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Heisman Watch

   by Larry Ness - 09/28/2009

The 2009 college football season began on September 3 with both the 2007 winner (Tim Tebow) and the 2008 winner (Sam Bradford) active. Never before had that happened. Throw in last year’s Heisman 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 Bradford hasn't played since. The this past Saturday with Florida leading 31-7in the late third quarter at Kentucky and driving deep in Wildcats' territory, Tebow was sacked by Kentucky DE Taylor Wyndham.


As he fell back with Wyndham on top of him, Tebow's head struck teammate Marcus Gilbert's leg, violently bending his neck forward. Tebow lay motionless for several minutes while Commonwealth Stadium fell silent. He sat up with some help, then slowly made his way off the field to a loud ovation. He was eventually carted off the field with concussion-like symptoms, vomiting several times as he was taken to an ambulance to a local hospital for tests.


If you are a fan of NFL films, you'll remember this famous line by Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out there?" Is McCoy next to go down? Tebow was released from the hospital Sunday morning, about 12 hours after sustaining a concussion and he flew back to Gainesville with head coach Urban Meyer and his family Sunday afternoon. The top-ranked Gators are off next week (good news) but are scheduled to play at No. 4 LSU on October 10, arguably the toughest game on the defending national champs' regular season schedule.


It figures to be several days (maybe longer) before Tebow's status becomes clearer. Getting back to Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, he visited renowned orthopedic surgeon James Andrews in Alabama this past weekend. The examination is part of standard procedure for an insurance policy Bradford took before the season, protecting him financially against a career-ending injury. The original recovery prognosis on the Grade 2 or Grade 3 sprain was two to four weeks, putting a return for Oklahoma's game vs No. 21 Miami this weekend within range. We'll see.


So where does all this leave the Heisman race? My latest Heisman Watch follows below.


1) TIM TEBOW (Florida) Last Week: 1. Assuming Tebow is all right and ready to return for the Gators' October 10 date in Baton Rogue, the concussion he suffered will just "add to his legend." Tebow's a unique talent, an inspirational leader, a great kid and is on pace to be the most-honored player in college football history (could be a three-time national champion and a two-time Heisman winner). Tebow completed 5-of-10 passes for 103 yards (one TD / 0 INTs) plus added 123 yards rushing (16 carries) and two TDs before his injury last Saturday. He only topped 100 yards rushing once last year (with 122 yards in the BCS title game vs Oklahoma) but did top 100 yards rushing twice in his Heisman-winning season of 2007 (had 895 YR and 23 TDs that year). The Gators won 41-7 on Saturday, extending their winning streak to 14 straight (11-1 ATS), while outscoring their opponents 651-to-157. Tebow has thrown for 28 TDs with just three INTs during that stretch (22-1 ratio the last 10 games), while adding 15 rushing TDs. Saturday’s two rushing TDs gives him 48 in his career, 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 just who else would you place No. 1? As already mentioned, the Gators are idle this week with a visit to LSU scheduled for October 10. Tebow's season stats are: 44-of-68 (64.7 percent) 643 yards 6 TDs 1 INT / 55 carries 271 yards (4.9 YPC) 5 TDs.


2) COLT MCCOY (Texas) Last Week: 2. It was a good weekend for Colt McCoy's Heisman chances. Tebow got hurt (of course no one is suggesting McCoy is happy about that) and Cal RB Jahvid Beat (and the Bears) "laid an egg" in Oregon (more on that later). After two weeks of first-half hiccups, slow starts and shaking off symptoms of the flu, Colt McCoy threw three first-half TD passes and the Longhorns rolled to a 40-point lead by halftime. The Longhorns cruised to a 64-7 win over UTEP on Saturday, as the defense forced five turnovers by QB Trevor Vittatoe and held the Miners to 53 total yards and seven FDs. McCoy finished with 286 yards on 28-of-35 for 286 yards with three TDs and one INT (had 15 yards rushing on four carries, as well). McCoy will have little trouble topping Tebow in the statistical 'war' but it's the public perception 'battle' which he must win. McCoy began his senior season with an impressive “body of work.” He completed an NCAA single-season record 76.7 percent of his passes last year for 3,859 yards (34 TDs / 8 INTs). He also led the Longhorns in rushing (561 yards / 4.1 YPC / 11 TDs) in 2008. He owns countless single-season and career marks at Texas, which I’ll document (and update) throughout the year. Here goes. McCoy has thrown a TD pass in a school-record 21 straight games and his three TD passes gives him 94 in his career, a school record he already owned. Last Saturday's win was his 36th as a starting QB (Vince Young won 31). McCoy also continues to extend his career record of TDs responsible for (passing, rushing, receiving) at Texas, as his total is now up 113 (Young had 81 and former Heisman-winner Ricky Williams had 76). Like the Gators, the Longhorns are idle this coming weekend, playing next in Austin on October 10 vs Colorado. However, it's Texas' October 17 game with Oklahoma in Dallas which gives McCoy his best chance at "closing the gap" on Tebow. McCoy's season stats are: 103-of-145 (71.0 percent) 1,145 yards 9 TDs 5 INTs / 28 carries for 61 yards (2.2 YPC) 1 TD.


3) CASE KEENUM (Houston) Last Week: 5. Why not Keenum? After all, didn't Andre Ware win a Heisman while playing for the Cougars back in 1989? All the "BCS buster" talk prior to the season centered around the three MWC schools (BYU, TCU and Utah) plus Boise St. However, BYU and Utah have already lost. While TCU is off to an impressive start, the Horned Frogs still have tough road tests at Air Force and BYU plus a home game with Utah. As for No. 5 Boise State, the Broncos look to have "clear sailing" to an undefeated season. That may spell "bad news" for the Cougars but look at what Houston has already accomplished in 2009. Keenum led the Cougars to a 45-35 upset of then-No.5 Oklahoma State in Stillwater back on September, 12. 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 following Saturday, the Cougars jumped from No. 21 to No. 17 in the AP poll. Houston's 29-28 win this past Saturday over Texas Tech has the Cougars ranked 12th in the latest AP poll. Saturday's game was the shootout most expected with the two teams combining for 1,063 yards of offense. The Cougars trailed 21-10 in the first half but nailed a 50-yard FG on the final play of the half, to trail 21-13. The Houston defense then held Tech's high-powered offense to one second half score. Meanwhile, Keenum led the Cougars back. Keenum's four-yard QB keeper with 49 seconds left gave Houston a 29-28 win over Texas Tech on Saturday night, capping a 95-yard TD drive (kept the game-winning drive going with a seven-yard completion on a fourth-and-three). Keenum finished 38-of-58 for 430 yards (6th career 400-yard game), spreading the ball around well with four receivers catching at least seven passes. He had one TD pass and one INT plus that game-winning TD run. Speaking of Andre Ware, Keenum's TD throw gave him a TD pass in a school-record 19th straight game, surpassing the former Heisman Trophy winner. Keenum 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 now topped 300 yards in each of his first three games this season, extending his run of 300-yard games to 15 straight in the regular season (he's top 300 yards in 16 of his last 17 games, overall). Also note that Keenum entered this year with 633 yards rushing the last two seasons, adding 16 rushing TDs. The Cougars open C-USA play this coming Saturday at UTEP. In last year's game vs the Miners, the Cougars recorded the school's largest-ever come from behind win, beating UTEP 42-37 after trailing 28-9 with 4:37 left in the third quarter. Houston finished with 700 total yards of offense in the game, as Keenum went 41-of-51 for 430 yards with three TDs (0 INTs). In a crazy ending, Keenum found Kierrie Johnson in the back of the end zone on a 16-yard pass that gave Houston a 36-35 lead with 4:54 left. However, on the conversion attempt, Josh Ferguson intercepted Keenum and returned it for two points to hand UTEP a 37-36 advantage. Houston got the ball back one more time though and marched 59 yards on its game-winning drive with Keenum scoring his second rushing TD of the game with 41 seconds remaining. Houston is hoping for "less drama" this time around. Keenum's stats are: 93-of-134 (69.4 percent) 1,155 yards 8 TDs 2 INTs / 15 carries for 43 yards (2.9 YPC) 3 TDs.


4) JIMMY CLAUSEN (Notre Dame) Last week: 4. The Fighting Irish opened the 2009 season with a 35-0 win over Nevada. However, each of their last three games have been decided in the final minute. Kyle McCarthy had an interception at the 4-yard line with 57 seconds left to seal Notre Dame's 33-30 win over Michigan State last week and a week earlier, Michigan's Tate Forcier threw a 5-yard TD pass with 11 seconds remaining to beat the Irish 38-34. Clausen entered Saturday's game slowed by a turf toe injury on his right foot and split time with Dayne Crist, who directed two TD drives with the Wildcat offense in the first half. Weis didn't want Clausen to play in the second half but he said there was no doubt who was going to finish the game if it got close. Clausen returned to the game when it got tight in the fourth quarter. The Fighting Irish took over trailing 21-17 with 3:41 to go. Clausen was the nation's No. 2 passer coming in but he wasn't himself, completing 15-of-26 for 171 yards with one TD and his first interception of the season. However, he found his rhythm in the final minutes, leading Notre Dame on a 12-play, 72-yard TD drive. Clausen was 6-of-9 in the drive, including the game-winning, two-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24.8 seconds to play, which gave Notre Dame a 24-21 win over Purdue. Notre Dame will host Washington this coming Saturday, a school it beat 33-7 last year in Seattle. The Huskies upset USC 16-13 at home on September 19 but last week's 34-14 loss at Stanford marked the school's eighth straight road loss. Clausen's season stats are: 77-of-177 (65.8 percent) 1,122 yards 10 TDs / 1 INT.


5) JAHVID BEST (California) Last Week: 3. The Cal Bears entered last week's game in Eugene ranked No. 6 in the nation and RB Best was off a school-record tying five-TD effort the previous week at Minnesota. No school took a bigger 'hit ' last week than the Bears, who would lose 42-3 at Oregon, falling all the way to 24th in the latest AP poll. As for Best, he entered the game averaging 137.3 YPG in 2009 (7.8 YPC with 8 TDs) and had a streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games going back to last year. The Ducks' rush D was allowing 151 YPG but Best was held to 55 yards in the rout on 16 carries (3.4 YPC). Cal was averaging 488.7 YPG in total offense coming into Saturday's game, including gaining 250.3 YPG on the ground. As mentioned, Best ran for just 55 yards for the Golden Bears, who had 206 yards in total offense (less than half their average). It was Cal's most lopsided loss under coach Jeff Tedford and the 39-point loss to Oregon marked the worst in Bears' history when ranked in the top-10. Best was widely considered a top Heisman contender and the Bears had designs on winning the Pac 10 championship and contending for a spot in the BCS title game (or at least, their first Rose Bowl trip since the 1950 season). Is all lost? Maybe not. Best and the Bears host USC this coming Saturday. However, USC held Cal to 165 yards in last year's 17-3 win, as Best was able to mange 30 yards on 13 carries (2.3 YPC). How confident are you that the Bears will bounce back here?


On the radar: No one!


Good luck, Larry

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