Heisman Watch Week 5: LSU's Mettenberger joins SEC-heavy QB field
In 1966, Florida's Steve Spurrier became the first SEC quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy. Five seasons later, Auburn quarterback Pat Sullivan won the award. It would be 25 years before another SEC quarterback attained Heisman glory, when the Gators’ Danny Wuerffel brought the trophy back to Gainesville.
Those three signal-callers were the only SEC quarterbacks to win the Heisman between the award’s inception in 1935 and 2006. In the last six years, however, the conference has added three more quarterbacks to the Heisman's roll of honor: Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010) and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (2012). That’s the same number of Heisman-winning quarterbacks as the SEC produced in the previous seven decades.
Thanks to the SEC's decidedly offensive flavor this season, a handful of the conference's pass-happy quarterbacks could keep the Heisman trend alive. Aaron Murray has Georgia rolling after the Bulldogs survived a daunting September schedule with only a single loss. Despite a few bumps in the road on offense, AJ McCarron’s play for Alabama has kept the unbeaten Crimson Tide atop the polls. And though only a single player has won the Heisman twice, Manziel’s offensive stats alone should keep his name in the mix.
But another SEC quarterback jumped into the conversation after this weekend, and that’s where we start this week’s Heisman Watch:
Heisman Watch – Week 5
1. Tajh Boyd, QB Clemson
2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
3. Aaron Murray, QB Georgia
4. Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M
5. AJ McCarron, QB Alabama
6. Braxton Miller, QB Ohio State
7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville
8. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
9. Zach Mettenberger, QB LSU
10. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
Player of the Week
Zach Mettenberger, QB LSU
Week 5 stats: 23-of-37 for 372 yards and three touchdowns
Mettenberger wouldn’t have cracked anyone’s Heisman rankings prior to his resurgence this season. In his first year as a starter in 2012, Mettenberger tossed 12 touchdowns but also threw seven interceptions and completed just 58.8 percent of his passes while the Tigers’ offense finished near the bottom of the SEC.
But, as he showed in a wild loss to Georgia, it’s a whole new Mettenberger in 2013. The senior notched season-highs in completions (23), attempts (37) and passing yards (372) while finding the end zone three times. He has thrown just one interception this season, against 13 touchdown passes; through five games in 2012, he’d thrown for only six touchdowns.
Of course, Mettenberger and LSU didn’t escape Athens with a win, and his detractors could point to the quarterback’s inability to put the Tigers in scoring position on their last drive, with Georgia clinging to a three-point lead. But Mettenberger has plenty of chances to boost his Heisman profile, including games against Florida, Texas A&M and an intriguing clash with Alabama on Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa. The quarterback also has a personal narrative to build on: The Bulldogs dismissed him in 2010 when he ran into legal troubles, after which attended Butler (Kan.) Community College for a year before signing to play for LSU.
Mettenberger’s solid day shouldn’t detract from the performance of Georgia’s quarterback. Murray completed 20-of-34 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for another score against LSU. Since the BCS began in 1998, the Bulldogs are one of only four teams to play three top-10 opponents in the first four games of the season. In those three games, Murray completed 66 percent of his throws, had a hand in 10 total touchdowns and was picked off only twice. Not coincidentally, Georgia emerged from that brutal stretch with only one loss. Murray's completion percentage against LSU was a season-low, however, so it will be interesting to see how he performs against elite defenses the rest of the way.
That was the Boyd we know. Clemson’s quarterback accounted for four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) in a win over Wake Forest, becoming only the second ACC passer with 100 career total touchdowns. Boyd was responsible for 380 of the Tigers' 573 total yards. He’ll keep getting dinged for Clemson’s soft ACC schedule, but his performance in the opening win over Georgia should keep him in the Heisman mix before the Tigers' meeting Florida State on Oct. 19.
Perhaps this writer was too hasty in completely killing Miller’s Heisman chances. His return to the field Saturday was nothing short of spectacular in Ohio State’s biggest game yet. Miller threw four touchdowns and accounted for 281 yards of total offense in a victory over Wisconsin, the quarterback’s first game action in nearly three weeks (thanks to a sprained knee). Miller boasts perhaps the best Heisman storyline in the country: He’s won his last 17 games as the Buckeyes' starter.
The youngster in Tallahassee continues to impress in his first season as a starting quarterback. Winston threw for four touchdowns while also leading the Seminoles in rushing yards (67 yards on 14 carries) against Boston College. He even tossed a 55-yard scoring bomb to Kenny Shaw as time expired in the first half. Winston will continue to face the same “weak ACC” perception that plagues Clemson’s Boyd, but Florida State’s quarterback is completing 73.6 percent of his throws with only two interceptions. No matter who you’re playing, that’s impressive.
Wisconsin’s primary tailback was running all over college football prior to the Badgers’ showdown with Ohio State on Saturday -- he was the country’s leading rusher (624 yards) through four games, and he hadn’t rushed for fewer than 140 yards in a game. But until last Saturday, Wisconsin had yet to face a front seven as good as the Buckeyes’. Against Ohio State, Gordon gained only 74 yards on 15 carries – a season-low 4.9-yard average – and scored no touchdowns.
Gurley left Georgia’s game against LSU in the second quarter with a sprained ankle. He’d rushed eight times for 73 yards, and seemed on his way to a big day. Mark Richt hasn’t ruled the tailback out of Saturday’s game against Tennessee, but Gurley’s bid for the Heisman is gradually eroding while Murray shines under center. Quarterbacks are simply dominating the race so far.
Alabama’s quarterback isn’t necessarily having a bad season, but he’s not having a spectacular one, either. McCarron’s claim to fame last year was his dependability; he finished as the country’s leader in passing efficiency after he didn’t throw an interception until 10 games into the season. Through five games in 2013, however, McCarron has already thrown as many picks (three) as he did all of last year. Still, he’s completing 69 percent of his throws for the unbeaten Crimson Tide. There remains a chance that McCarron will make the trip to New York.
Tweets of the week
Zach Mettenberger is the perfect fit for LSU:
Aaron Murray creeps closer to a new spot in the record books.
Braxton Miller … rusty? Not quite.
Video of the week
Famous Jameis launched a Hail Mary pass to give Florida State a one-touchdown lead over Boston College at the half.