Dark horse 2012 Heisman Trophy contenders; more Mailbag
Twice in the past three years a defensive player has reached New York, and both times the player was barely on the radar going into the last week. In 2009, Ndamukong Suh garnered a little bit of Heisman buzz during the season, but I'd guess 80 to 90 percent of the votes he got came from a dominating performance (12 tackles, 4.5 sacks) against Texas in a much-watched Big 12 title game. Last year, Tyrann Mathieu became a household name starting in Week 1 against Oregon, but most assumed he'd lost his shot at the Heisman following his one-game suspension midway through the year. But his game-turning punt returns in the SEC title game against Georgia (on the heels of another the week before against Arkansas) likely pushed him past idle Matt Barkley as the fifth finalist.
Last impressions are always powerful, but I've noticed the past few years that the first Saturday of December is carrying more and more weight in the Heisman race. I suppose that shouldn't be surprising in today's media climate; on Twitter, guys win, lose, then re-win the Heisman with each drive of each game. It's not like a player can be a complete nobody the first 13 weeks and then win with a huge final performance, but RGIII doesn't win last year without the strong finish against Texas. Ditto Mark Ingram against Florida in 2009. Unless a guy completely blows away the rest of the field, a la Cam Newton two years ago or Tim Tebow in 2007, that last game takes on paramount importance. And that in turn can benefit a so-called dark horse candidate who makes a strong last impression.
As for this year, if ever an offensive lineman was going to make it to New York (for the first time since Ohio State's Orlando Pace in 1996), you would think Andy's favorite guy, Alabama center Barrett Jones, would be the one. He's been around so long and received so much acclaim that he's got to be the most recognizable offensive lineman in many years. Considering Tide quarterback AJ McCarron isn't likely to put up Heisman-type numbers, Jones or one of the Tide's other preseason All-America O-linemen (tackle D.J. Fluker and guard Chance Warmack) might be that team's best bet. But it would likely require both 'Bama reaching the SEC title game and Gary Danielson spending at least a quarter dissecting isolation shots of the Tide's blocking techniques.
A quarterback or running back will still win the thing.
I suppose you want me to answer this differently than most of the readers would like me to, which is of course,
I don't think you can pin Kelly's offensive struggles entirely on the quarterback. For one thing, to run a fast offense, you need fast players. Kelly has more now than when he got there (particularly at running back), but he started with very little speed. He also needs the offensive line to execute better than it has. But yes, the single biggest sticking point has been quarterback. To run an up-tempo offense with precision you need a quarterback who makes quick and correct decisions. Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees weren't that guy. Rees alone had 19 turnovers last season. Nothing slows an offense to a halt more than that.
Though Kelly hasn't made it official yet, it sounds like the redshirt freshman Golson will be his guy. I remember talking to the coach the day after Signing Day in 2011, and you could tell even then this day would arrive quickly. It was clear he envisioned the dual-threat quarterback from South Carolina as the ideal fit for his preferred style of offense. According to this
Are you kidding me? The guy just produced the school's first conference title in 20 years and you want to get rid of him?
If anything, Clemson has gone all in on Swinney and his staff. Swinney just got a three-year extension in June through 2017. Second-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris got a staggering six-year contract worth $1.3 million annually after Ohio State coach Urban Meyer tried to pry him away last December, and former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, whom Swinney brought in to replace Kevin Steele following the 70-point Orange Bowl debacle, has a guaranteed four-year deal that pays $800,000 this season. That's about as big a commitment as you're going to find for a head coach/offensive/defensive coordinator triumvirate. Clemson is banking on the hope that the long-middling program took the right step with last year's 8-0 start and ACC title game upset of Virginia Tech rather than hedging its bets after three late-season blowouts.
Of course, all of that will make Clemson fans extra frustrated if the Tigers regress this season. Swinney will certainly feel the heat if they don't at least contend with Florida State in the Atlantic Division. But there's reason to believe the offense will be even more dangerous in Year 2 with Morris, Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and while Venables had a rough ending in Norman, most programs would be very happy to land a guy who helped produce seven Big 12 championship defenses. Clemson has the makings of a consistently competitive program in the years to come, a stark contrast from the perennial underachievers we once all knew and loved.
There will always be unofficial preseason polls (in large part because we know you will read them), presumably including the AP's and USA Today's. But the commissioners have stated pretty emphatically that once the playoff arrives, the selection committee will not use any criteria that include a preseason component.
Ideally, the members would sit down at the end of the season with a blank piece of paper, but that's probably not realistic. Much like the BCS standings, I imagine the new organization will send out periodic rankings starting in mid-October so that fans can follow along. Even if they don't, it would be naïve to think the selectors would not be aware of the prevailing consensus, because they'll see the numbers in front of the teams' names when they watch games. But theoretically, preseason rankings will hold no official bearing on the playoff selection process. And that of course is a good thing.
We can, and we must.
RIP, conference that brought us Robbie Bosco, Ty Detmer, Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, David Carr, Colt Brennan, Ian Johnson, Kellen Moore and so many late-night score-a-thons. It's astounding that a conference can go from three BCS berths in four years (2006-09) to extinction less than four years later.
Both schools have said they plan on playing as independents next season (Idaho is expected to join the Big Sky in other sports), which will undoubtedly be a scheduling nightmare. To maintain FBS status, they must play 60 percent of their games against FBS foes as well as play at least five home games against FBS foes. Idaho only has four opponents set for 2013 (Northern Illinois, at Ole Miss, at Wyoming and at Washington State). AD Rob Spear told the Idaho Statesman the Vandals may play New Mexico State twice next year. So mark your calendars for that.
Of course I see the Hokies winning 10 games. It's the easiest annual prediction in college football. For eight straight years, Frank Beamer's team has won either 10 or 11 games, no more, no less. I do worry that we're putting an undue amount of faith in quarterback Logan Thomas. While the guy is a 6-foot-6, 260-pound freak capable of full-on world domination, there's a bit of revisionist history out there in regard to his 2011 season. Yes, he threw for a school-record 3,013 yards, but in the Hokies' two blowout losses to Clemson, Thomas threw one touchdown, three interceptions and managed a combined 10 rushing yards. And he was a modest 19-of-28 for 214 yards and a pick in the Sugar Bowl.
And now, Thomas is without star tailback David Wilson, four of last year's starting offensive linemen and top receivers Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin. We can reasonably assume Bud Foster's defense will be stout (as always), but can the offense move the chains with such little experience surrounding Thomas? I've been skeptical all offseason, but I've warmed up since the start of preseason practices. It sounds like early enrollee J.C. Coleman could be Beamer's next stud tailback. Seniors Dyrell Robets, D.J. Coles, Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller are all capable receivers. And I wouldn't worry about the schedule that much. Pitt isn't on Tech's level yet, and Miami, to be blunt, is going to flat out stink. Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and possibly UNC will pose problems, but split those and voila, you've got your 10 wins.
And now, we switch to the nation's
Help refresh my memory: Is it in odd-numbered years the Hawkeyes exceed expectations, and even years they flop? Or vice versa?
On paper, I don't see much reason for optimism with these Hawkeyes. I do like the underappreciated Vandenberg (3,022 yards, 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions last season) and his receiving targets Keenan Davis and the 6-7, 265-pound Fiedorowicz. They give new offensive coordinator Greg Davis some nice pieces for his passing game. But the Hawkeyes' longstanding
Can this team really win a championship with such a perilously thin backfield? And is it really such a sure thing that another mass of overachievers will excel on defense? I see something closer to a six- or seven-win team, which means of course that Iowa will somehow find its way into a BCS game.
Wouldn't they best be described as
I do think Tennessee will surprise some people. Top 15 seems optimistic, but the prevailing consensus out there that Vols will go 6-6 or 5-7 again and Derek Dooley won't be wearing orange pants any longer doesn't do justice to the talent on hand. Just the passing trio of Tyler Bray, a healthy Justin Hunter and fellow receiver Da'Rick Rogers (1,040 yards last season) should scare defenses, and finally Tennessee has some veterans to protect Bray. The schedule sets up interestingly into three distinct blocks. You've got NC State, Georgia State, Florida and Akron the first four weeks. Tennessee really needs to emerge from that group with at least three wins, because the next four games (at Georgia, at Mississippi State, Alabama and at South Carolina) are brutal. Then the last four are relatively soft (Troy, Missouri, at Vanderbilt and Kentucky), but if Dooley is 3-5 going into that stretch the noise is going to be deafening and the season might crumble. Instead, I see him finishing around 8-4 and earning a reprieve.
I'm not sold that Dooley is the long-term answer there, but can we at least put one silly notion to rest? There is no chance Tennessee would hire Bobby Petrino to replace him. Not after getting burned by Lane Kiffin and Bruce Pearl. Besides, if my prediction is correct and Dooley holds on through 2013, Petrino will already be off the market and gainfully employed ... one state to the north.
He arrived in South Bend the same year as Jimmy Clausen. Enough said.
Other additions to
It certainly has the makings of another ugly season in College Park. Unless new starting quarterback Perry Hills is the second coming of Boomer Esiason, it's hard to envision Maryland being much better offensively. The defense has more room for growth -- it was clear that unit checked out at a certain point last year -- and maybe that's how the Terps claw to four or five wins. (They open with the unimposing trio of William and Mary, Temple and Connecticut.) Given the low circumstances, just a little improvement in the wins column might constitute a pass for Edsall. But there's no way he'd survive a second straight 2-10 season, freshman quarterback or not. See Turner Gill at Kansas. Anderson may still save himself if he pulls the plug quickly enough.
Drop this Stuart guy a note, I'm sure he'd be happy to refund your $20, but you may have to find someone else to do your shopping and handling for you.