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Heisman Watch

   by Larry Ness - 09/21/2009

The 2009 college football season began with both the 2007 winner (Tim Tebow) and the 2008 winner (Sam Bradford) active. That had never happened before. Add in last year’s runner-up, Colt McCoy of Texas, and it was hard to imagine anyone from outside of this “Big Three’ winning the 2009 Heisman.

However, Bradford sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder late in the first half of Oklahoma’s opening game on September 5. A subsequent MRI reported that he suffered a Grade 2 or Grade 3 sprain of the right throwing shoulder and the timetable for his return is unknown.

Tebow opened the season with an uneventful game vs out-manned Charleston Southern, then passed for four TDs and ran for one vs Troy. This past Saturday vs Tennessee, the No. 1 Gators (30-point favorites) won 23-13 but in a game in which the team (and Tebow) seemed intent on putting Lane Kiffin and the Vols “in their place,” Tebow and Co. were less than impressive. Tebow hardly played a memorable game with less than 200 yards of total offense.

Meanwhile in Austin, Texas, Colt McCoy and the Longhorns had a “revenge date” with the Red Raiders of Texas Tech. Tech’s 39-33 last-second win in Lubbock last year cost Texas a spot in the Big 12 championship game as well as a likely shot at the national championship and may have cost McCoy the 2008 Heisman. While Texas won 34-24, McCoy was the “second-best QB on the field,” as Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts threw for 420 yards and three TDs.

So where does the 2009 Heisman race stand as the season approaches it’s fourth weekend? My latest Heisman Watch follows.

1) TIM TEBOW (Florida) Last Week: 1. Tebow had 76 yards rushing (24 attempts) and a TD while completing 14 of 19 passes for only 115 yards (zero TDs and one INT). The Gators won 23-13 but it was their defense which was the real star of the game, holding Tennessee to 210 total yards. Tebow’s streak of having thrown at least one TD pass in 30 consecutive games is over (was the nation’s longest active streak) and his two turnovers led to 10 Tennessee points. It was hardly a Heisman-like effort. However, the victory gave the Gators a school-record 13 straight wins, which is now the longest in major college football after losses by Utah and Southern California. The Gators have outscored their 13 opponents by the combined scores of 610-to-150, going 10-1 ATS. Tebow has thrown for 27 TDs with just three INTs during that stretch (21-1 ratio the last nine games), while adding 13 rushing TDs. Saturday’s rushing TD gives him 46 in his career, tying him with Kevin Faulk (LSU) for second all-time in the SEC (Herschel leads with 49). As long as the Gators continue to win, Tebow will be hard to unseat as the Heisman-favorite. I’m not “locked-in” to placing him first every week in my Heisman Watch but McCoy has yet to do anything to challenge him and I’ll comment on the dark horses in this race below. 2-0 Kentucky is up next this coming Saturday in Lexington for Tebow and Florida. The Gators beat the Wildcats 63-5 last year in “The Swamp” but in 2007, escaped Lexington with just a 45-37 win. Tebow threw for 256 yards (four TDs) and ran for 78 yards (one TD) in that game. Deja vu? Tebow’s season stats are : 39-of-58 for 540 yards (67.2 percent) with 5 TDs and 1 INT / 39 carries for 148 yards (3.8 YPC) and 3 TDs.

2) COLT MCCOY (Texas) Last Week: 2. The Red Raiders spoiled the Longhorns’ national title hopes (and McCoy’s Heisman hopes as well) with a 39-33 win in Lubbock last season, winning on a Harrell-to-Crabtree TD pass with one second to play. With that backdrop, a record crowd of 101,297 packed Royal-Memorial Stadium looking for a “revenge blowout” behind McCoy and Co this past Saturday. What they got instead was a hard-hitting first half in which neither team scored an offensive TD (Texas led 10-3). The offenses got going in the third quarter with each team scoring two TDs and the Longhorns eventually prevailed, 34-24. McCoy finished 24-of-34 for 205 yards with one TD and two INTs. Also, the man who led Texas in rushing yards in 2008 was held to only five yards on eight attempts. Taylor Potts, the latest gun-slinging quarterback to guide Mike Leach’s passing attack, finished with 420 yards (46-of-62) and three TDs. However, he also had two fourth quarter turnovers, including one which led to McCoy’s lone TD pass (giving Texas a 31-17 lead). McCoy set an NCAA record by completing 76.7 percent of his passes last year while throwing for 3,859 yards (34-8 ratio), as well as leading the Longhorns in rushing (561 yards / 11 TDs). Can he possibly match those numbers this year? So far, the answer is no. McCoy had 10 incompletions or more in just three of his 13 games in 2008 but after going 21-of-29 in his first game of 2009, McCoy has had 17 and 10 incompletions that last two games (as I said, he set the bar very high last year). Texas will host UTEP this coming Saturday. These teams met last year in El Paso (Texas’ first-ever visit), the first game between the two schools since 1933. This marks just the fourth game all-time between these two Texas schools and it’s a way bigger game for the Miners than it is for the Longhorns. Neither Texas nor McCoy can afford a single “slip-up” and one wouldn’t think it would come this weekend. McCoy’s season stats are: 75-of-110 for 859 yards (68.2 percent) with 6 TDs and 4 INTs / 24 carries for 46 yards (1.9 YPC) and 1 TD.

3) JAHVID BEST (California) Last Week: 3. Cal RB Best has gotten off to the quickest start of any Heisman contender but in order to seriously challenge this year’s “top-two,” Best will have to come up big in his next three games. First, let’s give him his due. Best ran for 1,580 yards and scored 15 TDs last season, posting a spectacular average of 8.1 YPC. He’s opened the 2009 season right where he left off in 2008, topping the 100-yard rushing mark in all three games, making it seven straight 100-yard plus games for the junior. Best tied a school record with five rushing TDs (Duke Morrison also had five back in 1921) this past Saturday at Minnesota. He had three TD runs in the first half (one of 33 and another for 27) but it was his two, two-yard TD runs in the fourth quarter (first with 7:14 remaining and the second with 2:59 to go) which gave Cal its margin of victory (35-21). Best finished with 131 yards on 26 carries, giving him 2,213 career rushing yards and moving him to 10th on Cal’s career rushing list. He also continues to climb Cal’s all-time lists in rushing TDs (25, fifth-most) and 100-yard games (11, sixth-most). Are the Bears and Best for real? Cal’s off to a 3-0 start and is ranked No. 6 in the latest AP poll, averaging 48.7 PPG and 488.0 YPG. The Bears will travel to Eugene, Oregon on Saturday, where the Ducks just beat Utah 31-24, ending the Utes’ 16-game winning streak. Cal beat Oregon 26-13 last year in Berkeley with Best gaining 93 yards on 16 carries. He’ll need better numbers than that plus a Cal win to stay close to “the big boys” in this year’s Heisman race. Cal better not be looking ahead to USC’s visit to Berkeley on October 3. Best’s season stats are: 53 carries for 412 yards (7.8 YPC) with 8 TDs / 7 catches for 59 yards (8.4 YPC) and 1 TD.

4) JIMMY CLAUSEN (Notre Dame) Last Week: NR. Notre Dame’s topped 30 points in each of its first three games (35, 34 and 33) with Clausen throwing for at least 300 yards each time out. He’s connected on almost 70 percent of his passes, throwing nine TDs without an INT (91 attempts). What a difference from his freshman season of 2007, when the Fighting Irish opened 0-5 while scoring a total of just 46 points. In that five-game span, Clausen completed 48.9 percent of his throws for only 474 yards with one TD and three INTs. He’d finish the 2007 season with just one game of more than 200 yards passing (he had 246 in a 41-24 loss to Air Force) and even though he made noticeable improvements in 2008, it wasn’t until last year’s Hawaii Bowl that Clausen “came of age.” He riddled the Rainbows last Christmas Eve, completing 22-of-26 passes for 401 yards and five TDs (zero INTs). Add in this year’s first three games and Clausen has averaged 338 YPG through the air with 14 TDs and not a single INT (122 attempts). Unlike Coach Lou, I’ve been hesitant to ‘anoint’ Clausen and while I’m still a little skeptical, I’m surely willing to put him in my top-five this week. Notre Dame visits Purdue this week, which is just 1-2 after losing 28-21 at home this past Saturday against Northern Illinois (allowed 454 yards). Notre Dame beat the Boilermakers 38-21 in South Bend last year with Clausen throwing fo 275 yards and three TDs (zero INTs). His season stats are: 62-of-91 for 951 yards (68.1 percent) with 9 TDs and 0 INTs.

5) CASE KEENUM (Houston) Last Week: NR. I’ve moved Keenum into my top-five (along with Clausen), dropping BYU’s Max Hall and Penn State’s Daryll Clark. Keenum didn’t play this past Saturday but two weeks ago he led the Cougars to a 45-35 upset of then-No.5 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The victory marked Houston’s first win over a top-five team since 1984 and returned the Cougars to the AP’s top-25 for the first time since 1991. Despite being idle, the Cougars jumped from No. 21 to No. 17 this past weekend. There is no rest for the weary, as Houston will host dangerous Texas Tech this Saturday (first meeting since 1995) and its new QB, Taylor Potts. Potts has thrown for better than 400 yards in each of Tech’s three games this year (1,281 yards), while tossing 12 TDs and just four INTs. As for Keenum, he finished the 2008 season with 5,020 passing yards (67.4 percent) 44 TDs and only 11 INTs. He topped 300 yards in each of Houston’s 12 regular season games last year (five times topping 400 yards) , before throwing for “just”
256 yards (one TD, one INT and two rushing TDs) in the Cougars’ 34-28 Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force. He’s topped 300 yards in each of his first two games this season, extending his run of 300-yard games to 14 straight in the regular season (not bad). I’m not totally ’sold’ on Keenum being a fixture in my top-five but he at least deserves some early season consideration off last year’s numbers and by leading his team to that win in Stillwater. Let’s see how he and the Cougars fare in their “sure-to-be” shootout with Potts and Texas Tech? Keenum’s season stats are: 55-of-76 for 725 yards (72.4 percent) with 7 TDs and 1 INT / 2 rush TDs.

Dropped out: No. 4 Max Hall (BYU) and No. 5 Daryll Clark (Penn State)

Good luck…Larry

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