sure, but having No. 15 in charge surely gave Florida a lot of confidence in such a hostile environment.

Tebow threw for 134 yards on 11 of 16 passing with one touchdown and one interception.  He also added 38 yards on 17 carries.   On the season, he has 777 passing yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions, plus 309 rushing yards and five touchdowns.  He is on pace to have about 2,000 passing yards, with 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote (plus another 800 yards and 13 TDs on the ground). 

The main question with Tebow:  Can he win that elusive second Heisman while producing a season that is not clearly superior to the rest of the field?  Excluding option QB Eric Crouch, the last signal caller to win the Heisman without throwing at least 30 touchdown passes was Charlie Ward in 1993.  The last quarterback to win the Heisman while throwing  fewer than 20 touchdown passes (again excluding Crouch) was Geno Torretta in 1992.  Both Ward and Torretta won their Heismans absent serious challenges from players on traditional Heisman powers.  Tebow must contend with rivals from Texas (McCoy) and Notre Dame (Clausen), both of whom have a shot at hitting that 30-TD level (with both probably guaranteed of surpassing 20).  Both schools have the institutional power to siphon away Heisman votes from Tebow, which is why despite his superior name recognition and unrivaled reputation in the world of college football, his success in the race may depend less on what he does and more on what those other candidates don’t do.  If neither McCoy or Clausen come through, Tebow’s lack of numbers won’t matter as much.

3. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–Clausen and Notre Dame had a bye this past weekend, so he heads into the game against USC still leading the nation in passing efficiency.  Clausen has 1,544 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions on the season.  He is on pace to have 3,706 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.  In any other year, this would be a good season, but probably not enough to win the Heisman. 

However, the 2009 season has seen a marked decline in output by quarterbacks.  While seven passers topped the 35-touchdown pass mark in 2008 (with Sam Bradford having 48 when he won the Heisman), only one (Case Keenum) is on pace to surpass that in 2009.  So if Clausen keeps up his pace, his numbers could look very good relative to the competition.

Clausen is set up perfectly for a Heisman run.  Beat USC and then finish strong against five unranked teams and then Stanford (which could be ranked) and he’s got a great shot to win.  I think going 11-1 with a win over the Trojans will give Clausen a valid case to present to the voters.  But I don’t think a loss to USC will be forgiven, as the one knock on the Irish is that they haven’t beaten a good team in recent memory.  Clausen has that cross to bear and the burden won’t get any easier unless he leads Notre Dame to a win this Saturday. 

4. Jacory Harris, Miami–Harris threw for 217 yards with two touchdowns and two picks against Florida A&M this past Saturday.  On the season, he has 1,225 passing yards, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.  He is on pace to have 2,940 yards, 24 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.

Harris’ game against Florida A&M was a missed opportunity to pile up the kind of numbers he needs to outshine his foes in the Heisman race.  Given his sophomore status, his case for the Heisman must be crystal clear.  That means Miami has to win out and Harris must have a season that is statistically head and shoulders above the other candidates.  At this point, I believe he needs to average 280 yards and 3 touchdowns per game (while keeping his interceptions at 10 or below) in his last seven games (all of which Miami must win) to have a shot at doing that.  Upping his pace to that level would give him about 3,300 yards and 33 touchdowns by the time of the Heisman vote.  Those numbers would contrast nicely with the other candidates and he’ll be able to say he brought Miami back.  Is it likely?  Probably not.  But I’d like to see how he does against UCF on Saturday before completely eliminating him from consideration. 

If the vote were held today:

1. Tim Tebow

2. Colt McCoy

3. Jimmy Clausen

4. Case Keenum

5. Tony Pike

6. Eric Berry

7. Jacquizz Rodgers

8. Jacory Harris

9. Ndamkong Suh

10. Mark Ingram

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The Heisman Watch and the Heisman Poll

After reading some recent comments, I want to use this post to clarify the differences between the HP Heisman Watch and the HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll.

The HP Heisman Watch (the big eyeball on the left sidebar) is my own personal analysis of the Heisman race.  Its goal is to figure out who is actually going to win the trophy, not to predict the order of the final vote.  In my methodology, I use the Heismandments and provide my own read on which candidate is best carrying the day in the realm of publicity and name recognition.  It is a projection of how the race will end up based on current information, not a gauge of the present state of the race.

That task falls to the HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll (also on the left sidebar) which provides us a weekly snapshot of Heisman voter sentiment thanks to the input of 13 Heisman voters who are kind enough to take part in the project.  The poll is valuable because it surveys voters who have local, regional and national focuses, as well as a few who have editorial responsibilities that takes them away from the daily grind of the beat, which I think make the poll more representative of the larger Heisman electorate.  The weekly survey gives us an insight into the pulse of the Heisman race.

The two methods will not always mesh (though they usually do in the end), but I think both are helpful in understanding the ins and outs of the race for the most prestigious award in sports.

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