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by Larry Ness - 09/07/2009
I began doing a weekly Heisman top-10 on my nationally-syndicated radio show ("Bally's Sports Central") in the early to mid-90s and have continued it on the internet since. I've got a few changes this year, as my Heisman Watch will not include 10 player but rather just five and then a handful of "on the radar" selections (as few as one and no more than five others). I'm doing this because as I noted in my Heisman preview, the 2009 season is unique.
The 2008 Heisman was won by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford with Colt McCoy (Texas ) of Texas finishing second and Florida's Tim Tebow (the 2007 winner) finishing third, despite garnering more first-place votes than either Bradford or McCoy. Tebow, of course, was the 2007 winner. Never before has a college football season opened a year in which two Heisman winners were active.
While one could never say definitively "no one else has a chance to win," when the 2009 season kicked off this past Saturday, Bradford, McCoy and Tebow were the overwhelming favorites. Anyone outside of that "Big 3" was truly a dark horse. My preseason rankings had Tebow as the favorite, McCoy as the second choice and Bradford at No. 3. My two long shots were Cal RB Jahvid Best and Penn State RB Evan Royster.
So what happens on Saturday? Bradford sprains the AC joint in his throwing shoulder when he was driven to the turf in the first half of the third-ranked Sooners' 14-13 upset loss to No. 20 BYU. Bradford underwent an MRI on Sunday and it's been reported that he has a Grade 2 or Grade 3 sprain of the right throwing shoulder.
Oklahoma head coach Stoops said that it could be a "week or two" before there is a total understanding of a timeline of Bradford's absence. "A lot of it depends on how he heals and how he's feeling," Stoops said. "It will be a while." The Sooners have home games the next two Saturdays with Idaho State and Tulsa and then have a bye week. They travel to Miami-Florida on October 3, host Baylor on October 10 and then meet Texas in Dallas on October 17.
It's possible the Sooners could survive until the Texas game without Bradford but the QB's chances of a "repeat Heisman" are 'dead!' What was a three-man race as of last Saturday, is now a two-man race between Florida's Tim Tebow and Texas' Colt MCoy. Below is my first Heisman Watch of the 2009 season.
1) TIM TEBOW (Florida). The Gators ended last year on a 10-game winning streak, capped by a 24-14 win over the Sooners in the BCS title game. With 18 of 22 starters returning, Florida began the year as the No. 1 team in both the Coaches' an AP polls. In fact, the school received 58 out of a possible 60 first-place votes in the AP poll, giving them the highest percentage of any preseason No. 1 team in that poll's history (96.7 percent). The Gators opened with Charleston Southern this past Saturday and won 62-3. Tebow completed 10 of 15 passes for 188 yards and a 28-yard TD pass. He also ran for a score, the 44th rushing TD of his career, tying him with former LSU star Dalton Hilliard for fourth place on the SEC list. The Gators have now won 11 straight games (9-0 ATS) since losing 31-30 to Ole Miss early last year, having outscored their opponents, 531-to-134. Tebow has thrown for 23 TDs with just two INTs during that stretch (17-0 ratio the last seven games), while adding 11 rushing TDs. Tebow may not match McCoy's overall numbers this year but if the Gators "run the table," Tebow is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman. Up next for the Gators is Troy, which lost at Bowling Green 31-14 on September 3
2) COLT MCCOY (Texas). McCoy led Texas to wins over both Oklahoma and Missouri last season but those two schools met in the Big 12 championship game, while McCoy and Texas got caught watching on the sidelines. 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. The Longhorns opened their 2009 season with a 59-20 win last Saturday night vs La-Monroe, where a Texas record crowd of 101,096 jammed into refurbished Royal-Memorial Stadium. McCoy had seven incompletions in the first half, which were more or equal to his total in eight games from last season, when he set the NCAA record for completion rate (three came on dropped balls and he threw an interception). He finished the game 21-of-29 for 317 yards (11th career 300-yard game) and became the first Longhorn to pass for 10,000 yards in a career. He had two TD passes (has now thrown a TD pass in 18 straight games) and an interception as Texas won its season opener for the 10th straight season. The victory gives him 33 career wins as a starter (Vince Young had 31), the most all-time by a Texas QB. McCoy continues to extend his career record of TDs responsible for (passing, rushing, receiving) at Texas, as his total is now up 105 (Young had 81 and former Heisman-winner Ricky Williams had 76). The Longhorns visit Laramie, Wyoming this coming Saturday to take on the Cowboys.
3) JAHVID BEST (California). Best moves up the list with the injury to Bradford. Remember, RBs have won the Heisman 42 times. He sat behind Justin Forsett in 2007 at Cal, who ran for 1,546 yards (5.1 YPC / 15 TDs). Best took over as the starter last year and matched those numbers, rushing for 1,580 yards and 15 TDs with a spectacular average of 8.1 YPC. Cal opened its 2009 by hosting Maryland this past Saturday. The Bears lost at Maryland last year, 35-27 with Best gaining just 25 yards on 10 attempts. Cal avenged last year's loss to Maryland by winning 52-13 and while QB Kevin Riley was the star (four TD passes), Best ran 73 yards for one of his two first-quarter TDs and finished with 137 yards on just 10 carries and those two TDs. It was sweet revenge for Best, who last year was on the wrong end of a highlight film which saw him on his knees vomiting following a hard hit from a Terrapins defender. The 100-yard game was the ninth of his career (had eight in 12 games last season). The Bears will host Eastern Washington this coming Saturday and it will likely be another "short day" for Best.
4) MAX HALL (BYU). Max Hall re-shirted his freshman year ('04) at Arizona State and then transferred to BYU but left for a mission. When he took over as BYU's starting QB, he hadn't played a competitive game in four years. All he did in '07 was lead BYU to an 11-2 season, ending the season on a 10-game winning streak after its 17-16 Las Vegas Bowl win over UCLA. Hall passed for 3,848 yards in '07, throwing 26 TDs and just 12 INTs (completed 60.1 percent). Hall led BYU to a 10-3 season in 2008, completing 69.0 percent of his passes for 3,957 yards with 35 TDs and 14 INTs. Hall entered the 2009 season with a 21-5 record as a starter, a 61-26 TD-to-INT ratio and 11 career 300-yard passing games (threw for a career-high 537 yards vs Tulsa in 2007). So how did he open his senior year at BYU? He led the Cougars to their 14-13 upset of Oklahoma at Cowboys Stadium. Hall finished the game 26-of-38 for 329 yards (12th career 300-yard game) with two TDs and two INTs plus overcame four sacks. When it mattered most, he directed a 16-play, 78-yard drive, converting on a fourth-and-4, then throwing a seven-yard TD pass to a wide-open McKay Jacobson in the back of the end zone with 3:03 left in the fourth to put BYU ahead for good. Now I'll have to check with Lou Holtz, but is that more impressive than 'torching' Nevada's pass defense (which ranked last in all of CFB last year, allowing 311 YPG) for 315 yards and four TDs like Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen did? With all the talk about Boise State crashing the BCS party in 2009 after its win over Oregon on Thursday night, let's not forget about BYU. With its win over Oklahoma, the schedule sets up very well for the Cougars. They have three games remaining against currently ranked opponents (Florida State, TCU and Utah) but all are at home. If the Cougars stay unbeaten, they would have a much better case than the Broncos at a BCS invite. BYU visits Tulane this Saturday and needs to avoid a "let down" or a "look-ahead" (FSU comes to Provo on September 19).
5) DARYLL CLARK (Penn State). My Heisman preview listed Penn State RB Evan Royster, not QB Clark, as one of my two long shot contenders (along with Cal's Best). The reason being that the Nittany Lions lost three, four-year WRs in Butler, Norwood and Williams. I figured that Royster, who ran for 1,236 yards last year, averaging 6.5 YPC with 12 TDs, would be a bigget part of the offense this year (at least early on). So much for that thought. Penn State opened its 2009 season with a 31-7 win at home over Akron this past Saturday. While Royster had just 61 yards rushing on 14 carries (one TD), Clark had a superb game (albeit vs mediocre competition). Penn State led 31-0 at the half, outgaining Akron 344-8 in yards. Clark tossed three first-half TDs and finished with a career-high 353 passing yards for the game. He also set single-game career highs with 29 completions and 40 attempts (had one INT). Clark completed 59.8 percent of his passes last year for a modest 2,592 yards with 19 TDs and six INTs. However, over his last three games (a 49-18 regular season finale win over Michigan State, a 38-24 Rose Bowl loss to USC and last Saturday's 31-7 win over Akron), Clark's connected on 64.7 percent of his passes for an average of 322.2 YPG through the air with nine TD passes and three interceptions. The Nittany Lions have a real chance at "running the table" this year. They get Iowa at home on September 26 (lone regular season loss came at Iowa City last year, 24-23) and their showdown with the Buckeyes this season is at State College, not Columbus (PSU won 13-6 at Ohio State last year). If PSU stays unbeaten, Clark may find his way to New York. Penn State hosts Syracuse this coming Saturday and Clark will see how he matches up with former Duke point guard Greg Paulus, now Syracuse's starting QB. My guess is that Clark's a better basketnball player than Paulus, too.
I'll begin a listing of my "on the radar" selections in next week's poll after checking with Lou, who is the only TV guy I know who can make Lee Corso sound insightful.
Good luck, Larry