Tag Archives: Heisman Trophy

Barrett a Good Bet for 2017 Heisman

The question has been asked as to whether Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is good enough to lead Ohio State to a national championship. I personally think the question is absurd considering there is no 2014 national title without the services of Barrett. However, a national championship for Ohio State is anything but a certainty, yet Ohio State fans can bank on Barrett being a part of the Heisman trophy conversation.

Barrett is currently listed as the second favorite at 6-1 odds and only trails Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield at 11-2 odds, according to Bovada Sportsbook. We all know Vegas isn’t stupid. Should Barrett find himself in New York as a Heisman finalist, I’d say Ohio State’s playoff chances and championship aspirations will be looking fairly solid.

It’s fair game to doubt Barrett, especially with how anemic the offense was in the latter portion of the 2016 season. Don’t get me wrong, Barrett was a no-show along with the rest of the offense in the embarrassment that was Ohio State’s CFP semifinal against eventual national champion Clemson. But that was Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer’s mess and he wasted little time in attempting to get it resolved with the hiring of former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator.

Normally, it would be difficult to expect improvement from a quarterback who holds just about every passing record at Ohio State, but being on the wrong end of a 31-0 shutout in the biggest game of the season will do that.

If there is any silver lining to the Clemson debacle, it’s that Ohio State has responded well to a Clemson beating before. It was only three years ago when the Tigers and former receiver Sammy Watkins torched Ohio State’s defense and made the secondary look anything but DBU. Meyer vowed that he would get the defense back on track just like he promised to fix the offense this time around. Ohio State rebounded from consecutive losses in the Big Ten title game and Orange Bowl in 2013 to winning the national championship in 2014.

Not a bad turnaround.

Getting back to Barrett, while I fully expect the soon-to-be fifth-year senior to have a championship-caliber final season in Columbus, both from an individual and team perspective, Barrett is not going to look like a future NFL quarterback out there because that’s not what he is. Sure, there is a place for Barrett in the NFL, but most likely not at quarterback. How many of Meyer’s former quarterbacks were stud passers? Other than current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, can you even name another one? And Smith is widely regarded as one of the NFL’s greatest “game managers” Chris Leak or Tim Tebow? Please.

It’s Meyer’s system, not the quarterback that drives the bus, but Meyer needs the right quarterback and the right coordinator for the necessary results and Ohio State now possesses both with Wilson now aboard.

Former Heisman winner Sam Bradford landed college football’s most coveted award at Oklahoma in 2008, where it was Wilson in control of that powerhouse Sooner offense. The Ohio State offense was never the same after former offensive coordinator and current Texas head coach Tom Herman left for Houston, but the addition of Wilson is the next best thing to getting Herman back.

Meyer doesn’t recruit quarterbacks that can’t get the job done, especially after almost three seasons. He recruits guys that can win football games in his system and the stats come as a byproduct of that. Is Meyer loyal to his players? Of course he is, but I can guarantee you that he isn’t starting Barrett for almost four years if he doesn’t think he can win a national championship.

The two Heisman frontrunners, Mayfield and Barrett according to Bovada, square off in a rematch in the Horseshoe in September. Even with a solid two months left in the season at the game’s conclusion, it is a matchup that will not only have playoff implications, but it could ultimately decide the Heisman.

With Barrett returning for one final season, the current state of the quarterback position at Ohio State is status quo. Whether it’s a conference title, national championship or Heisman Trophy, they’re all within reach with Barrett under center.

E-mail Mark at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @msilverman25.

Photo by Flickr

Proof We Aren’t Always Right About College Football

At the end of any given football season, I always love going back through my articles and checking out all the brilliant things I said throughout the year. Then, when I come across all the completely dumb things I said, I enjoy that part even more. Laughter is good for the soul.

So, first of all, let me brag to you about the things I said that have turned out to be absolutely brilliant in retrospect. I don’t get to brag about being right about football too often, so let me have my moment.

April 2016:

“SEC East Sleeper: Remember the Gators” This was a title for one of my articles early in the year.

May 2016:

“This year, I am still cautious about all the optimism surrounding the Tennessee football program.” Good call here, even if my dad was convinced otherwise.

“With the return of Mike Williams from injury, Watson should have a great target downfield for those longer plays.” Deshaun Watson proved to be a huge asset in Clemson’s championship game, but so did Mike Williams.

“I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year.” It may not have been Deshaun Watson, but the Heisman winner was from the ACC.

August 2016:

“And as much as I ride for SEC football, I have to admit I do expect the Seminoles to come out victorious.” This was the one SEC game I really wanted to see during week one, even if I did expect Ole Miss to drop this game.

“Do I expect Ole Miss to get its third victory in a row in this series? No, but I do anticipate a very interesting football game.” This came from that same article and was referring to watching Alabama’s trip Ole Miss. I was right about this year, even though Ole Miss had given Alabama trouble lately.

“They’ve actually won eleven in a row in this rivalry…but who’s counting? This year I truly do expect that winning streak to come to an end.” This is yet another gem from that same article about watching only one SEC football game each week. Tennessee had been hitting a huge mental roadblock in the Florida game–until this year.

September 2016:

“ACC football is not to be taken lightly this season.” Early in the season, I warned everyone to give ACC football some respect this year. After the conference’s bowl season performance, it was definitely earned.

“To be totally honest, at this point the regular season is just Alabama getting warmed up for its playoff appearance.” This came from my Alabama-Ole Miss smackdown piece, but really was not an exaggeration at all.

“Florida’s offense is still nothing special.” Although this was from my smackdown piece before the Florida-Tennessee game, it turned out to be very true. No surprise there.

October 2016:

“I know the Auburn Tigers are ranked a little below the Arkansas Razorbacks, but they’re going to beat them anyways.” Yet another smackdown piece that proved to be correct.

December 2016:

“It will be funny to see Great Value DBU shut down the Heisman winner though. I must say…” This was a personal tweet referring to LSU shutting down Lamar Jackson, which did eventually happen.

So I was right, at least to some extent, pretty often. But what I hope you’ll find much more amusing is all those really stupid things I said. Maybe my sense of humor is strange, but I thought some of these were pretty hilarious.

May 2016:

“If Mark Richt can do that, they could have a very impressive non-conference win in his first season as head coach.” I really thought Miami’s trip to South Bend would be a noteworthy non-conference game this season. Unfortunately, beating Notre Dame wasn’t exactly an impressive feat.

August 2016:

“But if the Vols do get that win then it’s safe to say they are national contenders and Alabama better watch out for them in a couple weeks.” Remember when everyone thought the Vols were potential national contenders before the season even started? I bought into that hype when discussing how I wanted to watch the Vols play at Georgia in Week 5 of SEC football.

“I don’t know that I’m right about this but I think the Vols will have a good chance to win at home over the Crimson Tide.” I wanted to watch the Alabama-Tennessee game in Week 7 if I could only watch one SEC game. Poor choice there.

September 2016:

“Labor Day is just a welcomed day off from both work and school for most people. But for Ole Miss this year, it’s the day [it takes] down the Florida State Seminoles.” From a Smackdown Friday piece so I didn’t really mean it. But still hilarious. Plus, that whole article was hilarious if you like hating on Florida State.

“…if I had money to bet I’d be putting it all on the Tennessee Vols to win the SEC East right now.” It’s a good thing I was broke. I would’ve wasted a lot of money thinking that the Vols were really going to win the SEC East.

“I hate to break it to Clemson fans, but Lamar Jackson is about the shatter your hopes and dreams.” This Smackdown was off. Lamar Jackson did take Deshaun Watson’s Heisman trophy. But Clemson still lived out its dream of winning a national championship again.

October 2016:

“Coastal Division Is Worse for ACC Football than East Is for SEC Football” Even just the title of this article is off. After bowl season, there’s not much that can be said for the SEC East, aside from Florida and Tennessee.

November 2016:

“It’s not that the Razorbacks can’t beat the Gators. It’s just that they won’t.” Another Smackdown Friday article gone wrong. The Razorbacks could and did beat the Gators–in convincing fashion.

E-mail Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Public Domain Pictures.

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

Jabrill Peppers is Not a Serious Heisman Contender

As the 2016 season unfolds, players are making their case for the Heisman Trophy with Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson currently emerging as the frontrunner with Clemson’s strong-armed leader Deshaun Watson and Ohio State’s signal caller J.T. Barrett right behind him.

It’s no secret to college football fans that when it comes to the Heisman Trophy being a quarterback makes you much more likely to be voted the winner than any other position. 13 of the last 15 Heisman winners were quarterbacks.

It may seem unfair and I understand why defensive players get sick of seeing those who play offense get to continuously take home college football’s most prestigious award. I mean if the Heisman states it awards, “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity”, shouldn’t a defensive player be able to occasionally take home the honor?

With this in mind, many fans have been saying the same thing ever since 1997 when Michigan’s Charles Woodson took the Heisman as the only defensive player to win it.

Well, low and behold, almost 20 years later, Michigan is in a similar situation as they are undefeated, poised to make a run at a national title, and have the second coming of Woodson in the form of junior Swiss Army knife Jabrill Peppers. Though his default position is linebacker, Peppers also switches to safety in addition to fielding punts and making time for offense as running back, wide receiver and even wildcat quarterback. No one can deny the impact he makes as he is typically the best player on the field, making offensive lines weary of his pass-rushing abilities as he has accumulated 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble and putting pressure on defenses as he lines up on offense even as a decoy.

Due to all of this excitement, many of the Michigan faithful have jumped aboard the Peppers hype train and have proclaimed him to be a serious Heisman contender but I’m here to tell you, he isn’t.

Sorry to burst your bubble Michigan. I mean as a Big Ten fan, I wish I could agree but he was never a serious contender.

Now, I’ve definitely seen some of the plays Peppers has made and he is undoubtedly one of the most electrifying players out there with his pure speed and quickness. In fact, Peppers apparently clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.34. In the past 10 years, the fastest time any linebacker has run in an NFL combine is 4.40. That’s incredible and word spread quickly after he showcased his sick athleticism in all facets of the last season so I get why fans were excited.

At the same time, just because you have incredible skills and can play multiple positions, doesn’t automatically make you a Heisman trophy candidate. Also, when you look at the numbers, Woodson still has an all-around better stat sheet. Now I know the season is still young and anything can happen but the prospect of Peppers outshining Woodson is not high.

Woodson had 44 tackles and Peppers has 36 already but by today’s standards, Peppers doesn’t even crack the top-100 in total tackles. Also, Woodson had three offensive touchdowns with 238 receiving yards and right now, Peppers has zero receiving yards and no touchdowns. Peppers has more tackles for loss(9.5-5), more sacks (2.5-1), will likely shatter Woodson’s punt return yardage of 283, and probably break his 529 all-purpose yards as he has 365 already but the one statistic that jumps out in Woodson favor is his 9 pass breakups and 8 interceptions and Peppers has zero breakups and zero interceptions.

The numbers are one thing but the other part is Michigan needs to somehow go undefeated, beat Ohio State and win a national title. Easier said than done. And even if Peppers breaks all of Woodson’s numbers and gets a title, would Heisman voters really cast their ballots for him when Jackson is on pace to score 60 touchdowns?

I feel he really is in a no-win situation unfortunately and some even say he isn’t the best player on defense but that shutdown corner Jourdan Lewis is more effective.

To me, Peppers is fantastic and fun to watch but as long as the current system is in place, it’s hard to see any defensive player being a true Heisman candidate.

E-mail Mike at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @MDeuces2051.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Ken Lund

College Football Playoff Rankings: Week 1

After an amazing opening weekend of college football, it is really interesting to see how the current top contenders stand in terms of the College Football Playoff. Below, I have ranked my current top 10 teams, which is loosely based off the preseason AP poll (this weeks AP poll is nuts, check it out). This is a feature that I will release every week this season on Tuesday, so be sure to be on the lookout for next week’s rankings.

  1. Alabama Crimson Tide

The Crimson Tide had probably the most impressive start among the week 1 top ten teams. It’s deconstruction of the ranked USC squad (to the degree where ‘Bama straight up added another former USC head coach to its staff) tells the whole story. Going into this season, Alabama’s one major question was the quarterback position. To say that the question was answered Saturday night would be an understatement. Jalen Hurts, and to a lesser degree Blake Barnett, removed Bama’s only weakness, and now, especially with the struggles of Tennessee and LSU, the Crimson Tide seem poised to take the West, win the SEC Championship, and make it to the College Football Playoff.

  1. Florida State Seminoles

Florida State’s matchup with Ole Miss on Monday was, as we have become used to with Jimbo Fisher football (who is now 6-1 since 2013 when trailing by 7 or more at the half), a tale of two halves. As long as Francois keeps up his play and the Seminoles find a way to play multiples halves of football in a single game, the Seminoles will be an obvious CFP contenders, pending a huge throw down with Clemson at home, which could very well decide which ACC school makes it to the Playoff.

  1. Clemson Tigers

Speaking of the Tigers, the team that I picked to win the College Football title this year struggled more with a mediocre Auburn squad than most of us thought it would. For that reason, it is much less of a sure thing in my mind that the Tigers beat FSU in Tallahassee. However, this is only week one, and with Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson at the helm, Clemson should still be expected to be a top tier team with obvious CFP hopes.

  1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Speaking of Heisman, my pick for the award this year, Mr. J.T. Barrett, had himself a day. He had seven total touchdowns, with six through the air. We won’t get to see what the Buckeyes really look like until it squares off against Oklahoma, but when your QB has seven scores, it tends to be a good sign. The Buckeyes have a lot on its plate the rest of the year, but if Ohio State play like it did on Saturday, it is definitely a CFP frontrunner.

  1. Michigan Wolverines

The Big Ten pretty much let its top teams hammer some cupcake squads in week one, and that was very apparent in Michigan’s matchup against the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii. Much like Ohio State, Michigan just swept the floor with its opponent. An impressive win, yes, but much like the Buckeyes, we won’t see the Wolverines’ true abilities until it faces off against a squad more its speed. However, its now 100 percent true that the Wolverines are officially back.

  1. Houston Cougars

The shocker of the weekend for most (for some odd reason, considering how good the Cougars were last year) was Houston’s win over the Oklahoma Sooners. This, in my rankings, rocket propelled UH up nine spots, as not only did Houston win, it beat Oklahoma into the ground. All of a sudden, Houston looks like a possible Group of Five CFP team, as the rest of its schedule is fairly mild. As long as the Cougars can hold off Louisville, and avoid other major upsets, Houston could very well end the season undefeated and crash the party of Power Five teams in the CFP.

  1. Stanford Cardinal

In a victory that was fairly mild, the Stanford Cardinal beat K-State by 13. The rest of the season is fairly simple, as the Pac-12 isn’t what it was a few years ago. Two of Stanford’s toughest opponents, UCLA and Notre Dame, both dropped their Week 1 matchups. The toughest game left for Christian McCaffrey (a clear Heisman candidate) and the Cardinal is the matchup at Washington. The game, which will most likely decide the fate of the Pac-12 North, will be Stanford’s make or break matchup in terms of College Football Playoff hopes.

  1. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU, much like many other teams on this list, played a team well below its own caliber in Week 1. The Horned Frogs, however, struggled heavily, especially on the defensive side, against South Dakota State. Giving up 41 points to a non-FBS school is never a great motivator, and while TCU’s College Football Playoff hopes may be small, the Horned Frogs certainly have a great chance to win the Big 12 with what seems like an Oklahoma team that could struggle throughout the year. TCU will need to watch out for Baylor and Texas as well, but for now, Texas Christian seems like the Big 12 frontrunner.

  1. Tennessee Volunteers

The Volunteers almost blew its opening matchup to Appalachian State. The team looked horrendous for a large part of the game, with particular struggles coming from the Tennessee O-Line. Josh Dobbs struggled mightily as well, and Tennessee needs him to play better if it is to have any hopes of beating Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama in four consecutive weeks. To me, at this point, unless Mighty Mouse becomes as good on the field as he is at blocking twitter accounts, it seems like Tennessee making the College Football Playoff is a long shot.

  1. Michigan State Spartans

The third Big Ten team on this list also had a cupcake matchup in Week 1. However, unlike the Wolverines and Buckeyes, MSU struggled with Furman, a FCS squad. Honestly, the only reason the Spartans make this list after it’s week one struggle is due to all the teams in front of it that lost. MSU has a lot of work to do if it wants to prove that it deserves to make the CFP. Heck, with a crowded Big Ten East division, the Spartans have a lot of work to do to make it to the conference championship.

Honorable Mentions: Washington, Georgia, Iowa, and Wisconsin

E-mail Cooper at  or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.
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Image Courtesy of the University of Alabama

ACC Links: The Weakest Link Edition

Boston College’s ACC Struggles

The Boston College Eagles have had a history of success in their athletic program, especially in football. This past season they managed to lose every single conference game they played. To make matters worse, the Boston College basketball team also lost every single one of its conference games. The Eagles have seemed to slowly decline since they joined the ACC in 2005. As in previous years, the ACC was clearly trying to become more of a “football conference.” And, as in previous years, the program that they chose to add only became worse after becoming a part of the conference. This raises all sorts of questions about what happens to a team when they start playing ACC football, or any ACC sport, for that matter. So is it time to vote Boston College off the ACC Island? Well, I’m just going to go ahead and vote for everybody and say yes. Boston College, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.

Heisman Potential in ACC Football

The ACC had outstanding offensive talent scattered throughout the conference last season. Much of that talent is returning this year, leaving a pretty decent list of the conference’s top five Heisman Trophy candidates. This list obviously includes Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who I discussed in last week’s ACC football links. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook was also clearly included in the list after being an integral part of the Seminole offensive attack last season. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was also included, as he had a solid season last year and is expected to grow even more under Mark Richt. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is on this list despite having a quiet season last year since he shared reps. Finishing out the list is North Carolina running back Elijah Hood, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. With players like these playing huge roles in each team’s offensive attack, I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year. I guess you could say that these guys are definitely not the weakest links.

Jimbo Fisher’s Toughest Schedule

Much has been said about Florida State’s strength of schedule in previous seasons. This year, the Seminoles are playing what is arguably their most difficult schedule since Jimbo Fisher took over the team in 2010. Florida State opens the season against Ole Miss and also plays Louisville, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, and Florida. The teams on their schedule actually posted a combined record of 96-61 during last season, which puts them at a win percentage of over 61 percent. If Florida State can navigate their way through this schedule and win the ACC, there should be no argument about whether or not they deserve to be included in this year’s College Football Playoff. To continue with the theme of weakest links, clearly Florida State’s competition does not fit that bill.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner is Cancer-Free

Last December, Pittsburgh running back James Conner announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. Conner was nursing a knee injury last year after having a great sophomore season in 2014. During that season alone, he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. His fighting spirit has been an inspiration to Pittsburgh fans as well as many others throughout the country. Conner recently made an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, only to be surprised by another football player who fought Hodgkin lymphoma, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. Just a few days ago, he announced that his body is clean of cancer. Here’s to hoping he pulls an Eric Berry, coming back even stronger than he was before his battle with cancer. That would be scary for the rest of the ACC football teams. And James Conner, you are ACC football’s strongest link.

Image courtesy of wikimedia user Ayzmo.

My Favorite SEC Football Players of All-Time

Last week was a busy one for SEC football. Coaches wish it weren’t so, but it seems as though there is never a dull moment when it comes to headlines that don’t spotlight the positives in and around their programs.

Hugh Freeze got blindsided (pun intended) with the resurrection of the Laremy Tunsil debacle just as Ole Miss is about to hear from the NCAA and its investigation into their program. Also, it appears that Freeze and Jim Harbaugh will attend the same satellite camp in Mississippi.

As the football world turns. These soap operas are highly entertaining and they give people like me something to write about.

Speaking of smoking weed with a gas mask device, four Auburn players were arrested on the Plains Saturday night for, you guessed it, ganja possession, and much to the chagrin of Gus Malzahn and the rest of us in the Auburn family. How long, oh Lord?

Then there was the NFL draft. Ohio State had the most first round picks with five and Alabama had only one, which surprised many “experts”, but the SEC, once again, had more players drafted than any other conference. So there! Nanny nanny poo poo!

So much for all of that. In my last couple of blogs I, subjectively ranked, in order, SEC head coaching jobs and power rankings of the fourteen schools in the conference.

I like lists. From top tens to favorites to whatever. I think most people do enjoy these.

That being said, this week I’m going to give you my top ten favorite SEC players of all time, excluding Auburn. If I allowed my Tigers’ players on the list you would have Pat Sullivan, Terry Beasley, Bo Jackson, Cam Newton, Jimmy Sidle, Tucker Frederickson, Phil Gargis, James Brooks, Joe Cribbs, Cadillac Williams, Bobby Hunt, Travis Tidwell, and the like to dominate it.

Here we go! My top ten favorite non-Auburn players in SEC history. I will do them alphabetically.

Billy Cannon – LSU – 1957-59. Cannon is most remembered for his 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss, in Tiger Stadium on Halloween night in 1959, to give the Tigers a 7-3 win. He won the Heisman that year, as well. Cannon was also named the SEC player of the year in both 1958 and 1959. LSU won the National Championship in ’58.

Randall Cobb – Kentucky – 2008-10. Cobb was an electrifying player at multiple positions for the Wildcats including quarterback, wide receiver and return specialist. He could do it all.  He is not to be confused with boxer, Randall “Tex” Cobb. 

Archie Manning – Ole Miss – 1968-70. Archie is, actually, one of my favorite players in any sport at any level. I never enjoyed watching a player from a team, not named Auburn, more. Just go back and watch some of the old clips from his days as a Rebel. Simply amazing!

Peyton Manning – Tennessee – 1994-97. Does anyone really need to be familiarized with Peyton? He led the Vols to an SEC Championship in 1997. He was a consensus All-American that year and also won the Maxwell Award. He should have won the Heisman Trophy.

Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M – 2012- 13.  Has there ever been a more exciting college football player than “Johnny Football”? Incredible. Love him or hate him, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. The 2012 Heisman winner pulled off more incredible escapes than Houdini. I truly hope his story turns out to be one of redemption.

Darren McFadden – Arkansas – 2005-07. McFadden could flat out tote the rock. He rushed for 4,590 yards at a 5.8 yards per carry clip during his years as a Razorback.  He tied the SEC record for most yards rushing in one game, in 2007, with 321 against South Carolina. McFadden won the Doak Walker Award twice, 2006-07, and the Walter Camp Award, given to the nation’s best overall player, once, in 2007.

Joe Namath – Alabama – 1962-64. “Joe Willie”, “Broadway Joe.” These are two of the monikers that Namath was known by during his playing days with the Crimson Tide. I loved him. Most boys loved him. All the girls loved him. Bama won the National Championship, with Joe under center, in 1964. But he is most famous for guaranteeing that his New York Jets would win Super Bowl III, and they did.

Dak Prescott – Mississippi State. The best player in the history of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, no? He was a gifted athlete who could both run and throw the ball. He carried the Bulldogs to heights henceforth unknown as they topped the polls for several weeks during the 2014 season. That season he also passed for 3,449 yards and 27 touchdowns, and accumulated 4,435 total yards. He rushed for 2,411 yards in his time at State and that is third all-time, by a quarterback, in SEC history.

Steve Spurrier – Florida – 1964-66. Spurrier may be best known as the Head Ball Coach, but he was also a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback for the Gators in 1966. There may have never been a more competitive, driven player and coach in the annals of the SEC. Football, golf, tiddlywinks, Spurrier just wants to beat you. And, he was always good for a great quote.

Herschel Walker – Walker is,  arguably, the greatest running back in the history of college football. Bo Jackson is my choice for the greatest athlete of all-time, but Herschel, both a Heisman winner and a national champion, carried the mail. He rushed for 5,259 yards in only three years as a Bulldog. And he was a sprinter, mixed martial artist and bobsledder!

There is my list of favorite non-Auburn players in SEC history. Why not come up with your own list? I am also open to suggestions for future lists as they are a lot of fun, and great conversation centerpieces at home, or at your favorite sports bar.

Now, who was the greatest fighter that ever lived? 😉

The Heisman Trophy Used to Mean Something

This past Saturday, the 80th Heisman trophy was awarded to Alabama running back, Derrick Henry. Saturday was also the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra has stood the test of time whereas the Heisman trophy has not. Sinatra’s style is timeless. It is as great today as it was in the 1950s. The Heisman trophy has become a diluted version of its former greatness.

In honor of Sinatra, here is a list of 5 of my favorite Sinatra songs paired with the Heisman winner from the year that Ol’ Blue Eyes recorded each song. These songs are also from an era when the Heisman still meant something.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

Sinatra recorded 3 versions of this classic. My personal preference is the 1956 version due in part to the iconic trombone solo performed by Milt Bernhart. The 1956 version is also a Nelson Riddle arrangement which further puts it over the top.

The 1956 Heisman winner was Notre Dame quarterback, Paul Hornung. Hornung was a dual-threat quarterback before it was fashionable. In 1956 he led the Fighting Irish in passing, rushing, scoring, kickoff, punt returns and punting. Hornung also played defense and led the Irish in pass breakups as well as being 2nd in interceptions and tackles.

The Summer Wind

Give me the 1966 version of this song, which like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” was a Nelson Riddle arrangement. The distinctive characteristic about the Riddle arrangement is the use of the electric organ. The story about this arrangement is that Riddle wrote it in a taxi cab as he was traveling to the recording session.

In 1966, the Heisman winner was none other than Steve Spurrier. Spurrier was the original Comeback Kid as he became known for his 4th quarter heroics to win games. Atlanta Constitution reporter, John Logue, once had this to say about Spurrier:

Blindfolded, with his back to the wall, with his hands tied behind him, Steve Spurrier would be a two-point favorite at his own execution.

The Best Is Yet To Come

The 1964 version was not only recorded with the Count Basie orchestra but was conducted by the legendary Quincy Jones. This would also be the last song the crooner would sing in public when he sung it on February 25, 1995.

The 1964 Heisman winner was another Notre Dame quarterback, John Huarte. Huarte threw for 2,062 yards during the 1964 season and propelled himself to the Heisman trophy.

Fly Me to the Moon

Let’s stay in 1964 for the next Sinatra classic. This is also another song that Sinatra made famous with Count Basie and Quincy Jones.

Luck Be A Lady

Many people try to impersonate The Rat Pack, but there was only one and that was the one that Sinatra was Chairman of the Board for. The Rat Pack performed live at the Sands in 1963 and Sinatra performed this classic from Guys and Dolls.

Army played Navy this past weekend and the 1963 Heisman winner was Navy quarterback, Roger Staubach. Staubach led the 1963 Navy team to a 9-1 record and a number 2 national ranking. In the national championship game Navy lost to the number 1 team in the country, the Texas Longhorns. Earlier in the year, Staubach led the Midshipmen to a 35-14 win over Notre Dame. Navy wouldn’t beat Notre Dame for another 44 years.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

Photo: Jaclin Diva/Flikr

Before He Was “The Head Ball Coach”

It was Saturday, October 30, 1965. And it was a beautiful day for football! My father, mother and I were on our way from Lower Alabama to the Plains of Auburn for a homecoming game that matched our Tigers with the Florida Gators.IMG_2355

The visitors were a heavy favorite. They were bringing an impressive 4-1 record into the tilt, while the home team, with losses to Baylor, Georgia Tech, and Southern Mississippi, was really struggling that year at 2-3-1.

The contingent from Gainesville, Florida was lead by a brash young kid from Johnson City, Tennessee. His name was Steven Orr Spurrier.

This was the first game ever televised from, what was then, Cliff Hare Stadium. It would later be re-named Jordan-Hare Stadium for, then, legendary head coach Ralph “Shug” Jordan.

Coach Jordan was given to referring to the Gator quarterback as “Steve Superior”.

“Superior” had led his team to wins over non-conference foes Northwestern and North Carolina State. They sported SEC victories over LSU and Ole Miss. Their lone setback came at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

When the LeCroy clan finally made it to Auburn, it seemed like it took an eternity to get there, they headed over to the home of Nelle and Bill Mims, my aunt and uncle. Aunt Nelle was my mother’s sister. Uncle Bill was retired from the Georgia-Pacific railroad. They had moved to “the loveliest village” where he now had a job with Buildings and Grounds at Auburn University.

Uncle Bill quipped to my father that he might have to drive the jeep that would carry the ABC television camera up and down the home sideline as this was an altogether new venture for the school.

I thought that would be the greatest thing in the world! Would I be allowed to ride in the jeep? As it turns out, this did not come to pass, but that was okay. There were some big fish to fry later that day.

And what a day it turned out to be!

The visiting Gators led the home underdog Tigers 10-0 at the half.  Junior quarterback, Spurrier, had thrown a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jack Harper and their kicker, Wayne Barfield, booted a 26-yard field goal. The sellout crowd, of 45,000, was dismayed but not daunted.

The Tigers regrouped at the break. And it turned out to be a tough second half for the young quarterback from the mountains of East Tennessee. Auburn middle linebacker, Bill Cody, intercepted a Spurrier pass and returned it for 29 yards and a touchdown. Spurrier also fumbled at the Florida 10, in the fourth quarter, and it rolled into the end zone. Cody was also the recipient of this snafu that gave Auburn an insurmountable lead.IMG_2358

The Tigers scored 28 unanswered points in that second half. Spurrier threw a late TD pass to Charlie Casey, which mattered little, and Auburn upset the Gators, 28-17.

It was a big win for the home team and a hard learning experience for the tough, talented and talkative young Gator QB.

October 29, 1966 was a horse of a different color.

Florida was celebrating homecoming this time around.

60,000 fans had jammed Florida Field, which was later dubbed “The Swamp” by an alumnus who had returned to coach the Gators in 1990 ;).

Florida was undefeated and Steve “Superior” was their senior quarterback. They also had designs on an SEC Championship, a National Championship, and a Heisman Trophy for their team leader.

The game turned out to be a see-saw battle which went down to the wire.

Auburn took the opening kickoff and Larry Ellis returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.

It’s on!!!

Florida retaliated with a 10-yard TD pass from Spurrier to Richard Trapp. They also scored on a 2-yard TD run.

Auburn stunned the old Gator grads with  a 90-yard fumble return and added a 30-yard field goal by Jimmy “Rattlesnake” Jones before halftime. They took a 17-13 lead into the dressing room. The Tigers opened the second half scoring with a 27-yard field goal.

Florida immediately tied it when Larry Smith scored a TD from two-yards out. It was 20-20.

Spurrier put the home team on top with 2-yard sneak, early in the fourth quarter, but Auburn quarterback, Larry Blakeney ran one in from the three after Yearout recovered yet another fumble at the Gator 16.

The game was tied, 27-27.

Spurrier then began to engineer a march toward the Tiger goal line, but the drive was stopped when the Gator field general was called for an intentional grounding penalty.

It was now fourth down with just over two minutes remaining in the game and Florida at the Auburn 26 yard-line.

A field goal attempt would be 40 yards and that was outside the comfort zone of the Gator’s regular placekicker.

Spurrier had kicked 40-yard field goals in practice and begged Florida head coach, Ray Graves, to give him a shot at it.IMG_2359

He did.

You can imagine what happened. It was like something out a sports novel for young kids, or maybe the popular AMC TV show, Friday Night Lights.

Yes, Steve Spurrier nailed the field goal, with 2:12 remaining, Florida captured a very hard-fought 30-27 win and, as most of you know, Spurrier went on to take home the Heisman Trophy.

Those are my first memories of Steve Spurrier, or “Superior”, and his heroics on the gridiron.

You know the rest of the story. I don’t need to recount it for you here, yet again.

Many, many tales of championships he won at Duke and Florida have “swamped” television, newspapers, and social media over the past week. And you know of his unprecedented success at the University of South Carolina, from which he recently resigned. You also know of his failure to generate a winner on the NFL level with the Washington Redskins.

I’ll never forget the great upset wins Auburn had over number one ranked Gator squads in 1993, ’94, and 2001. But those were the ONLY three wins my Tigers were able to generate vs. the “evil genius” during his tenure at Florida. Auburn’s final record stood at 3-10 against Spurrier and the Gators.

OUCH!

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There are many fan bases that “Darth Visor” has rubbed the wrong way over the years. Cough cough… Georgia and Tennessee.

But I have always really liked him and have truly enjoyed following the journey of Steven Orr Spurrier. My son and I have had numerous conversations in “Spurrier Speak”. They would begin something like, “Well, we found out nobody had ever scored fifty points on Georgia in Athens before, so we thought we’d try that!”

Priceless!

I laugh when I think about it and about him.

I know you’ve probably also read many of Spurrier’s famous quotes from over the years. I’ll leave you with, possibly, one of my favorites. It’s from the lips of the only Heisman winner he coached, Danny Wuerffel. This was after Wuerffel had thrown a costly interception. He then apologized for the turnover.

Spurrier replied, “Danny, it’s not your fault, it’s my fault for putting you in the game.”

So here’s to the “Head Ball Coach”!

May he not, “Go gentle into that good night.”

The Two Biggest Games Left in SEC Football

SEC football is competitive every year, with this year being no exception so far. It seems like you can never accurately predict the divisional standings for neither the East nor the West. Honestly, even though I’m a Gator, I never would’ve guessed that Florida would be atop the East right now and would have such a good chance at actually winning the East. And although I knew LSU was going to be competitive, I probably still would have picked Alabama to be sitting at the top of the West right now. But as we Gator fans recently found out, things can change in a hurry.

That being said, I don’t expect too much to change too quickly in the races for the divisional titles in the SEC. Florida and Georgia both have a bye this week so nothing will change yet there. And LSU plays Western Kentucky so, barring some sort of catastrophic event, nothing will change there either. The only team whose status in the race to get to Atlanta seems to be in and kind of jeopardy is Alabama. Even though I was raised a Vol fan, I still think the idea of the Vols winning in Tuscaloosa this weekend is a bit farfetched. That isn’t to say that I wouldn’t enjoy a nice upset down there! But if everything stays the same this week with LSU and Alabama at the top of the West and Florida and Georgia at the top of the East, then the teams making a trip to the SEC Championship Game in December will be decided by two huge games in the next few weeks.

Florida & Georgia

One of those games happens to only be about a week and a half away. It’s a game that every Florida and Georgia fan counts down to every year…The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in Jacksonville. This season, it almost ensures a Gator trip to Atlanta if they manage to pull out the victory over Georgia. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this game always seems to be a good matchup regardless of whatever else is going on for the teams during that season. And I doubt this year will be any different. I said it was entirely possible for the Gators to get the upset win last year and they did…in convincing fashion. This year it would actually be an upset for the Bulldogs to win, though.

First, the Bulldogs got absolutely dominated by Alabama at home. And now after losing at Tennessee and suffering an even bigger loss when star RB Nick Chubb went down with an ugly knee injury on the first snap of that game, Georgia looks like they’re in trouble. Last week they barely eked out an ugly 9-6 victory over Missouri. Georgia needs to find some kind of offensive rhythm during their bye week. With the Gators playing how they have been in recent games, I can assure you that nine points and less than 300 yards of total offense just won’t do it when they play Florida in Jacksonville. And the pressure of this game is increasing, as the Bulldogs know very well what is at stake in that game.

The Gators have also recently suffered a couple of big losses when they came up short in a hard-fought game at Death Valley less than a week after learning that QB Will Grier was suspended per NCAA rules. But at this point, the Gators still have a lot to prove. Coming close to beating LSU in their stadium after losing their talented QB doesn’t count as a W in the win-loss column. It may have been a moral victory for the Gators though. They were able to see that they are able to compete at the highest level even without their starting QB. The Gators honestly could have won that game and even though they didn’t win, the team stuck together and fought their way back into what started to feel like a hopeless game. That momentum and that heart can carry the Gators very far as long as they remember to stay humble. Any team is beatable on any given day and the Gators need to remember to play with that in mind if they want to beat Georgia in a week and a half.

LSU & Alabama

In the West it’s looking like it’ll also come down to one big game. But this game isn’t on neutral ground; this game will be played in Tuscaloosa in about two and a half weeks. Less than a month ago I would’ve looked at Ole Miss and expected them to be in the driver’s seat or at least be in close competition with LSU for that SEC West title. But as they did last year, Ole Miss started out strong and has since faded away. That means it’ll come down to the one-loss Alabama Crimson Tide (who lost to formerly strong Ole Miss) or the still undefeated LSU Tigers.

It’s hard to view Alabama as an underdog in any game while Saban is still their head coach. But since they’re ranked lower and they have a loss, I’ll consider them the underdog just this one time. It’s easy to see that Alabama has a complete defense that is more than capable of suffocating offenses this season. Their defense may be good enough to finally slow down LSU RB Leonard Fournette. Even with two interceptions a week and a half ago, the Crimson Tide beat Arkansas by 13. And despite those two interceptions during that game QB Jake Coker has finally seemed to settle in to the offense, which has given their team the extra boost it could have used earlier in the season.

LSU has found their strength in one player more than anything else this season. We should probably just go ahead and hand the Heisman trophy to RB Leonard Fournette right now because unless he gets injured, there is no contest. Last week he still managed to rack up 180 rushing yards against Florida’s tough defense. Those rushing yards combined with some interesting play calls by Les Miles were just enough to lead the Tigers to victory. But now that those plays have been used, what will LSU do when they face another strong defense in two and a half weeks in Tuscaloosa? That game will answer the question once and for all of whether or not Leonard Fournette is stoppable. And if Fournette LSU wins that one, they’re almost certainly headed to Atlanta for what could be a priceless rematch on neutral ground against the Florida Gators.

We may have to wait a few more weeks to find out, but soon enough we’ll know who will be making a trip to Atlanta to fight for the SEC title. Right now all we can do as SEC football fans is anxiously await the two biggest games of the season. In case you missed it, the first of those games will be Florida vs. Georgia in Jacksonville on the 31st of October. The second game that we’ll be waiting for is LSU at Alabama on November 7th. Until then, I’m actually hoping for things to calm down a little bit as far as all this SEC football drama goes. Tennessee can stop losing games in the last quarter, Florida can stop letting their players shop at wellness stores without supervision, and Spurrier can refrain from breaking our hearts again.