Despite money allegations, Cam Newton is still the one to beat
It was a Heisman bombshell like nothing in recent memory: Someone claiming to represent Auburn quarterback Cam Newton during his recruitment allegedly wanted a six-figure payday to secure the QB's commitment.
After a four-month period that saw a rash of player-agent scandals and 2005 winner Reggie Bush returning his trophy after it was discovered he received improper benefits while at USC, the question now looms over the current Heisman frontrunner: What impact will this have on Newton's candidacy?
None. Well, at least not in this voter's mind.
What's changed? Newton remains the most dominant player of the season, with more rushing yards (1,146) than any quarterback who has ever won the Heisman. Let's not forget that despite our now cynical outlook whenever these accusations come to light, that's all they are, accusations. There's no guarantee that the NCAA investigation into Newton's recruitment will be finalized before the Dec. 6 voting deadline, and as a voter I have a responsibility to cast my ballot for the most outstanding
There will surely be voters who will look elsewhere. Maybe now they'll even skip past Oregon's LaMichael James (who plead guilty to misdemeanor harassment stemming from an altercation with his ex-girlfriend). It may have happened in March, but if the Heisman frontrunner is under the microscope for perceived off-field misdeeds, it could certainly bring James' troubles back into the spotlight.
Maybe they'll go with a "safe pick" like Boise State's Kellen Moore or Stanford's Andrew Luck, who have played brilliantly without generating any negative headlines. It's their vote and they're entitled to do what they want with it. Personally, I don't want to be among the voters unwilling to give Newton the benefit of the doubt if he's innocent of any wrongdoing.
If I'm wrong I could be part of a vote that leads to another scandal the Heisman Trophy doesn't need. But I'd rather be right in awarding the trophy to the most deserving player than let the court of public opinion condemn a player before we know the truth.
Will I be among the few willing to maintain that stance? We'll know more Dec. 11 when the trophy is awarded in New York, but at this point all we really know is that the pursuit for the Heisman has something it didn't have a week ago: unpredictability.
Before the Watchman unveils this weeks' top 10, here's how I stacked things up after
A week of drama certainly didn't have any effect on Newton's game. He threw his first TD pass 30 seconds into the Tigers' win on his way to five TDs in the first 17 minutes. Yes, it all came against the FCS' 77th-ranked scoring defense, but he's now scored 16 times this season, one short of the Auburn record shared by Cadillac Williams, Stephen Davis and Bo Jackson.
He's now averaging a nation's-best 166.3 rushing yards per game, which is 16.5 more Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and nearly 30 yards more than the nearest running back, Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter. If James can keep up that pace over he'll follow up his Pac-10 freshman record of 1,546 yards by obliterating the conference's sophomore mark of 1,656 yards set by Oregon State's Stephen Jackson in 2002.
Chris Petersen had the Broncos running a no-huddle attack for most of the first quarter to quicken the pace. He also gave a boost to his star's stats as Moore completed 19 passes, the longest stretch of his career, and threw for 322 yards in the first half alone. He finished with a career-high 507 yards passing, joining Hawaii's Bryant Moniz as the only QBs to go over 500 yards this season.
Blackmon was spectacular in his return from suspension. He had 115 receiving yards and a score on eight receptions by halftime --- it was his eighth straight game with over 100 yards, equaling Hart Lee Dykes' 1988 school record -- and he opened the second half by taking a pitch on an end around 69 yards for a TD. I know we have to wait until Dec. 9's college football awards show, but can we just give him the Biletnikoff?
OK, what does Luck have to do to get Stanford Stadium filled? Over the past four games he's completed 75 percent of his passes for nine TDs and two picks and now owns the Cardinal single-season rushing record for a quarterback, breaking Gene Washington's 1966 mark. Against Arizona, with more than a few empty seats, he also flashed that underrated part of his game as he laid a textbook block to free up Anthony Wilkerson. Catch him while you can, Palo Alto, before he's in the NFL.
While TCU proved it belongs among the nation's elite in shellacking Utah, Dalton also proved he deserves a spot among the game's top quarterbacks. He was nearly flawless in picking apart the Utes' 10th-ranked pass defense, eclipsing his previous career-high of 344 yards set in '07. In the last eight games, Dalton has posted three of the top seven single-game completion percentages in school history and he's now thrown for over 2,000 yards in four straight seasons.
In the two games since losing to Wisconsin, when he had a season-low 89.6 passer rating, Pryor has gone 34-of-44 for 492 yards and five TDs. That was against Purdue and Minnesota, ranked seventh and 10th, respectively, in the Big Ten in total defense, but he's still riding a hot streak. That bodes well as the Buckeyes face the conference's second-rated passing D (Penn State) and No. 2 overall defense (Iowa) in the next two weeks.
Last week, I wrote Stanzi is closing the gap on Pryor as the Big Ten's leading candidate. He certainly didn't look the part for 57 minutes against an Indiana defense that was allowing over 380 yards per game. That was until he led the Hawkeyes on a three-play, 88-yard drive -- that took all of 52 seconds -- in which he threw the eventual game-winning TD. His 18th straight game with a TD pass helped keep Iowa's Rose Bowl hopes alive.
At this point, Las Vegas has to be posting odds on whether Shoelace can make it through an entire game. He left in the third quarter against Illinois with dizziness and a headache after an apparent helmet-to-helmet hit, marking the fifth game this season he's left with an injury. Robinson still went over 300 yards passing for the first time against one of the Big Ten's stingiest defenses and had his fifth game with at least 350 yards of offense.
Griffin had an opportunity to put on a show opposite another Heisman contender in Blackmon. Instead, his candidacy was derailed. Griffin didn't have a completion longer than 19 yards and, on a career-high 48 attempts, failed to throw a TD pass for the first time in 13 games. He still has two big games remaining against Texas A&M and Oklahoma that can help Baylor's bowl placement, but it's unlikely this long shot can revive his Heisman chances.