Heisman Contenders

The Heisman Trophy is perhaps the hardest award in all of sports to project. Last year I predicted that Braxton Miller would win the award, while Jameis was mentioned in the few more for the road section of my other contenders post.

If he wasn’t out for the year with a shoulder injury, I would probably again tell you that Miller was my preseason favorite to win the award. But unfortunately for Ohio State and Miller he won’t be playing this season, so here are my top preseason Heisman contenders.

USA Today Sports Images

1. Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: Last year Winston became the third Florida State quarterback to win the award as he led the Seminoles to a national title win over Auburn. This season he’ll try to become the first player since Archie Griffin in 1974 and ’75 to win back-to-back Heismans.

This year Winston will face even more scrutiny than he did last year in the midst of a sexual assault allegation that ultimately never led to any charges being filed. Every stone in Winston’s past has been overturned by the media since his breakout year, and his little crab legs incident during baseball season will give voters even more Winston fatigue this year.

Last year Winston was unreal as he completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 4, 057 yards and 40 touchdowns. FSU is again loaded on offense, even with the departures of Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Winston could very well be just as good as he was a season ago, but it will be hard to statistically do as well. Still if FSU is dominant again in 2014, then voters will have a hard time punishing Winston’s on-filed performance because of what they perceive about him off the gridiron.

AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jason Getz

2. Todd Gurley, Georgia RB: The Junior tailback is a different breed. He led Georgia in rushing despite playing in just 10 games as he battled an ankle injury. In those ten games Gurley averaged six yards per carry, ran for 989 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Quarterback Aaron Murray is gone, and senior Hutson Mason takes over the reigns at quarterback, meaning the heavy lifting will belong to Gurley. Unlike last year, there isn’t much star power in the SEC at quarterback- which means Gurley could become the darling of the country’s most poplular conference if UGA gets off to a great start against Clemson and South Carolina early in the year.

The biggest thing that could hamper Gurley is Mason’s inexperience and lack of a deep threat. Until Mason proves otherwise, teams will likely stack the box assuming the senior QB can’t beat them and they’ll need the extra man power to stop the 6-foot-1, 226-pounder running back.

(Read: Which Heisman contenders will make the first College Football Playoff)

3. Marcus Mariotta, Oregon QB: Marcus Mariotta may have the school record for career rushing yards by a QB with 1,467, but make no mistake this Duck is mostly an aerial threat. The Hawaii native has completed .658 percent of his career pass attempts. Last year he tossed 31 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

Like Gurley, Mariotta suffered an injury last season that prevented him from reaching his full potential, as the QB sprained his MCL midway through the year. Mariotta will have a chance in week two to announce his 2014 Heisman candidacy as Oregon hosts Michigan State in Eugene, Ore.

If the redshirt junior can lead Oregon past Michigan State early in the year he could be in the driver’s seat for the award for much of the year.

Getty Images

4. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama RB: Anytime you’re the featured back in Nick Saban’s offense at Alabama, you’re in the Heisman discussion. In his first season as the No. 1 running back in Alabama’s offense Yeldon rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged six yards per carry and 102.9 yards per game.

Despite not knowing who will start at quarterback, Alabama does have plenty of weapons at wideout that will prevent teams from stacking the box to contain Yeldon. Whether Jacob Coker or Blake Sims are under center, the offense will run through Yeldon.

Teammate Derrick Henry could pose a threat to Yeldon’s candidacy as he will have a large part in the offense this season too. The 241-pound sophomore could also play the role of touchdown vulture in goal-line situations that could make casual voters look past Yeldon’s overall role in the offense.

Associated Press

5. Myles Jack, UCLA LB/RB: Myles Jack is the most intriguing player in college football to me. Last year as a freshman he racked up 75 tackles on defense at linebacker, and ran for seven touchdowns on offense at running back. He was named Pac-12 freshman of the year on both offense and defense.

Jack had seven tackles for loss, one sack, and two interceptions, and averaged seven yards per carry. A defensive player hasn’t won the Heisman since Charles Woodson in 1997. Jack will play mostly linebacker this season, but even if he just 38 total carriers on offense like he did last year it could be enough to get him in the conversation.

In addition to playing primarily on defense Jack’s other uphill battle will be getting the West Coast vote. Jack isn’t the Bruin’s only Heisman candidate as UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is actually a 10/1 favorite to win the award according to Bovada. Jack will also have to try and sway votes away from Mariotta.

The advantage he will have for voters deciding which West Coast candidate is Heisman worthy, is that he will actually go head-to-head with Mariotta this season. Voters will only be able to compare stats and composure between Hundley and Mariotta, but Jack will have the chance to physically stop Mariotta while on defense. A game-changing sack or an interception against the Ducks would not only put UCLA in great position to win the conference, but it could push Jack to the forefront of voter’s minds.

Advertisements

My Football Final Four Picks

For the first time ever, college football will have its very own playoff this season. A 13-member selection committee will pick the top four teams in all the land to compete in semifinal games in the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

The two winners will advance to the National Championship game in Dallas on January 12.

Now here’s the hard part, picking those final four teams before a single down has been played. Here are my predicted top four, with a few other teams who could make the committee ponder a little harder.

1. Florida State (2013- 14-0, National Champions): There’s no question who everyone’s number one is. The defending national champions (yeah I said defending Jimbo) are the most talented team in the country, and Jameis Winston is right at the center of that talent.

AP Photo/ Phil Sears

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner will have to establish a second target at wideout, but he returns senior Rashad Greene (76 catches, nine TDs and 1128 yards) and tight end Nick O’Leary (33 catches, seven TDs and 557 yards). FSU also returns four of five starters along the offensive line.

Defensively replacing Telvin Smith, Timmy Jernigan and Lamarcus Joyner will be no easy task, but the cupboard is far from bare for new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly. As long as Jalen Ramsey and Mario Edwards Jr. stay healthy, the Seminoles have plenty of athletes to overcome the inexperience on that side of the ball.

FSU does have a beefed-up non-conference schedule with the Cowboys Kickoff Classic against Oklahoma State on Saturday, a visit from Notre Dame on October 18 and its annual clash with Florida in Tallahassee on November 29.

The Biggest ACC games will be Clemson on September 20, but like Notre Dame and Florida the Tigers have to travel to Doak Campbell Stadium. The glaring ‘trap-game’ on the Seminoles’ schedule looks to be a Thursday night visit to Bobby Petrino and Louisville on October 30.

2. Alabama (2013- 11-2, 7-1 SEC): The Crimson Tide finished last year with two straight losses, lost eight players to the NFL, including quarterback A.J. McCarron, yet I don’t think anyone will argue that Alabama is again one of the best teams in the nation.

AP Photo/ Butch Dill

Physically Jacob Coker is an upgrade from McCarron under center, but the question that needs to be answered is if the Mobile, Ala. native is ready mentally to be Alabama’s quarterback. Coker still hasn’t been named the starter over senior Blake Sims, but all indications from Tuscaloosa are that he will.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has plenty of weapons for either QB to utilize. Amari Cooper (45 receptions, four TDs and 736 yards) is fully healthy, and the dynamic duo of running backs T.J. Yeldon (1279 yards rushing, 12 TDs) and Derrick Henry (394 yards rushing and three TDs) will provide plenty of power on the ground.

The secondary was Alabama’s biggest chink in the armor last year (OK that and it’s field goal coverage unit), but a year to marinate and work with DB-whispers Nick Saban and Kirby Smart should make that a much-improved unit. Alabama also has the preferred cure to any ailing secondary, a massive defensive front. Senior nose tackle Brandon Ivory weighs in at 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. Defensive ends Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan are both over 290 pounds, while sophomore A’Shawn Robinson checks in at a measly 6-foot-4 320 pounds.

An SEC West schedule is never a favorable one, but Alabama gets three very big games at home this year, Florida on September 20, Texas A&M October 18 and Auburn on November 29. The Crimson Tide will have to travel to LSU on November 8, and like every year that game could determine the division and league champion.

3. Oklahoma (2013- 11-2, Big 12 Champions): Trevor Knight- not a win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl- is the reason for all the Sooners’ preseason love. Yes the fact that Knight’s ah-hah moment happened to come against a team of Alabama’s caliber didn’t slow the hype train.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Knight’s athleticism and development has forced senior Blake Bell to switch to tight end, and given Bob Stoops and company and extra bounce in their step around Norman, Okla. The Sooners return four starters up front on offense, and nine defensive starters.

Last year Oklahoma was susceptible to the run, but if the boys up front hold their position, linebacker Eric Striker (50 tackles, 10.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks) is as good as they come in one-on-one match-ups.

The Sooners will be tested in the third week of the season as Tennessee comes to town on September 13. They then have to turn around and travel to West Virginia the following week.

Oklahoma travels to Texas Tech (November 15) and TCU (October 4), but they host Baylor on November 8 and Oklahoma State December 6. The Red-River Rivalry will take place as always in Dallas on October 11, but with Charlie Strong cleaning house in Austin it looks like the Longhorns won’t be able to catch OU by surprise like they did in last year’s 36-20 thrashing.

4. Michigan State (2013- 13-1, BIG Ten Champions): Speaking of teams who finished 2013 with momentum, the Spartans went 8-0 in the BIG Ten, defeated Ohio State 34-24 in the championship game and took down Stanford 24-20 in the Rose Bowl. All without much offensive firepower… to put it kindly.

Al Goldis/AP

Quarterback Connor Cook showed he can make plays when called upon in the wins over Ohio State and Stanford, but Michigan will rely heavily on running back Jermey Langord (1422 yards and 18 TDs) for its offensive firepower. Cook returns his top target in Tony Lippet (44 catches, two TDs and 613 yards), but Sparty will have to replace three starters along the offensive line.

Week two will go a long way towards determining if Michigan State will be one the last four standing as it travels to Eugene, Orgeon to take on the Ducks. Oregon has struggled with physical defensive fronts like Michigan State in the past, but they’ve never had as polished a passer as Marcus Mariotta before. It may just be week two, but if Oklahoma and FSU go unblemished (Even if they have one loss the SEC champ will get in), then the September 6 match-up could turn out to be an elimination game for a playoff spot.

After the trip out west Michigan State hosts its three toughest opponents the rest of the way with Nebraska (October 4), Michigan (October 25) and Ohio State (November 8) all coming to East Lansing. Michigan State misses Wisconsin in the regular season, but the two could meet in the conference title game.

Just Missed

Oregon (2013- 11-7, 7-2 Pac-12): Like I said the week two match-up is almost an elimination game for Michigan State and Oregon, so if the Ducks win they’re in great position to make the playoff. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is the best player in the country not named Jameis Winston or Todd Gurley.

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Oregon not only hosts Sparty, but they also get Stanford (November 1) and Washington (October 18) at home. Even if Oregon loses to Michigan State, if it beats Stanford, UCLA on the road (October 11) and wins the PAC-12 then the Ducks likely would be in the final four, unless the others go unbeaten.

Ohio State (2013- 12-2, 8-0 BIG Ten): Certainly without Miller the Buckeyes have a large uphill battle ahead of them in 2014, but the good news is that Ohio State still has more talent at the skill positions than the rest of the conference.  New signal caller, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was four-star recruit in high school despite tearing his ACL his senior season. Urban Meyer’s new athletic defensive front will get a challenge right out of the gate with a trip to Baltimore on Saturday to face Navy’s triple option. Things don’t get much easier for OSU in the non-conference schedule with visits from Virgina Tech (September 6) and Cincinnati (September 27). An offensive line with four new starters and an inexperienced quarterback are why I don’t anticipate the Buckeyes getting by Michigan State in the BIG Ten.

Auburn (2013- 12-2, SEC Champions): The Tigers schedule are the reason I went with Alabama in the SEC. Auburn travels to Kansas State (September 18), Georgia (November 15) and Alabama this season, while hosting LSU (October 4) and South Carolina (October 25). The Tigers will have one thing in 2014 that has been sparse in recent seasons at Jordan-Hare- continuity. Nick Marshall is the first returning QB Gus Malzahn has had in his nine-year college coaching tenure, and defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will be the first Auburn DC to return for a second season in three years.

Clemson (2013- 11-2, 7-1 ACC): If Clemson gets by Georgia on Saturday the Tigers have a favorable schedule. Clemson does travel to FSU, but they host Louisville (October 11), N.C. State (October 4) and South Carolina (November 29). It will be tough with a new quarterback, but if Dabo Swinney can defeat UGA again and finally beat South Carolina, then the Tigers deserve to be in the discussion as long as their only loss is at FSU.

UPDATE: GT gets Cumberland 222-0 game ball after all

SCP Auctions

Update:The story of the 220-0 Cumberland game ball has a happy ending after all for Georgia Tech. It turns out that winning bid of $40,388 was placed by Tech alum Ryan Schneider, who told the AJC “It’s not mine. It’s for the school.”

This is truly the best outcome that AD Mike Bobinski and all Yellow Jacket fans could hope for. The historic game ball will be returned to the University, and Tech didn’t even have to open its wallet.

It does make you wonder though, if Schneider has and extra $40K for a game ball perhaps he and his buddies could get together to buyout head coach Paul Johnson if Tech continues to toil in mediocrity.

Original Post:

Georgia Tech Athletic Director Mike Bobinski said he would do his best to regain the game ball from the Yellow Jackets most famed victory, a 220-0 annihilation of Cumberland on October 7, 1916 on Grant Field.

That bid fell short when the auction closed on Sunday, with a winning bid of $40,388 for the ball.

The ball has belonged to the LA84 Foundation in California, inheriting it from sports collector Bill Schroeder after he died in 1987. The foundation is selling the ball as a fund-raiser according to the AJC.

Bobinski told the AJC when the auction opened he would do his best to get the ball back to Tech, or perhaps even in Atlanta’s new College Football Hall of Fame, but he couldn’t afford to get in a bidding war.

Sunday he posted on Twitter that GT did not place the winning bid for the ball.

Baylor brings instant replay to the fans

On Sunday, Aug. 31 Baylor University will open a new $260 million stadium against SMU. In an effort to combat the ever-growing appeal of the living room, Baylor has gone on the offensive Art Briles style to enhance the in-stadium experience for Bears fans.

The school announced on Monday that it has designed an in-game app, powered by a free in-stadium wifi network to bring instant replays, real-time stats and other info right to fans in the stadium on gameday.

“Fans will have access to video on their iPhones, iPads or Android devices, and they can watch the same program feed that is on the stadium video board, or they can choose from other cameras that will be streaming live all the time,” John Garrison, Associate Athletic Director for Marketing, Baylor University said in the press release.

Baylorbears.com

Fans have become accustom to watching the game at home in HD, with replays galore, the ability to know the quarterback’s completion percentage prior to each play and up to the minute information.

Watching the game live, in-person doesn’t afford you the same experience. That’s exactly what Baylor is out to fix.

“It is like having your DVR remote on your phone where you can watch replays and highlights from your seat in the stadium,” Garrrison said of the app.

The atmosphere inside a stadium on gameday still can’t be beat in my opinion. Yet you can’t help but feel like being at the stadium puts you at a disadvantage from the the television viewer from time to time. Even at pro stadiums I’ve often lamented the lack of replays on the jumbotron, but especially at college games.

With Baylor’s in-game app fans now have the ability to pull up the replay on their phone and watch it as many times as they want.

College fans will always flock to campus for big games, but when a Conference USA squad rolls into town schools need to do everything they can to make sure the couch doesn’t look like a more appealing option on a Saturday afternoon.

Baylor is taking the right steps to combat the big screen, lets just hope other schools follow its lead.

NFL looking to keep players in college longer

USA Today Sports

There’s not a lot of actual news that emerges from SEC Media Days. Or any media day for that matter. It’s usually just a good way for people to get people talking about that particular sport or event.

However on Thursday Nick Saban revealed a bit of news that Will Muschamp had hinted at earlier in the week, regarding the NFL’s evaluation of underclassmen.

In year’s past the league would tell players if they could go ‘as high’ as the first round, second round and third round. The other options were “not in the first three rounds” and not draftable.

Now change is coming from the NFL. Under the new system players will given a grade of either first round, second round, or neither. Schools will also only get five automatic evaluations for underclassmen, and will have to petition on an individual basis for extra evaluations (won’t be a problem for schools loaded with talent like FSU, Alabama and LSU).

“I know the NFL has expressed, or we read about some rules that we’re only going to be allowed to submit, and you need to check this out, but I just read it before I came over here, five players for junior grades because it’s getting overwhelming for them,” Saban said on Thursday.

NFL Network’s Albert Breer later confirmed Saban’s statement on Twitter.

The change comes the year after a record 98 underclassmen declared for the 2014 NFL Draft. 36 of those 98 players were not selected.

NFL Scouting consultant Chris Landry told the the New Orleans Times-Picayune that the change is indeed aimed at keeping players in school longer.

“By giving a player a first or second round grade or go back to school grade, the hope is to encourage more players to go back to school if they are not top two round worthy,” Landry told nola.com. “A player with a fourth round grade may not be drafted until the sixth or seventh due to the number of players with those grades. So, players are crushed and no option of playing college football any longer and very little chance of making a team.”

When discussing the old system Saban also brought up the fact that the later a player is drafted, the lower his chances are at signing that second contract. He hopes that players who now receive grades telling them to stay in school, will not only have a degree to fall back on, but that they’ll also be further developed once they enter the league than they would as early entries.

There are always going to be players who are physically gifted and have nothing left to prove at the college level after three years (looking at you Jameis Winston), but hopefully now more kids who would have been given a third round or later grade in previous years will choose to stay in school and develop more.

It’s a win-win for college football and the NFL. Schools will likely get back more juniors, and the NFL will have less work to do when it comes to evaluating underclassmen. Pro teams will also be getting a higher quantify of league-ready players, as they’ll have less underclassmen to develop.

 

What’s next for the USMNT?

The U. S. Men’s National Team certainly grabbed the nation’s attention during this World Cup, as they advanced from the ‘group of death’ over Portugal and Ghana.

Soccer has never had higher ratings in America than it has during Brazil’s World Cup, even after the USMNT exited the tournament. The question now is how does the USMNT keep everyone’s attention until Russia 2018?

The team’s schedule will actually be its biggest asset in terms of keeping the viewer’s engaged. I won’t pretend to know most of the ins and outs of who will or won’t play for the U.S. four years from now in the World Cup, I’ll leave that to my friend @MikeMcCall, but the USMNT could play an international tournament every summer leading up to 2018.

You get a chance to see ’14 breakout star Deandre Yedlin plenty the next four summers. PHOTO: Getty Images

That’s on top of World Cup Qualifying games (Summer ’16- Fall ’17). The revolution will truly be televised.

First up will be the 2015 Gold Cup July 7-26. The U.S. won the 2013 Gold Cup so a win in 2015 would automatically put the U.S. into the 2017 Confederations Cup as the CONCACAF representative (if they don’t win in ’15 they will enter a playoff with the champion for the Confederations Cup bid). The 2015 squad should look fairly similar to the current roster that you’ve come to know.

2016 could be the first year you start to see some roster changes. In the summer the U.S. will host the Copa America Centenario  starting June 3. The tournament will feature 10 South American teams (including Argentina and Brazil) and six CONCACAF teams (the U.S. and Mexico are automatically in).

If they qualify, the U.S. could also get some valuable international experience for its younger players in the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil. Then in the fall World Cup Qualifying gets underway.

In 2017 if all goes according to plan the U.S. will again gain experience for its second-tier players in the Gold Cup, while the A-team gets a heck of World Cup walk-through in the Confederations Cup.

2014 was great, but the next four summers will be the most important in U.S. Soccer history. Not just from a developmental standpoint, but they’ll be huge for fan recognition as well. There’s plenty of room on the USMNT bandwagon, and now you don’t have to wait four years to become an American Outlaw again.

Here is where to find each of these International tournaments on your television.

  • 2015 Gold Cup: FOX Sports Networks
  • 2016 Copa America: BeIN Sports, Univision (come on ESPN pony up to get those English rights from BeIN!)
  • 2016 Olympics: NBC Networks
  • 2017 Gold Cup: FOX Sports Networks
  • 2017 Confederations Cup: FOX Sports Networks
  • 2018 World Cup Qualifying: FOX Sports Networks
  • 2018 World Cup: FOX

Notre Dame coach hosts Adidas garage sale

On July 1 Notre Dame will officially switch from Adidas to Under Armour apparel. The school will host a midnight sideline gear release party on June 30 to celebrate the first day of the 10-year $90 million deal.

Fighting Irish assistant coach Mike Elston is preparing his closet accordingly, by hosting a garage sale with all his three-striped gear. The defensive line coach said in another Twitter post “All the proceeds of the sale of my Adidas apparel will be donated to my church. The apparel that is left over will go to less fortunate.”

The cheapest items are Notre Dame shorts for $5, while the highest priced items are the pullovers for $30.