March 27, 2009

Making history is a rare accomplishment. Duplicating it can be difficult.

But that's what Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow will seek to do this fall.

Bradford won the Heisman last season, while Tebow -- the first sophomore to win -- took home to coveted bronze statue in 2007. If either wins this season, he would join Ohio State running back Archie Griffin as the only two-time Heisman winner.

But just by sticking around for the '09 race, Bradford and Tebow have already played a part in duplicating a rare Heisman feat. Read on in this week's mailbag to find out what it is.

Will this season be the first time the top three Heisman vote-getters returned the next season? And in what order do you think they will finish this season?-- John, Newport Beach, Calif.

Oklahoma's Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tebow finished first, second and third, respectively, in last season's Heisman balloting, and each will return this fall.

This will be the second time the top three Heisman finishers returned for the next season.

In 1945, Army's Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn Davis and Oklahoma A&M's (now Oklahoma State) Bob Fenimore finished first, second and third, respectively, in the voting. In 1946, Davis won the Heisman, Blanchard finished fourth and Fenimore played sparingly because of injuries.

SMU's Doak Walker, who won the 1948 Heisman, and North Carolina's Charlie "Choo Choo" Justice returned for the '49 season. But Penn's Chuck Bednarik, who finished third, was the first player selected in the 1949 NFL draft.

It's a rare occasion for the Heisman recipient to return, although it has become more commonplace in recent years, with Oklahoma's Jason White, USC's Matt Leinart, Tebow and Bradford electing to return after taking home the award.

Only 18 non-seniors have won the Heisman. Of those, 11 returned the next season.

As for my early pick for this fall's Heisman, I'd rate Tebow as the early favorite, followed by McCoy and then Bradford, though I wouldn't be surprised if California running back Jahvid Best had a big year and won it.

Frankly, I think it's going to be difficult for Bradford to match last season's production playing behind a line that lost four starters, each of whom earned all-conference recognition.

If you believe in historic trends, the pick probably should be McCoy. Four Heisman runners-up have gone on to win the following year -- Michigan's Tom Harmon in 1940, Army's Davis in '46, USC's O.J. Simpson in '68 and Georgia's Herschel Walker in '82.

Ohio State's Griffin is the only two-time Heisman recipient, so history isn't on Tebow or Bradford's side. Of course, before Tebow won in 2007, no sophomore had ever won. Now, two sophomores in a row have won, so times (and trends) are changing.

Given that you don't think Ohio State is a drama team, what do you think Michigan State can do to overcome its past drama with John L. Smith and Jeff Smoker?-- Steve, East Lansing, Mich.

In my opinion, the Spartans have already overcome those issues.

Hiring coach Mark Dantonio two years ago was an excellent move. Under previous coaches Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, the Spartans developed a tendency to start fast, then collapse in the last month of the season.

Under Dantonio, the Spartans went 3-1 down the stretch last season, then managed a respectable showing in a Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia.

Michigan State has posted back-to-back winning seasons under Dantonio. Previously, the Spartans hadn't accomplished that since1989-90, under George Perles.

Last season's starting quarterback Brian Hoyer and workhorse running back Javon Ringer have departed, so there is some question about the Spartans in '09. But a late-season Spartans swoon can't be taken for granted anymore.

As for Smoker, he also overcame his issues. He was suspended for the final five games of the 2002 season for substance abuse. But he earned his place back on the team in '03 and passed for 3,395 yards en route to helping the Spartans to an 8-5 finish -- their last winning record until Dantonio's arrival. He then spent time with three teams in the NFL.

USC has been a national powerhouse for quite some time. The Trojans have whipped pretty much everyone in big-time games except Vince Young. So why is there so much bias against them? They show they can play and beat other top-ranked teams, but voters never vote for them. Surely after their past performances, people would get smart.-- Jeff, Upland, Calif.

You're kidding, right?

There is no bias against USC. In each of the past five seasons, the Trojans started the season ranked no lower than sixth and three times were preseason No. 1. Is that bias? Lest we forget, in 2003 LSU defeated Oklahoma for the BCS national championship, but The Associated Press voted USC its national champion. Is that bias?

No way.

On-field performance and recruiting success ensure USC will be highly ranked at the start of each season, and it should. But the Trojans can only blame themselves for failing to get into the BCS national championship game in the past three seasons.

The Trojans, and not Florida, would have played Ohio State for the 2006 national championship had they not lost to UCLA in the final regular-season game. A home-field loss to a Stanford team that finished 4-8 cost the Trojans a shot in '07. Last season, the Trojans lost to Oregon State. Utah, which went undefeated and beat Oregon State, had a better argument for playing in the BCS title game than did the Trojans.

If there were a playoff, USC probably would have claimed at least one more national championship in the past three seasons. But the current system matches teams with the best résumés, not necessarily the best teams. In the past three seasons, other teams have had better résumés. That's a matter of fact, not a matter of bias.

When can we start firing coaches at Marshall? Mark Snyder may have been a good assistant at Ohio State, but he's only gone 16-31 at Marshall. Should the search for another coach begin? How long should a new coach get before the university should decide to move on? Snyder has been at Marshall four seasons, and the school has gone from the winningest team of the '90s to a Conference USA cellar-dweller. When should we start to worry, or is it too late?-- Dave, Charleston, W.Va.

Snyder will be one of the coaches on the proverbial hot seat this fall. Coaches make too much money these days -- even at Marshall -- not to win, and the Thundering Herd hasn't had a winning season under Snyder.

Following Bob Pruett was an unenviable task. Replacing the most successful coach in school history is never easy.

Marshall moved up from the MAC to Conference USA, which is a superior league. That didn't make Snyder's task any easier.

But all coaches know that winning is required. Personally, I believe that unless a coach embarrasses his school or clearly is in way over his head, he should be given at least four years at a program. That way, he has time to develop players he recruited for his system.

Snyder is entering his fifth season. He needs to win in '09.

Does Arizona State need to expand its recruiting base to go into Texas and the Northeast more? Arizona State has a lot to offer, and after two pretty good recruiting classes, should it go more nationwide?-- Richard, Lake Havasu, Ariz.

There is no question Tempe has a lot to offer. There are great restaurants and clubs around Mills Avenue, the fan support is good and the weather is great.

But Arizona State has struggled to get the best players in its state. Over the past four years, the state of Arizona has produced 18 players ranked as four- or five-star prospects by The Sun Devils have signed six. Three signed with USC, and Michigan, Michigan State and even North Carolina have taken players away from ASU.

The first priority should be keeping those top players in the desert. Secondly, getting a foothold in California is a must. Coach Dennis Erickson obviously knows that.

But I'd agree that Arizona State should try to have a bigger presence in Texas. Outrecruiting Texas, Oklahoma and LSU there won't be easy by any means. But there are many good players there who would be attracted to what Arizona State has to offer. And it's really not that far away.

In the past, Arizona State had reasonable success in Texas, but that seems to have waned a bit of late.

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