Tag Archives | Heisman

Ponder Ready For Heisman Campaign, FSU Resurgence

Here’s the scenario:

A quarterback with the initials C.P. almost single-handedly leads a struggling, wayward, traditional power back onto the national scene.  Meanwhile, said quarterback finally fills his considerable potential as a senior after overcoming a shoulder injury and coaching changes.  An inconsistent career filled with flashes of brilliance culminates in a dominant, Heisman Trophy-winning campaign, a BCS bowl and a resurgent program.

Of course, the scenario above describes USC and Carson Palmer in 2002, but it could also turn out to be the storyline for Florida State and Christian Ponder in 2010.

That’s what FSU hopes as, for the first time in its history, it is pushing a player for the Heisman. [Check out Ponder’s new website]

That player is Ponder, a 6-3, 228-pound senior, born in Tampa and raised in Dallas, who grew up the son of a ‘Nole and often envisioned being in the very spot he is in right now.

“As a little kid, you always dream about trying to win the Heisman,” said Ponder, who threw for 2,717 yards in 2009 before being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.  “I remember following the Heisman growing up.  Those guys were prolific game changers…guys like Weinke and Ward.  So it’s crazy to think this is happening.  It’s surreal.”

But his talent is very real.  And Ponder’s 301-yard-per-game passing average, his 68.8% accuracy and superb mobility (318 gross rushing yards) last season convinced FSU that the time had finally come for a Heisman campaign.

“During the spring we started talking about it,” said Ponder, who might be the most gifted Seminole quarterback since Charlie Ward.  “They asked me if I was comfortable with it and I am.  Then Coach Fisher approved it and so they put together the web site.  I see it as a great opportunity, since in high school, I got very little attention, both in recruiting and in the media.”

Ponder prepped at Colleyville Heritage High in Dallas, where he passed for 2,214 yards and rushed for 911 while totaling 32 touchdowns as a 2005 senior.  He received scholarship offers from Baylor, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, North Carolina and Texas Christian, but there was little doubt where he was going to end up.

“I was always an FSU fan,” said Ponder, whose father, David, played defensive line for the Seminoles from 1980 to 1983.  “I grew up on it.  I remember my dad telling me about going to play all those crazy road games in the early 1980s…they called it ‘Octoberfest’.  They played at Ohio State, at LSU, at Notre Dame and at Pittsburgh all in a row.  It’s what put them on the map.  They played anyone, anywhere.”

For a while, Florida State dominated that map.  The last decade hasn’t been so kind, however.  Ponder knows he will be key in turning things around but, like a good quarterback, he’s not feeling the pressure.

“We’ve underachieved these last 10 years,” said Ponder.  “We have the opportunity to change that.  I don’t feel the pressure–I’m lucky to have this opportunity.”

Change is the operative word for the entire FSU program, which feels revitalized under new head coach Jimbo Fisher.  As much as players loved former coach Bobby Bowden, it was clearly time to head in a different direction, to bring in some new energy.

“It’s very different under Coach Fisher,” said Ponder.  “He brought in a nutritionist and we are eating healthier.  There are new strength coaches.  We are being more disciplined in the classroom and on the field.  Our whole focus is on discipline.  These are good changes.

“However, I grew up a Bobby Bowden fan and I will always treasure getting the chance to play for him.”

It was under Bowden that Ponder took over the starting job as a 2008 sophomore and struggled at times.  Then he went on a passing tear as a junior before getting hurt.  Now he’s ready to put it all together as a senior.

“I expected to play well last year,” said Ponder, whose career game involved torching North Carolina’s NFL-laden defense for 395 yards and three touchdowns.  “We had a lot of offensive weapons.  I didn’t play well as a sophomore, so I really worked hard at it and watched a lot of film.

“Coach Fisher has been a big help and he’s very knowledgeable.  His playbook is huge–it’s a two-inch binder and we’ve probably only learned three-quarters of it.  He’s always adding plays, depending on the opponent.  I had a good handle on it last year, but I feel even more confident this year.”

It helps that Ponder has past FSU quarterbacking greats like Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke, Casey Weldon and Brad Johnson around to remind him what it takes to follow in their footsteps.

“They just tell me to stay humble and to not forget what got me here,” said Ponder.

If Ponder plays as well as those guys, Heisman voters won’t forget.  In fact, they’ll remember FSU’s storied tradition and reward Ponder for bringing it back.

That reward could be a trip to New York…or maybe more.

“That would be fun,” said Ponder.  “It’d be an unbelievable dream, to go to New York.  This whole process is just amazing and hasn’t sunk in yet.”

For those who say the Heisman Trophy doesn’t matter, consider this:  In a sport where perception is everything, the Heisman is usually the best indicator of a program’s status on the national stage.  If a school isn’t consistently producing players who are in the Heisman conversation, it probably isn’t a national power.

True to form, the last time Florida State played for the BCS title (2000-2001), it had a Heisman winner at its helm. Since then, no BCS title berths and no Heisman candidates.

So if we’re still talking about Christian Ponder and the Heisman in November, you can also bet that the big, bad ‘Noles of yore will finally be back, too.

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Locker’s Summer Vacation

Washington quarterback Jake Locker is on a tour of the East Coast as his school continues its vibrant Heisman push on his behalf.

Besides putting up a nifty web site for the senior signal caller, Washington is having Locker meet with various media along the way.

It’s a great way to get Locker more exposure before the season begins because, face it, Washington probably won’t be in the spotlight much in 2010.  Unless, of course, Locker can somehow lead the Huskies to a major resurgence.

Can Locker win the Heisman?  Normally I’d say no, but given the wide-open nature of this year’s race and the quick-shifting moods of the Heisman electorate in the digital age, I think he has a shot.   Toby Gerhart nearly took home the Heisman last year and his team didn’t exactly challenge for the national title.  With Locker widely seen as a top NFL talent, the idea that he is the nation’s best player won’t be too far fetched.   But a lot of things have to go his way.  He’s got to have a monster season statistically while helping the Huskies get to a decent bowl.  He’s got to lead UW to big wins over the likes of Nebraska and USC.  And he has to hope that none of the other candidates from more high-profile teams catch fire.

A tall task to be sure, but not out of the question.  At worst, gambits like this summer tour will help his marketability in the future and give his school some much-needed publicity.  It’s always good to get an early start on these kinds of campaigns and Washington has timed it perfectly–during the dog days of the summer, when college football news is sparse and the preseason magazines are just hitting the news stands.

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Heisman Voters Sticking With Bush

Should former USC tailback Reggie Bush be stripped of his 2005 Heisman if he is found to have been ineligible by the NCAA?

On this subject, Heismanpundit.com recently queried a portion of its crack cadre of Heisman voters who, for the past two seasons, have proven to be the most accurate gauge of Heisman voter sentiment.

Of the 10 voters canvassed by HP, seven believed that Bush should not have his award taken away.

“Any benefit he received was off the field,” said one voter.  “Thus, it had no impact on how he performed on the field.  If he was found to have used a performance-enhancing drug, then I would take away the Heisman.”

A strong majority agreed with that train of thought.

“Although it appears he was receiving illegal benefits, Bush was playing college football and I’ve got a hunch he’s not the only Heisman winner that received illegal benefits,” said another voter. “Besides, stripping him of the trophy won’t change the fact that he was a Heisman winner. Do you then give it to Vince Young…and would Young even want it?”

One voter contended that Bush shouldn’t lose his membership in the Heisman fraternity “unless they kick O.J. out first.”

This overall vibe in support of Bush didn’t prevent a few voters from feeling cheated by the whole ordeal.

“As a Heisman voter, I would feel as if I had been duped if Bush knowingly took illicit payouts from a wannabe sports agent while in college,” said a voter.  “On the Heisman ballot, it says you are voting for the most “outstanding” college football player, not the most outstanding professional football player masquerading as a collegian.”

The Heisman Trophy has been awarded to the most outstanding collegiate football player since 1935.  In all that time, the award has never been rescinded or vacated.  Bush, who now plays for the New Orleans Saints, is a part of an overall NCAA investigation of USC activities post-2004.

The results of the investigation are expected to be due within the next week.

The HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll is made up of 13 Heisman voters from across the country. They vote for five players each week during the college football season. 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.  Each of the last two Heismanpundit polls picked the eventual winner and was (overall) the most accurate survey in the country.

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, Dick Weiss of the New York Daily News and Chris Huston of Heismanpundit.com.

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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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Barkley and the Heisman

The inclusion of USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley in the latest HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll has created a bit of a stir among some West Coast media.

While talk of a Barkley boomlet is premature–after all, he’s just a true freshman–it is a harbinger of things to come.  Given his current career trajectory–and hype–he’s sure to be a much-talked-about candidate in 2010.

But it would take a special season for Barkley to crack the top five in 2009.  Thus far, he’s thrown for 1,338 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.   That puts him on pace to have a respectable 2,940 passing yards by the time of the Heisman vote, but he’d need to go on a touchdown tear to really make an impact in the race.  He keeps getting better every week, so that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

However, I think a top 10 finish–rather than a serious challenge for the top spot–is a more reasonable assumption.  This would set him up as one of the front runners for 2010, depending on the status of some of the draft-eligible juniors.

If the race continues to muddle along and no dominant candidate emerges, he’ll get a healthy smattering of West Coast support, but that’s about it.


No Heisman for freshmen

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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 Heismanpundit Heisman Poll, 10/6

This Week’s Poll Results, 10/6
(points, plus first-place votes in parantheses)
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida–52 (7)
2. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas–48 (3)
3. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame–31 (2)

4. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati–24

5. Case Keenum, QB, Houston–11

6. Jacory Harris, QB, Miami–8

7. A.J. Green, WR, Georgia–7 (1)

8. Tate Forcier, QB, Michigan–4

9. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford–3

10. Golden Tate, WR, Notre Dame–3

11. Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota–2
Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State–2

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, including the winner.

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.
From a Voter

“They may not have the most eye-popping numbers to date — especially since they’ve played one less game than a lot of the other contenders — but Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy are running the best teams and still performing at a high level.  Tony Pike is in that same category.  The numbers of Jimmy Clausen and Toby Gerhardt are just too significant to ignore, even if the overall team success hasn’t quite validated either Notre Dame or Stanford as among the nation’s elite.  But then, both players will have chances for signature games soon enough, especially when Clausen stares down the USC defense in a couple weeks.” — a Heisman voter.
Heisman Game of the Week
No. 1 Florida at No. 4 LSU.  High stakes here, as always.  The Tigers might be Florida’s biggest obstacle to an undefeated regular season.  So will Tebow play or won’t he?  That is the question.  If he plays and leads Florida to a victory, it will add another chapter to his amazing legacy and his end reward could be that elusive second Heisman.  If he doesn’t play, or performs poorly in a loss, then his Heisman hopes will fade considerably.    
Player to Watch

Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford.  Who would’ve thought the top running back on the West Coast might end up coming from the other side of the San Francisco Bay?  The 6-1, 240-pound Gerhart is fourth in the nation in rushing and embodies Stanford’s newly-discovered, blue-collar style under head coach Jim Harbaugh.  With no other running backs in the race, Gerhart could make a late-season run at the trophy. 
This Week in Heisman History

Quarterback Jim Plunkett completed 19 of 31 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown (a 50-yarder to tight end Bob Moore) as No. 12 Stanford upset No. 4 USC in 1970, ending the Trojans’ 25-game regular-season unbeaten streak.  Plunkett later beat out Notre Dame’s Joe Theismann for the Heisman and then led the Indians to a stunning 27-17 win over undefeated Ohio State in the 1971 Rose Bowl.

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