The Heisman Campaigns Heat Up: Who Is On My Watch List?

November is when everything starts to make sense for Heisman voters. Early December (hopefully) is when voters whittle their candidates down to three and decide the order of placement—the numerical placements can be the most stressful part of filling out the ballot.

I will not fill out and submit my ballot until the last scheduled regular season game has been played. Too many great Heisman moments have been missed by voters who turned in their ballots early. I know of several voters who regretted not waiting until the last day to submit their Heisman ballots.

These players have earned tremendous respect from fans and voters. All are worthy of consideration.

Here are my Heisman contenders, in alphabetical order.

QUARTERBACKS

Max Duggan, Texas Christian University

Duggan has been overlooked—even to the point of broadcasters mispronouncing his last name—by many so-called experts but that may change this month. This dual-threat quarterback is the heart and soul of TCU. He has been a game-changer in several contests which is all the more shocking when one considers he was not the Horned Frogs’ starter in week 1’s game against Colorado—Chandler Morris was. Psssst…. his name is pronounced Doug-en.

If the Heisman Trophy were an MVP award, Duggan would win it.

Hendon Hooker, University of Tennessee

Hooker has a ridiculous 21-1 TD-INT ratio and a 191.64 quarterback rating. Oh, and he beat Alabama. As of today, he’s likely the favorite (OK, who doesn’t love this guy?) to win the most prestigious award in college football. If he has another spectacular performance at Georgia on Saturday—barring any serious missteps or injury—he can strike the pose.

Right now, it is his to lose.

C.J. Stroud, the Ohio State University

Stroud has been on my ballot twice, albeit not in the No. 1 slot. It would be something special to have him finally move to the top spot but it all hinges on November 26, when his Buckeyes host Michigan. Stroud’s stats are eye-popping: 71.3 percent completion, 29-4 TD-INT ratio and a 200.16 quarterback rating.

If Hooker stumbles and Stroud does Stroud-like things to beat Michigan, he’s a surprise Heisman winner.

Caleb Williams, University of Southern California

Williams is an incredible talent. His arm strength, particularly throwing across his body, is a highlight reel. The problem for him is that USC’s defense is so porous, it detracts from his performances. USC could win the Pac-12 but the Trojans will have to outscore UCLA and Notre Dame to even get to the conference championship.

A lot of dominoes have to fall for him to be on the majority of ballots.

Honorable mentions

Drake Maye, University of North Carolina

Bryce Young, University of Alabama

RUNNING BACKS

Zach Charbonnet, University of California Los Angeles

Charbonnet is currently the third most productive rusher in college football. He averages 7.53 yards a carry, 137.71 yards a game. Think about that. He’s the go-to-guy when you need at least five yards. A true weapon in the backfield, Charbonnet can also play catch—he has hauled in 20 passees for 232 yards.

Charbonnet should be invited to New York City in December. There, I said it.

Blake Corum, University of Michigan

If anyone can steal Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud’s thunder on November 26, it is Corum. This running back has great numbers: 1,078 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns. He averages 6.02 yards per carry and 134.75 yards per game. Corum is a wrecking ball and has started to get more attention from the pundits.

Corum needs that Heisman moment to move up.

Honorable mentions

Bijan Robinson, University of Texas

Deuce Vaughn, Kansas State University

College Football Recap: Pac-12 Week One-liners

Admit it. Your team looked like a national title contender, looked not-ready-for-prime-time or just plain stunk. For some football fans, the season is already over.

Week one of college football delivered good news, bad news, confusion and a whole lotta shrugs (we hear you, Nebraska). While it is way too early to make conclusive analyses on most teams—the SEC can carry on, as usual—we still can be judgmental, critical and petty.

Honest opinion. No pussy-footing around here.

Let’s get to week one-liners.

Oregon failed to sell itself to the voters and media despite being over confident for its pending debacle against defending National Champion Georgia.

The Oregon Ducks’ story is as old as time. Get all dressed up in flashy threads and get dragged by a traditional school that believes in defense, not fancy-pants schemes.

Oregon was paid $4.5 million to play the game only to get trolled hard at the half by Georgia fans.

photo courtesy of USA Today

The Bulldogs’ 49-3 rout of the Ducks was an indictment of the the Pac-12’s waning swagger. If the Pac-12 cannot sell Oregon to most college football fans, how is Oregon going to sell itself to the Big Ten? Perhaps the Big Ten will negotiate a deal where Oregon gets less revenue sharing than its other member schools. Notre Dame is still every conference’s prime target so Oregon’s exodus to the Midwest’s Promised Land is probably “Nix-ed.”

Oregon could still contend for the conference title but a very pissed-off Utah will be waiting for a mid-November date.

Oregon is overrated. There. I said it. Time to move on.

U.C.L.A. looked atrocious in its first half against Bowling Green.

Special teams play was horrific—specifically the kick and kick return play. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson started off where he left off last season; an enigma. A running DTR is a Disneyland fireworks display. Breathtaking and beautiful. A passing DTR is a stick of TNT whose fuse keeps going out. Is it a dud or will it go off?

In the second half, it went boom. More of this, please.

Only 27,105 fans were in attendance at the Rose Bowl. The biggest excuse heard for the record low attendance was the scorching heat. Fair enough. But across town at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, 60,113 fans showed up. Just sayin’.

The O-line still needs to mesh with some new starters in the mix. DTR was running for his life and forced to make plays he would rather have had back. Zach Charbonnet is one of the most underrated backs in the country—he finished with 21 carries, 111 yards and one touchdown.

The Bruins had a very solid second half by shutting out the Falcons, putting 21 points on the board and snatching victory from defeat. Overall, not a great U.C.L.A. performance but at least the Bruins didn’t fall apart after a bad first half.

USC entered the season with plenty of hype under new head coach Lincoln Riley and delivered.

Quarterback Caleb Williams is a highly-touted Heisman candidate and did not disappoint. He has outstanding pocket awareness and good wheels to get him out of trouble—that rarely happened due to solid pass protection. His arm strength and decision-making are what sets him apart from others. Williams made some filthy throws off-balance or on the run with a ball that had extraordinary velocity on it. He is special.

Speaking of Heisman, USC’s speedster Raleek Brown, the No. 3 prospect out of 2021’s class of running backs, struck the pose after scoring his first touchdown. Sooo…. fans do like to see the kids having fun. And it has been a looooong time since USC’s sidelines have produced smiling, dancing players.

photo courtesy of Luis Sinco/LA Times

But Arrogant Nation beat Rice, a C-USA team that went 4-8 last year. Next week the Trojans travel to Stanford. Unless USC’s defense figures out how to stuff runs between the tackles and get its back seven into better position on pass plays, E.J. Smith, son of that Emmitt Smith, is going to have a stellar day.

The bitch may be back but hold the applause (and poses), please.

Oregon State deserves more love.

Head coach Jonathan Smith has slowly turned the Beavers around from bottom of the barrel to that team you don’t want to play. Just ask perennial Group of Five Powerhouse Boise State.

The Beavers POUNDED the Broncos 34-17. The defense was ferocious causing five turnovers. The running-back-by-committee approach netted 178 bruising yards on the ground. The fans were completely engaged and the Beavers’ chainsaw was roaring through the stadium throughout the game.

Watch out for Oregon State.

Utah almost put the Pac-12 back in the College Football Playoff conversation. Almost.

Quarterback Cam Rising came up a tad short on a go-ahead touchdown down 29-26, on 2nd-and-goal with 22 ticks left on the clock. Score and the Utes are as special as we thought they were. Lose, and winning the Pac-12 (again) just seems a like a consolation prize. The pass was intercepted and Utah (and the Pac-12) lost.

Taking the next step in Big Boy football means beating a Big Boy from a Big Boy conference. Not almost beating a Big Boy.

Stanford walloped Colgate 41-10 in the Battle of the Almost Ivy League Schools but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Colgate is an FCS school and some FCS schools are up for a Big Boy challenge. Think North Dakota State, Sam Houston State, Montana, Eastern Washington or Jacksonville State. Colgate is not in the same league athletically as the previously mentioned and that’s why allowing Colgate to score 10 points is inexcusable.

photo courtesy of Mark Di Orio/Colgate University

Yes, a muffed punt that led to a touchdown by Colgate has my dander up. Yes, Stanford may be a good team and did not open up the playbook because it hosts USC on Saturday. But yes, Colgate still scored 10 points on the Cardinal. That’s a big tell.

Speaking of Almost Ivy League schools, Cal struggled to beat FCS non-powerhouse UC Davis.

The Golden Bears are returning just eight starters so (my) expectations are low. With sister school U.C.L.A. becoming a full member of the Big Ten on August, 2, 2024, perhaps Cal is just depressed. The Bears were down 7-0 to the Aggies before taking a 17-7 halftime lead. They get UNLV this Saturday before a road trip to Notre Dame. Buckle up, Bears.

The rest of the Pac:

Washington beat Kent State 45-20. The offense appears to be high octane but until the Huskies play Michigan State, I’m withholding any accolades or criticism.

Washington State beat Idaho 24-17. It’s almost an in-state rivalry so maybe that’s an excuse that’ll satisfy Coug Nation. Bourbon helps.

Colorado lost to TCU 38-13. The Buffs gave up 275 rushing yards (avg 9.2 yards per carry!) so the key to beating Colorado is running the ball.

Arizona beat San Diego State 38-20. Before we jump on the Wildcat bandwagon, a reminder: the Aztecs are notorious slow starters. In 2019 they beat Weber State 6-0 and last year beat New Mexico State 28-10.

Arizona State beat Northern Arizona 40-3. Next week the Sun Devils play at Oklahoma State. Good feeling gone?

Pac-12 Football Media Day: An Awkward, Spicy, Defiant Hot Dog with a Spotty Aura and a Pitch (?) to the Big Ten

Los Angeles—Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff kicked off Pac-12 Football Media Day at the Novo Theater on Friday with a salty question-and-answer session with the media. Why, you ask, was he salty?

Well, there’s still that elephant in the room. And it seems to have grown since its last sighting.

Kliavkoff knew that the majority of the questions were going to be about expansion. And USC. And U.C.L.A. Because … duh.

Yet, he still expressed impatience and annoyance when those questions were asked. A couple of nervous laughs and smirks were also observed.

George Kliavkoff

When asked about the Big XII’s comment about it being “open for business,” Kliavkoff pulled out his quiver and delivered a first of several arrows.

“I haven’t decided if we’re going shopping there or not,” he responded.

Kliavkoff also talked about weapons of mass destruction. “I’ve been spending four weeks trying to defend grenades from every corner of the Big 12,” he said.

“I get why they’re scared. I get why they’re trying to destabilize us.”

Alrighty then.

If “awkward” and “spicy” were on your Pac-12 Media Day bingo card, congrats. It was all that and more. It had that SEC-type vibe to it. Without the standing-room-only screaming fans, championship banners, rings and trophies, of course.

Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

After I described the media room’s tone as a spicy hotdog, a reporter sitting next to me, Chris Karpman, replied, “Not a lot of meat on the bones. A lot of condiments though.”

Perfect.

Kliavkoff is clearly ticked at USC and U.C.L.A.—officially he is “disappointed”—but he also said he would “welcome [U.C.L.A.] back.”

“I personally have instructed everyone at our conference to make sure that USC and UCLA student-athletes are given every opportunity to compete and succeed for as long as they remain in the Pac-12,” he added.

Translation: Be nice, fellas. I’m trying to keep this family together even though we had a meeting with 10 schools yesterday and we didn’t invite them (because it was about the future of the conference), according to SI’s Ross Dellenger.

That really happened. But no hard feelings, right?

Once the Commish left—OK, fled—the stage, the coaches were put in the spotlight.

Pesky expansion and defection questions were being asked and the coaches were not too excited about that. They wanted to talk about their own schools, not those other two schools. Go figure.

It was like watching a hamster fight. To be fair, I’ve never seen one. But after this afternoon’s follies, I think I’ve got the picture.

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell described the Bruins’ move to the Big Ten as “shocking… but I wish them the very best.” His team was picked to finish last by the media. But he’s still No. 1 in politeness.

Utah’s Kyle Whittingham was the big dog in the morning—sorry, Oregon—because Utah was picked by the media to repeat as conference champion. He ended up talking a lot about the Rose Bowl and the Florida Gators, the Utes’ first opponent of the season.

Whittingham is intense and a coach’s coach. The media know better than to push his buttons. He wants to play football. And win. Everything else is minutia.

Oregon head coach Dan Lanning was a fresh, bright face. He was exuberant, positive and effusive at his first Pac-12 Media Day. He also spent a lot of time talking Oregon’s brand and its highly-rated games.

“Since 2010 there’s been nine teams that have played for a national championship,” Lanning said, a mere 15 seconds after being introduced by the moderator.

“Fortunate enough that Oregon has done that twice. Multiple conference championships have been won at this place. Obviously we had 2.57 million
viewers tune in every single week to watch our games, which is top 10 in the nation, best in our conference.”

How many coaches know their per-game-average of TV ratings? Seriously?

It really sounded like Phil Knight wrote his sale pitch to the Big Ten.

“I’m excited about the direction of our program, excited about being part of the fastest-growing brand in college football,” Lanning said.

How does he feel about playing his former team, Georgia? Lanning complimented the SEC, of course. Then he went back to pitching Oregon.

“Oregon, like I said, is a national brand. It’s fun to be in a place where you get to play premier opponents like Georgia.”

Wait, there’s more.

Dan Lanning

When asked if USC and UCLA’s future move has become part of the recruiting conversation, Lanning continued to hit those selling points.

“Oregon has been always a premier team in college football. I think we’ll continue to be. Our fans are extremely passionate. Being a top-10 team when it comes to views in homes this last year, the ability to compete for championships year in and year out with coaching changes and different things.”

Phil Knight must be pleased. “Brand” was mentioned more than once and television ratings weren’t touched upon by Lanning. They were molested.

If Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was watching, well, Oregon should give Lanning a raise and a new pair of sneakers every holiday.

Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch opened up his podium speech by talking about… wait for it… the LA Rams and their Super Bowl win. When you go 1-11 your first year, sometimes you have to go back a few years to when you were a coach on a winning team—even though it was in the N.F.L.

Fisch gets Charlie Weis’s seal of approval.

Fisch was a delight. He even inner-channelled former Washington State head coach Mike Leach.

“Other coaches are telling recruits that we’re an off-season team, and we appreciate them pointing out our great off-season, but we feel like we’re going to be a really good in-season team too.”

A college football coach’s humor is so underrated.

Stanford head coach David Shaw provided his usual sportsmanship and class. But he also dropped some dog humor on us.

When asked if losing the two L.A. teams would diminish Stanford’s strength of schedule, he answered, “First of all, that’s two years from now.”

“That’s 14 years… regular people years… two college football seasons.”

With half the day’s events over, a break was in order. Lunch was an excruciating experience.

I give you my play-by-play:

We are told that lunch will be served on the fifth level terrace. We pile into the elevators after a *helpful* Pac-12 info person yells, “lunch is on the fifth floor” every 10 seconds. Everyone is uncomfortable because we had to wait awhile for an empty elevator while listening to her repeatedly tell us where to go.

We get off at the fifth level. We walk to the other side of the building and run into a dead end. A *helpful* Pac-12 info person tells us, “Yes, lunch is on the fifth level, but you have to go back to the elevators, go down to level four, then go across the building and take the elevator up to the fifth level.”

Did you get all that?

As we go back down to the fourth level, another Pac-12 info person is yelling about the fifth level lunch terrace.

Huh?

Now I know why USC and U.C.L.A. are leaving. It all makes sense.

Jake Dickert

We finally make it to the terrace on the fifth floor (achievement unlocked!) and discover there are not enough tables to seat everyone. I find a fun-looking table with two open seats, sit down and pick at my salad. I chatted with a nice, young man for 30 minutes before he introduces himself as Washington State’s new head coach, Jake Dickert. [Insert sheepish look here]

I had a terrific time talking with with him (and his players) and started feeling pretty good when I headed back to the elevators.

Good feeling… gone.

We went down to the third floor. Big mistake. What were we thinking taking the most direct route back to our work stations?

We have to go back to the fourth floor, walk to the other side of the building, then take the elevator down to the third floor and enter the Novo Theater. I sit down and decide if I should take a nap or watch the pending—if you’re a pessimist, looming—speeches/comedy/fireworks/paparazzi about to take place. Wisely, I chose the latter.

Arizona State head coach Herm Edwards was at the podium.

“Next thing I’m going to comment on before I open it up for questions, I’ve never taken so many elevators in a day,” he said. “I’m elevatored out right now. I don’t know what button to push, what floor I’m going to, but I know there’s a lot in this building, and they all work.”

Herm Edwards

Herm Edwards is my hero.

When he exited stage right he muttered, “Gotta go catch an elevator.”

As expected, U.C.L.A and USC were the last two schools on the schedule. Ostensibly, this is done to keep everyone here until the end so they can fight Friday traffic at its worst.

Chip Kelly

Bruins’ head coach Chip Kelly was worth the wait. The quips were fast and furious.

He was asked how far it is from his campus to Piscataway, New Jersey (Rutgers’ campus).

“It’s 2,765 miles,” he replied grinning.

“Four-and-a-half-hour flight. If you’re going west to east it’s longer because the weather goes across the country. Coming back would be a little bit longer, so… we hope that we win because then you don’t worry about how long the ride is on the way back.”

A Canadian reporter from Quebec started to ask him a question and Chip couldn’t help himself.

“We’re not going to Quebec,” he laughed.

Lincoln Riley

USC’s Lincoln Riley was last man up and his presence conjured up images from the Pete Carroll era. Photographers rushed up to the stage. Shutters were clicking and lights were flashing. Just like the good old days.

Riley didn’t mess around. He made some bold statements.

“We expect to have a national championship-caliber defense here at USC,” he proclaimed. USC fans must have swarmed the ticket office website after that statement.

“The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn’t come here to play for second, he said.

“We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”

A reporter followed that up with, “What is your expectation for this year?”

“To win the championship,” Riley responded, without hesitation.

USC has its coach. U.C.L.A. has its coach. And for the next two years, it looks like the two defectors of the Pac-12 will be not only running L.A., but the entire conference. The swagger was there on display.

Overall, the day was as expected. Awkward. There were also some bizarre moments.

Between coaches’ media sessions we were “treated” to some interesting music choices. Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Express” was on a loop. But instead of Mars we got dueling violins.

There were two unidentifiable, fake plants set at each side of the stage. They stood out like a rack of ribs at a Vegan brunch. One of my Twitter followers suggested it was Cannabis. That would have been the most LA-thing ever.

Finally, the Internet is apparently a newfangled thing that this conference still has not figured out. “Spotty” does not even begin to describe this mess.

Was it a coincidence that as soon as the Pac-12 Commissioner began his opening remarks, the Wifi was non-existent?

Every Pac-12 Media Day has had this problem. I’ve never experienced a Wifi problem-free Media Day.

Maybe the Big Ten or Big XII can help the Pac-12 figure it out?

USC and UCLA to the Big Ten: The Aftermath

The deal is done. The ink is dry. The Pac-12 has officially acknowledged that the Trojans and Bruins are going to the Big Ten in 2024. It’s like being a parent and watching your 18-year old child leave on a date with someone you clearly think is not in your child’s best interest.

“They can do better,” you try to convince yourself. But they really can’t.

USC and UCLA are leaving their Lincoln Navigator for a Bentley Continental GT. Leaving a $20 million dollar annual payout for a $100 million payout. Leaving half-empty stadiums for stadiums filled with 114,000 screaming fans. Instead of only being able to afford penny stocks, AMZN is now in their portfolios.

Forty-eight hours after the big news broke, the Pac-12 Networks was airing the 2004 Rose Bowl game between USC and Michigan. USC v Penn State followed. The chyron (news ticker) below the game displaying the conference’s statement on the two teams’ departure announcement was the elephant in the room.

In all likelihood, the conference’s flagship network failed to be proactive in television programming.

Failed to be proactive.

It’s an indictment of everything that is wrong in the Pac-12. The conference did not read the room while the SEC and Big Ten were expanding. It failed to protect its future and failed to implement its contingencies.

The conference was rife with poor officiating for a decade. #Pac12refs became a national punchline and Twitter trending hashtag. The Pac-12 made some overtures to fix the problem but no substantial changes could be seen on the field.

photo courtesy of sbnation

The Pac-12 conference is probably now in full-blown panic mode. Undoubtedly phone calls are being made, hands are being wrung, pearl necklaces are being clutched and safe spaces are being constructed in the halls of the Pac-12 offices.

Meanwhile, other Pac-12 members are probably freaking out.

While Oregon and Washington are the next best Pac-12 teams to be considered in a possible departure to another conference, no announcements have been made. While that may not be significant now—once Notre Dame decides its permanent place in college football the dominoes will fall—it will be decidedly concerning after the 2022 season ends.

I believe Stanford and Cal are a better “fit” in the Big Ten. They are traditional schools with high emphasis on education. The Bay Area’s TV market is consistently ranked in the Top 10. They have been consistent in their athletic programs’ branding and except for Stanford’s name change of Indians to Cardinal in 1981, they have very traditional athletic programs.

The Midwest fan is generally not impressed with shiny, new things and unfortunately for the Oregon Ducks, the national perception of Oregon football is just that. This isn’t a criticism. But read the room, Oregon.

The Ohio State University Buckeyes play football in “three yards and a cloud of dust.” They are damn proud of that. Oregon football, on the other hand, is known for innovative twists on run-read football, trick plays, neon-highlighter uniforms and a fan base that while can be quite vociferous, is also fickle.

The flashy electricity of its marketing department has attracted elite recruits. That’s a huge bonus. Oregon also excels in other sports such as Track and Field, Baseball and Basketball. Again, a definite plus.

But would Oregon and Washington’s membership be each worth $100 million a year to the Big Ten?

Seattle’s TV market is ranked No. 14 nationally. Portland’s is ranked No. 81. Moreover, the optics of those two cities may not appeal to the Midwest football fan. Videos of recent riots, surges in crime rates, increasing homelessness and open opioid drug use in the streets have been blasted across news channels for two years. While other cities are experiencing those exact same issues (Los Angeles, I’m looking at you), USC and UCLA will have no problem validating their $100 million payouts from the conference.

If Notre Dame decides to move to the Big Ten and the two Pacific Northwest teams are left without an invite, the Pac-12 would feel a little safer. But only for a New York minute. Unless the Pac-12 invites more schools to its conference, the fallout will be catastrophic. The Pacific Northwest teams cannot carry the conference.

A better option would be for the Pac-12 to join the Big 12 and form a super conference, perhaps even adding in the Mountain West. That could alleviate schools’ stability concerns and keep everyone at home.

For awhile.

A chain reaction is inevitable. The Big Ten and SEC will poach more teams—strike that, the best teams— and the demise of the ACC will probably occur sometime after its conference’s grant of rights expire in 2035-36.

Make no mistake, the Pac-12 is on life support right now. The Big 12 is heavily sedated despite adding four new schools to the mix next year. The ACC is in a bind.

Notre Dame’s contract with the ACC created an additional $80 million in revenue for the conference in 2020-21. The ACC will fight like hell to keep Notre Dame tied to its contract but the Fighting Irish can leverage their position to the breaking point, then skip on over to the Big Ten once it irons out its AAU accreditation.

photo courtesy of scienceABC.com

Notre Dame, despite being roundly criticized and mocked for maintaining its independent status in college football, is now an orchestra conductor. It raises its baton and on cue, everyone looks up and waits for their direction.

Notre Dame can write its own ticket to the dance. Everyone wants to date her. Everyone wants to keep her in their arms and promenade her around the dance floor. It’s good to be the Belle of the Ball.

The SEC wanted Oklahoma and Texas. The Big Ten wanted USC and UCLA. Which team is really the team that everyone wants now?

Clemson? Florida State? Miami? Oregon? Washington? Utah? Kansas?

It’s Notre Dame.

And we all are just witnesses, waiting to see who will get on their knees and propose to her.