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Weekend Heisman Preview

This is a make-or-break weekend for a couple Heisman candidates.  It’s also the beginning of an important month that should eventually determine who wins the trophy.

Tim Tebow–I know he’s not playing due to a bye, but his recuperation over the weekend is key.  Will he be ready to go against LSU?  Rest up, big guy.

Jahvid Best–The last running back in the race could see his candidacy rebound with a big game against USC.  What does he have to do?  Well, first off, the Bears have to win.  That’s a given.  Second, he’s got to gain well over 100 yards and break off a long touchdown run or two.  He needs to dazzle with some highlight reel plays.  Does he have enough gas left in the tank?   Of course, if the Bears lose, his chances at the Heisman are basically zero, though a productive game in a loss could still help him to finish in the top five of the voting.

Jacory Harris–Like Best, Harris has a chance to bounce back and move up in the race.  Playing Oklahoma in front of a national audience is an ideal way to do so.  If Miami wins and Harris plays well, he’ll get a lot of attention and might be set up for a late-season run, as the ‘Canes have a pretty good shot at winning out.  If Miami loses, Harris’ candidacy is done and he’ll spend the rest of the season setting himself up for 2010.

Case Keenum–He’s the only one of the top three in the HP Heisman Poll playing this weekend, so he’ll have a chance to keep his momentum going.  The ideal weekend for Keenum would be for both Cal and Miami to lose while he throws for a ton of yards against UTEP.  With Tebow and McCoy in a bye week, most of the positive Heisman attention would then fall his way.

Jimmy Clausen–The Irish host Washington and Jake Locker.   This game will allow viewers to compare and contrast Clausen with a quarterback many think is headed for first-round draft status.  While beating Washington isn’t that big of a deal, outperforming Locker in a win would be a feather in his cap and set him up nicely for the marquee matchup with USC on Oct. 17.

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The Heismanpundit.com Heisman Poll, 9/29

This Week’s Poll Results, 9/29

(first-place votes in parantheses)
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida–57 (8)

2. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas–55 (5)

3. Case Keenum, QB, Houston–37

4. Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati–20

5. Jahvid Best, RB, California–11

6. Eric Berry, DB, Tennessee–4

7. Greg McElroy, QB, Alabama–2

Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State–2

Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota–2

Ryan Williams, RB, Va. Tech–2

11. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame–1

Jacory Harris, QB, Miami–1

A.J. Green, WR, Georgia–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, 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.
HP’s Thoughts
With Jahvid Best and Jacory Harris absorbing major hits to their candidacies and Tim Tebow suffering a concussion, the race looks quite different than it did a week ago.  Though Tebow still leads, Colt McCoy has surged back into a virtual tie with the Gator quarterback, while Houston’s Case Keenum has, for the first time, placed himself within striking distance of the top spot.  The long view of the race still favors McCoy, though Tebow is benefitting from a short-term rallying effect due to his injury.  A possible dramatic return versus LSU on Oct. 10 might decide Tebow’s Heisman fate.

From a Voter

“This Heisman race is much more wide open than I thought it would be. There are a lot of interchangeable parts, but I still voted Tim Tebow No. 1 because he played hurt — with a respiratory illness– and contributed one touchdown pass and two rushing touchdowns in less than three quarters as Florida cruised to an SEC road victory over Kentucky.  The next two spots on my ballot are Colt McCoy of Texas, then Case Keenum of Houston– who has led his unbeaten, non-BCS team to a pair of wins over Big 12 schools.”– Dick Weiss, New York Daily News.
Heisman Game of the Week
No. 7 USC at No. 24 California.  Last week, Best was sitting pretty in the Heisman race after moving into second in the Heismanpundit.com poll for the first time.  This week, he’s just trying to survive after being a non-factor in Cal’s 42-3 loss to Oregon.  The calculus for Best against USC is simple:  If he does well and the Bears beat the Trojans, he’ll jump back into contention.  If not, he’s finished as a Heisman candidate and we’ll go another year without a running back winner.
Player to Watch

Tony Pike, QB, Cincinnati.  Pike is starting to get some attention as he has led the Bearcats into the top 10 while completing 71 percent of his passes for 1,223 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first four games.  He doesn’t have the kind of marquee schedule that lends itself to a serious Heisman run but, if Cincinnati remains unbeaten, he has a chance to get some solid backing as the main candidate from the Midwest region. 
This Week in Heisman History

Michigan coach Bump Elliot called Navy quarterback Roger Staubach the “greatest quarterback I’ve ever seen” after watching him gain 307 yards running and passing (including two TDs in the air and one on the ground) in a 26-13 win over the Wolverines in 1963.  The total broke “Roger the Dodger’s” own Midshipmen record set the week before against William & Mary.  Staubach won the 1963 Heisman as a junior and was the last of five service academy athletes to take home the trophy.

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The HP Heisman Watch

Here is my weekly breakdown of the players with the best chance of actually winning the Heisman.

1. Colt McCoy, Texas–McCoy is one of only two Heisman candidates to emerge unscathed from this past weekend.  He threw for 286 yards and 3 TDs (with one pick) on 28 of 35 passing against UTEP.  On the year, he has 1,145 passing yards, 9 TDs and 5 INTs, to go with 61 rushing yards and 1 TD.  He is on pace to have 3,721 passing yards, 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.  He will need to cut back on his picks for these numbers to be considered Heisman-worthy, but I think if he keeps it to 12 or below (a 3-1 ratio) he’ll be fine.   He is the overwhelming favorite for the Heisman right now.

2. Jacory Harris, Miami–Why does Jacory Harris move up after a bad loss to Virginia Tech?  Well, just look at the schedule.  The ‘Canes host Oklahoma next week and then will not play a ranked team in their final eight games.  Miami has a real chance to run the table following the game vs. the Sooners, so we are looking at a Miami team that is likely to finish no worse than 10-2, with a decent shot at 11-1 if it beats Oklahoma.  Voters will look kindly upon a young quarterback who led a formerly elite program back into the top five of the polls and may forgive his struggles in the pouring rain on the road at Lane Stadium.   The wildcard in all of this is how Miami ends up in conference play and whether it gets a BCS bid of some sort.  Harris was 9 of 20 for 150 yards and no touchdowns against Va. Tech.  On the year, he has 806 passing yards with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  He is on pace to have 3,224 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.  However, I expect him to pick up the pace on these numbers in the final eight games of the season and finish with a much better stat sheet.

3. Jahvid Best, Cal–Best ran for just 55 yards on 16 carries and was not a factor in Cal’s blowout loss to Oregon.  I’m not ready to count Best out just yet, though, as he has a shot to bounce back with a nice game in a win next week over USC.  As always, USC is the team that Best must do well against to have a shot.  If Cal loses against USC next week, Best’s Heisman chances are done.  One problem is that Best clearly is not 100 percent right now due to soreness in his surgically-repaired foot.  So he is lacking some of the other-worldly explosiveness to which we have become accustomed.  On the year, Best has 467 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns, along with 9 catches and one more TD.  He is on pace to have 1,401 yards and 27 total touchdowns by the time of the Heisman vote.

4. Tim Tebow, Florida–Almost everything has to go right to win the Heisman once.  To win it again, things must be near-perfect.  Tebow’s chances at another Heisman are fading and are now entirely dependent upon the collapse of the rest of the field (as well as his health).  He threw for 103 yards on 5 of 10 passing with a TD against Kentucky and added another 123 yards and 2 TDs on the ground before being knocked out with a concussion in the third quarter.  In the short term, there will be a rallying effect around Tebow among voters, as they rightly appreciate his toughness.  The question now, though, is how much time will he miss, if any?  His stats are already down even further than last season and any missed games will further depress his numbers.  On the year, he has 643 passing yards with 6 TDs and 1 interception, along with 271 rushing yards and 5 TDs.  Assuming Florida makes the SEC title game, he is on pace for just 2,089 passing yards, with 20 TD passes and 3 interceptions, to go with 880 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.   Those are impressive to a point, but are they enough to warrant a second Heisman?  I’m not so sure.

5. Case Keenum, Houston–There will soon come a point where voters will have to take a serious look at Case Keenum.  So far, he has led the Cougars to wins over Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, which gives him some credibility against legitimate competition.  Houston is now a top 10 team and has a real chance of running the table.  If that happens, how could you not consider Keenum for the trophy, especially if the rest of the field is lackluster?  He led the Cougars to a come-from-behind win over Texas Tech, throwing for 435 yards and 1 touchdown (with 1 pick) while adding 27 rushing yards and another score.   On the year, he has 1,160 yards passing with 8 touchdowns and 2 interceptions and has 3 more rushing touchdowns as well.  He is on pace to have 5,026 passing yards, 35 touchdowns and 9 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.  I wouldn’t be shocked if he improves upon the TD numbers when all is said and done.   This is not Andre Ware leading a probation-riddled team to 9-2, this is a guy who has beaten some pretty good teams while pushing his squad to a possible undefeated season and BCS berth.  Something to think about. 

6. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–Part of figuring out who can win the Heisman is projecting how the season could possibly play out (within reason).   Given how things shape up, I think Clausen actually has a shot to make a late-season run.  He has led the Irish to gritty comebacks in each of the last three games (though in one of them ND ended up losing in the end) and there seems to be a bit of magic surrounding him this year.  On the season, he has 1,122 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and just 1 interception.  He is on pace to throw for 3,386 yards, 30 TDs and 3 picks.  If Clausen has those kinds of numbers and leads Notre Dame to a win over USC and the Irish go on to finish 11-1, how do you ignore him in the Heisman race?  If other candidacies mess up along the way, I think he’ll end up as a viable alternative as he’ll be seen as someone who has revived the Irish program.  But, there is a long way to go and this scenario has to play out just right.  So he remains a long shot.

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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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