Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy but an almost equally compelling case could be made for Heisman runner-up Christian McCaffrey of Stanford and third place finisher Deshaun Watson of Clemson. This was one of those years when you could have voted for any one of the top three and felt good about your choice.
I thought the Heisman Trophy sunk to a real low a couple of years ago when Jameis Winston won the award, so it’s good to see both the last two winners – Marcus Mariotta and Henry – plus this year’s second and third place finishers are high character people. The Heisman Foundation says the trophy is supposed to go to the best football player whose performance exhibits a combination of excellence and integrity. If the foundation is going to strip Reggie Bush of his Heisman because he took money from an agent – I’m sure he’s not the first Heisman winner that ever did that, but he might be the only one that ever got caught – then it’s a bit hypocritical to give the award to someone who was accused of rape. Sure, the case never went to trial but that was a joke, which the subsequent civil suit is in the process of proving.
If character doesn’t count, then the Heisman voters should vote for anyone they choose but if it’s going to claim that integrity is part of the equation then players like Jameis Winston should be excluded. Great player? Yes. Lowlife? Absolutely.
BULLARD SHOULD HAVE BEEN FIRST TEAM
Jonathan Bullard was selected third team All-America by the Associated Press. That means AP voters believe there are four defensive tackles who are better. I am compelled to ask this question: Do the people who vote actually watch games or watch any film?
Case in point: selected on the first team along with Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson was Andrew Billings of Baylor, a nice player for sure, but better than Jonathan Bullard? I think not.
Let’s start with the obvious. Robinson is on this team because he’s the best defensive tackle on the best defensive front in college football, one that gives up only 74 yards per game and 2.38 yards per rushing attempt. Baylor’s defense? Well, they’re ranked 59th nationally. Billings was in on 37 tackles this year. He had 14 tackles for -64 yards in losses, had 5 sacks that were good for -40 yards, had 3 quarterback hurries and he forced a fumble. Not bad. Now let’s take a look at Jonathan Bullard, the best lineman on the 6th ranked defense in the country.
Bullard was in on 63 tackles. I’m not a math major but 63 is a lot more than 37. He was in on 17.5 tackles for loss good for -88 yards, had 6.5 sacks for -48 yards, batted down 2 passes at the line of scrimmage and had 6 quarterback hurries.
The second team guys are Robert Nkemdiche of Ole Miss (29 tackles, 7 tackles for loss for -39 yards, 3 sacks for -24 yards, 2 passes broken up, 7 QB hurries and 1 blocked punt) and Sheldon Day of Notre Dame (41 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss for -66 yards, 4 sacks for -30 yards, 2 passes broken up, 13 quarterback hurries and 1 forced fumble). The Ole Miss defense was ranked #56 and the Notre Dame defense was #38.
Bullard meets both the eye test and the numbers test. He should have made first team All-America.
RELEASE THE SCUDS
You have to wonder if there is an unusual plague of sorts that began in November and has carried over into December and it’s not just affecting the Florida football team. Florida’s football team scored only 55 points in all of November then put up 180 yards and only one offensive touchdown against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta.
Since hitting 8-33 from the 3-point line against Vermont in November, the basketball team has gone even colder from beyond the arc. In their last four games, Florida’s basketball team has combined to hit 16-75, a dismal 21.3%. For the season, Florida is 56-198, which is 28.3%.
If the shots the Gators were taking looked good from the moment they left the shooter’s hand, you could rationalize that patience is required because any day now these guys will start hitting their shots. But what we’ve seen in the last four games is a series of scuds that makes you wonder if the Gators are taking their shooting lessons by mail order and the mail is perpetually late. There is bad and then there is 21.3%.
And while we’re talking bad shooting, have you watched the Gators at the foul line? UF is 64.1% for the season. Against Michigan State, the Gators were 10-18, which is 55.6%.
Ponder this thought for a moment: Had the Gators hit one more 3-pointer and 3 more free throws, they would have taken the nation’s #1 team into overtime in East Lansing Michigan.
STACKED HEISMAN DECK
Back to the Heisman for a minute. What does it say when like Leonard Fournette (1,791 rushing yards, 18 TDs), Ezekiel Elliott (1,672 yards, 19 TDs) and Dalvin Cook (1,658 yards, 18 TDs) can’t even crack the top five in the voting?
Then again, what does it say that guys like Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky QB), Paxton Lynch (Memphis QB) or Gary Ward Jr. (Houston QB) never really had a chance? Doughty threw for 4,594 yards and 45 TDs for an 11-win team. Lynch threw for 3,670 yards and 28 TDs for a 9-win team that blew the doors off Sugar Bowl bound Ole Miss. Ward ran for 1,041 yards and 19TDs and passed for 2,590 yards and 16 TDs for a team that was four points away from an undefeated season. Those are three extraordinary players who put together great seasons but they are handicapped by playing for schools that don’t belong to one of the five power conferences.
You have to go back to 1990 (Ty Detmer, BYU) to find the last time a player from one of the power conferences (plus Notre Dame) won the Heisman. Andre Ware of Houston won it in 1989, but at that time, Houston was a member of the Southwest Conference, a predecessor to today’s Big 12. Before Andre Ware, you have to go back to Roger Staubach in 1963 to find a Heisman winner that wasn’t from one of the power schools.
It seems, also, that the voters lend far too much credence to “the best player on the best team.” An outstanding player on a team that is in the hunt for a national championship has a much better chance of at least getting to New York to sit on the Heisman podium. Prior to Derrick Henry, 9 of the previous 12 Heisman winners either won or played for the national championship. An exception was 2007 when Tim Tebow won the Heisman for a 3-loss Florida team. That year, none of the four players on the Heisman podium – Tebow, Darren McFadden (Arkansas), Colt Brennan (Hawaii) and Chase Daniel (Missouri) – were on teams in the national championship hunt. You have to go all the way down to ninth-place finisher Glenn Dorsey of LSU to find the best player on the best team.
During the season, it seems also that voters are influenced by players coming up big in big games. For example, Leonard Fournette of LSU was gang-tackled rendered irrelevant by a gang-tackling Alabama team the first Saturday in November. Because Derrick Henry came up big against an LSU defense that certainly wasn’t the equal of Alabama’s, he suddenly became the Heisman front runner while Fournette’s chances to win took a couple of torpedoes broadside.
NEXT YEAR’S ALL TOO EARLY HEISMAN RACE
Staying with the Heisman, Henry is just a junior but it would be a miracle of healing the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda proportions for him to come back for his senior season. Both McCaffrey and Watson are sophomores and because they were on the podium in New York they will start next season as the early Heisman favorites. After that it gets crowded because you also have Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook coming back. If Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (a) gets the Sooners to the national championship game and (b) comes back for his senior season (he’s just a junior), then he will also be in the early Heisman talk. If Nick Chubb of Georgia recovers from his knee injury and picks up where he left off, he will also be one of the players to watch. A wild card: Running back Elijah Hood of North Carolina.
THE BEST PLAYER NOBODY KNOWS ABOUT
He didn’t get any Heisman mention this year nor does he figure to get any next year, but maybe the best player nobody knows about is sophomore Larry Rose III of New Mexico State. When you play in the Sun Belt Conference and for a team like New Mexico State, which last posted a winning season in 2002, Heisman voters don’t notice you. But, on a 3-9 team in 2015, Rose ran for 1,651 yards (6.88 yards per carry) and scored 14 touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 30 passes for 283 yards and 2 TDs. As a true freshman in 2014 for a team that went 2-10, Rose ran for 1,102 yards (5.92 per carry) and 9 touchdowns while catching 23 passes for 172 yards and 1 TD.
GEORGIA HAS AN OC AND AN O-LINE COACH
Kirby Smart hired an offensive coordinator and O-line coach over the weekend. Jim Chaney, who was the OC and QB coach at Pitt, is the new offensive coordinator. His hand picked O-line coach is Sam Pittman, who he worked with when the two were on Derek Dooley’s Tennessee staff. Arkansas HBC Bret Bielema is seething about the hire of Pittman, who owes Arkansas $250,000 in buyout money. It’s likely that Bielema will hire former Florida O-line coach Joe Wickline, shoved out at Texas because new OC Sterlin Gilbert wouldn’t take the job working for Charlie Strong unless he could bring along his own O-line coach.
JERRY ODOM HBC
Former Gator Jerry Odom, defensive coordinator the past five years for Kerwin Bell at Jacksonville, is the new head coach at Tusculum College in Tennessee. Tusculum is a Division II school that plays in the South Atlantic Conference along with schools such as Carson-Newman, Lenoir-Rhyne, Mars Hill, Newberry and Wingate. Tusculum finished 3-7 overall, 2-5 in the SAC.
FLORIDA VOLLEYBALL POISED FOR A BIG RUN
Florida’s volleyball team had national #3 seed Texas on the ropes in the fifth and decisive set before falling to the Longhorns Saturday night in the Elite Eight game of the NCAA tournament. Just getting to the fifth set was an adventure as the Gators seemed on the ropes and ready to fall when Texas took a 15-11 lead in the fourth set, but three consecutive service aces by Mackenzie Dagostino turned the momentum in Florida’s favor. The Gators took the set 25-20 to knot things up at 2-2, extending the match one more set, which the Gators lost, 17-15.
When the final rankings come out, the Gators should finish in the top eight nationally, quite an accomplishment for a team that finished fourth in the SEC, but consider that an aberration and consider the 2015 season one of those get the Gators while you can types. With the best recruiting class in the nation coming in to join the likes of Rhamat Alhassan, Alex Holston and Carli Snyder, Mary Wise might have her most talented roster in years. It will certainly be the tallest. For the first time since she’s been at Florida, Mary won’t have to compensate for a lack of size with athleticism. Next year’s team will have the size and the athleticism. Get ready for a big run.
WHEN FAIRNESS DOESN’T MATTER
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a way to put a moratorium on coaches changing jobs until after the bowl season? I feel badly for kids who bust their butts for an entire football season to earn a chance to play in a bowl game only to be coached by interims because the staff was gutted. It’s not fair to the kids, but unfortunately, there is really nothing that can be done. Because so many kids enroll early these days, it’s imperative to get the new coaching staff in place as quickly as possible whenever there is a coaching vacancy. Otherwise, you run the risk of kids who were going to early enroll changing plans and going somewhere else.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Do Heisman Trophy voters put too much stock in “best player on the best team” while overlooking great players who may not play for a power conference team or whose teams are not in the hunt for a national championship?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
I OD’d on Van Morrison today, which is something I’m prone to do periodically. While looking for his “Poetic Champions Compose” album online, I came across this live concert from 1988 when he worked with The Chieftains, a traditional Irish band you should take the time to listen to sometimes. Van will be playing The Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Atlanta on April 24. Tickets will sell out quickly.