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Heisman Watch

   by Larry Ness - 10/13/2009

October 10th could have been dubbed "Saturday Night Live" in CFB. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford had missed the last month with a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder but made his return by completing 27-of-49 passes for 389 yards and a TD. The 49 passes attempts matched the second most of his career and the 300-yard effort was the 14th 300-yard passing game of his career. That matches the school record set by 2000 Heisman runner-up Josh Heupel. Oklahoma's 33-7 win against Baylor extended its school-record home win streak to 27 games and set up next week's rivalry game against now-No. 3 Texas.

With all due respect to last year's Heisman winner, the biggest story this past Saturday night was Tim Tebow's return to the field after suffering a concussion at Kentucky back on September 26. The day began with Tebow's status uncertain for what was billed as the defending national champs' toughest regular-season test. By the time it was over, Tebow "was back" (more on that below) and Florida had won its 15th straight game (13-3), while LSU saw its 32-game winning streak in Saturday night home games snapped.

Completing the Saturday night 'picture,' Texas and Colt McCoy beat Colorado 38-14. However, McCoy had two turnovers and the Longhorns were held to 313 yards, their lowest output of the season and 200 yards below their average. The preseason "Big Three" of Heisman contenders are all now back on the field with Bradford and McCoy preparing for this coming Saturday's Red River Rivalry in Dallas on October 17. My latest Heisman Watch follows.

1) TIM TEBOW (Florida) Last Week: 1. As if anyone doubted he wouldn't "answer the bell," Tim Tebow took the field last Saturday night in Baton Rogue. I wrote in last week's column, "Assuming Tebow is all right to return for Saturday's date in Baton Rogue, the concussion he suffered will just add to his legend." After a conservative start, Tebow was bouncing off tacklers, scrambling away from pass rushers and generally looked like the guy Florida fans have grown to love and SEC defenses have not quite figured out how to stop. Florida's offense struggled to finish off drives which kept LSU in the game and Florida's 13-3 win marked the fewest points the Gators have scored in a winning game since Meyer took over in 2005. Tebow completed 11-of-16 passes for 134 yards with one TD (he's now thrown a TD pass in 32 of his last 33 games) and an interception. He ran for 38 yards on 17 carries without scoring. These are not Heisman-like numbers but I'm sure Tebow would win this year's Heisman in a landslide if the voting were done today. 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). The Gators have won 15 straight games (longest active in CFB), having outscored their opponents 664-to-160 in that span with Tebow throwing 29 TDs and just four INTs during that stretch (23-2 ratio the last 11 games), while adding 15 rushing TDs. He's got 48 rushing TDs 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. It's Homecoming for the Gators this coming Saturday when they face Arkansas. The Gators did not play Arkansas in 2007 (Tebow's Heisman year) and in last year's 38-7 win at Fayetteville, Tebow was a modest 17-of-26 for 217 yards with two TDs and one INT (32 YR without a score). Can Tebow win the 2009 season without at least a few "great games?" Maybe so? Tebow's season stats are: 55-of-84 (65.5 percent) 777 yards 7 TDs 2 INTs / 72 carries 309 yards (4.3 YPC) 5 TDs.

2) COLT MCCOY (Texas) Last Week: 2. While Tebow and the Gators were winning at LSU 13-3, Colt McCoy and the Longhorns won 38-14 vs Colorado. However, they were held to 313 yards, their lowest output of the season and 200 yards below their average. McCoy completed 82.1 percent of his passes (32-of-39) for 265 yards with one TD but had one INT and lost a fumble. After opening with back-to-back 300-yard games, McCoy has averaged 252 YPG through the air over his last three games. He's on pace to pass for about as many yards as last year but his TD-to-INT ratio of 10-6 through five games leaves he way short of last year's 34-8 ratio. Also, after rushing for 510 yards (4.5 YPC) as a sophomore and for a team-high 561 yards (4.1 YPC plus 11 TDs) last year, MCCoy has been a non-factor running the ball in 2009 (just 58 yards with one TD). 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 22 straight games and his 95 career TD passes are also best in Texas history. The win vs Colorado was his 37th as a starting QB (Vince Young won 31, which was previous school-high). McCoy also continues to extend his career record of TDs responsible for (passing, rushing, receiving) at Texas, as his total is now up 114 (Young had 81 and former Heisman-winner Ricky Williams had 76). Can McCoy catch Tebow in the Heisman race? He almost has to be great this Saturday vs Oklahoma and the Longhorns must win for him to have a realistic chance. In the Oklahoma game last year, McCoy led the Longhorns on four straight second-half scoring drives (three TDs and one FG), as Texas rallied from a 28-20 deficit to a 45-35 win (he finished 28-of-35 for 277 yards with one TD and no INTs). Of course, McCoy could always count on the Gators losing a game or two. McCoy's season stats are: 135-of-184 (73.4 percent) 1,410 yards 10 TDs 6 INTs / 34 carries for 58 yards (1.7 YPC) 1 TD.

3) 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 four games have been decided in the final minute. Michigan's Tate Forcier threw a five-yard TD pass with 11 seconds remaining to beat the Irish 38-34 back on September 12 and 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 on September 19. Jimmy Clausen threw a two-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph with 24.8 seconds to play to give Notre Dame a 24-21 win over Purdue on September 26 and then on October 3, the Irish beat Washington 37-30 in OT. Clausen told reporters that his turf toe injury is something that he'll have to deal with the rest of the season but he then went out and completed 23-of-31 for a career-high 422 yards with two TDs and one INT. Notre Dame stayed in the game with a pair of goal-line stands in the second half (allowed three points) and Clausen's 12-yard TD pass to Kyle Rudolph with 80 seconds left gave Notre Dame a 30-27 lead. The Huskies sent the game to OT with a 37-yard FG with six seconds remaining in regulation but after the Irish scored on a one-yard TD in the first OT, safeties Harrison Smith and Kyle McCarthy jarred the ball loose from Washington receiver D'Andre Goodwin near the goal line on fourth-and-19 as Notre Dame came away with its first OT win in the Charlie Weis era (had been 0-3). Clausen has now topped 300 yards in four of five games in 2009 and five of six if one were to include his 401-yard, five-TD performance in last year's Hawaii Bowl. Note the maturation of Clausen, who had just two 300-yard games in his first 22 games. While last year's Hawaii Bowl doesn't count, it was the 'launching pad' for Clausen's 2009 season, as he's averaged 324.2 YPG with 17 TDs and only two INTs since that 49-21 win. His QB rating of 179.3 remains the best of any QB among FBS schools. Of course the knock on Clausen's stats is that Hawaii finished just 7-7 last year and Notre Dame's four wins in 2009 have come over Nevada, Michigan St, Purdue and Washington. Notre Dame (now ranked 25th in the AP) was idle this past Saturday but on October 17 will host No. 6 USC, which has beaten the Irish seven straight times. The Trojans won 38-0 last year in the Coliseum with Clausen completing 11-of-22 for 41 yards with two INTs. Is Clausen a "real Heisman candidate?" We'll find out. His season stats are: 100-of-143 yards (67.6 percent) 1,544 yards 12 TDs and 2 INTs.

4) CASE KEENUM (Houston) Last Week: 3. Houston was coming off a loss to UTEP that knocked the Cougars from their first top-25 ranking in 18 years. The Cougars got off to a slow start at Mississippi State last Saturday, as the Bulldogs intercepted Keenum twice, returning one for a 71-yard TD. The Cougars would finish the game with 553 yards in total offense but were tied 17-17 going into the fourth quarter. Keenum capped a 78-yard drive with a three-yard scoring pass to put Houston ahead 24-17 but the Bulldogs came right back and seemingly tied the score when Anthony Dixon scored on a TD run with 4:57 left. However, a holding penalty nullified the TD and a fumble by Tyson Lee gave the ball back to Houston. Keenum threw his 4th TD pass (an 18-yarder) less than a minute later, putting the Cougars up 31-17. The final was 31-24 and Houston's back in the top-25 at No. 23. Keenum finished 39-of-52 for 434 yards (his third straight 400-yard game and 8th of his career) with four TDs and two INTs. He completed 51-of-76 passes (seven shy of the FBS record set by Drew Brees) for a career-high 536 yards with five TDs and not a single INT in those 76 attempts against UTEP but the Cougars lost, 58-41. Did that one game lose Keenum a chance to seriously compete for an invite to New York? I think not, although a second loss would be a 'killer.' 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 extended his run of 300-yard games to 17 straight in the regular season (he's topped 300 yards in 18 of his last 19) and has thrown a TD pass in a school-record 21 consecutive games (1989 Heisman-winner Andre Ware owned the previous record with 18). The UTEP loss 'killed' any chance the Cougars had of being this year's "BCS buster" but they can still win C-USA's West division. Keenum and Houston visit Tulane on Saturday, a school they've beaten six straight times. Keenum threw for 384 yards with four TDs and one INT in last year's 42-14 win over Tulane but at Tulane in 2007 (in just the second game of his career), was just 13-of-21 for 185 yards with one TD and two INTs. Keenum could have 185 yards by halftime this year. I doubt any QB will match Keenum's passing stats in 2009 (surely not Tebow) but the Heisman won't be awarded on just stats. Keenum's stats are: 183-of-262 (69.8 percent) 2,130 yards 17 TDs 4 INTs / 3 rush TDs.

5) TODD REESING (Kansas) Last Week: NR. I had Cincy's Tony Pike in this spot last week and he could be back in after his 8th-ranked Bearcats take on No. 21 South Florida this coming Thursday night in Tampa. However, I'll put Todd Reesing in the five-hole this week, after the senior threw for a career-high 442 yards (2nd career 400-yard game) in the Jayhawks' 41-36 win over Iowa State (was 37-of-49 with four TDs and one INT). Reesing came out of nowhere in 2007 to lead Kansas to 11 straight wins before losing to Missouri in its season-finale to Missouri, costing the Jayhawks a spot in the Big 12 title game. The Jaywaks did however, beat Va Tech in the Orange Bowl to finish 12-1. Reesing threw for 3,486 (61.8%) with 33 TDs and just seven INTs in 2007. He followed by throwing for 3,888 yards (66.5%) with 32 TDs and 13 INTs last year, as the Jaywhawks finished 8-5 after a 42-21 Insight Bowl win over Minnesota. Last Saturday's win over Iowa St gives Kansas a 5-0 start in 2009 (ranked No. 17 in the AP) and as for Reesing, he seems to be peaking. He opened by throwing for 208 and 260 yards in the season's first two games but has had 338, 331 and now 442 yards the last three games (three-game average of 370.3 YPG). He has 16 career 300-yard passing games with 81 career TD passes and just 26 INTs. The Jayhawks travel to Colorado this Saturday. Reesing's first career start came vs Colorado back in 2006 and while he's 3-0 vs the Buffs, his stats are rather ordinary (54-of-74 for 515 yards with 4 TDs and 1 INT). Reesing will have plenty of chances to prove he belongs in the Heisman discussion after this weekend, as the Jayhawks still have games with Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Nebraska, Texas and Missouri to come. Reesing's season stats are: 133-of-192 (69.3 percent) 1,579 yards 13 TDs 3 INTs / 3 rush TDs.

On the radar: Cincy QB Tony Pike (for more, see LW's Heisman Watch with Pike ranked No. 5) and his teammate WR Mardy Gilyard. He has 38 receptions, including seven TDs (tied for the most in FBS). He also averages 166.4 all-purpose yards which ranks him 13th in the nation. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford (self-explanatory / see intro).

Off the radar: RB Noel Devine of West Virginia ranked third in the nation with 135.0 YPG on the ground (7.4 YPC / 6 TDs) after a career-high 220 yards rushing in West Va's 35-24 win over Colorado on October 1 (his first carry went for a 77-yard score and was his FBS-leading fifth carry of 70 or more yards over the last three seasons). However, he followed this past Saturday by gaining just 91 yards in a 34-13 win at Syracuse. RB Darius Marshall of Marshall entered last weekend No. 1 in the nation in rushing with 159.8 YPG (7.0 YPC / 7 TDs) and in all-purpose yards (235.8 per game). While Marshall won 31-10 at Tulane, Marshall had his first sub-100-yard game of 2009 with 98 yards.

Good luck, Larry

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