Ness Heisman Update: December 5th
by Larry Ness
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I've always loved the Heisman, as in spite of all its warts and blemishes, it remains the most recognized and arguably the most-cherished individual award in any sport. I began doing a weekly Heisman top-10 on my nationally-syndicated radio show ("Bally's Sports Central") in the early to mid-90s and have continued it on the internet since. My weekly top-10 was available right here every week, with the first one appearing back on September 1.
The 2008 Heisman will be presented this Saturday at the Sports Museum of America in downtown New York, which is a first-time venue for this award. Heisman organizers generally invite three to five players to New York (based on vote totals) and on Wednesday announced that last year's winner, Florida's Tim Tebow, will be joined by Sam Bradford from Oklahoma and Colt McCoy from Texas. Tebow was the first sophomore to win the Heisman last year and is trying to become the second player to win it twice, joining Archie Griffin of Ohio State, who in 1974 as a junior and again in 1975 as a senior.
QBs have dominated the award this decade, as every winner since 2000 has played that position, save Reggie Bush of USC, who won in 2005. The last time all the Heisman finalists were QBs was 2001, when Nebraska's Eric Crouch won the award and QBs held the first six spots. Instead of listing a complete top-10 (as I usually do), my final Heisman poll will include just four players, starting with Graham Harrell (who surprisingly didn't get a New York invite) and working my way to my No. 1 choice, Letterman-style.
4) GRAHAM HARRELL (Texas Tech): Like his predecessors at Texas Tech, Harrell has lived with the claim that's it's Mike Leach's "system" not the QB, which is the star of the Texas Tech offense. Graham has worked hard to overcome that stigma and there should be little doubt he did just that this season, but he still fell short of even getting an invite to New York, as one of this year's finalists. In fairness to Harrell that speaks as much to the superb play of the three QBs who are heading to New York, more than it does to Harrell's 2008 season. After all, Harrell completed 406 of 568 passes (71.5 percent) for 4,474 yards with 41 TDs and 7 INTs. He added six rushing TDs and finished with a QB rating of 163.0 (9th-best). He has 32 career 300-yard games with 20 of those games being of the 400-yard variety. His 309-yard effort in the season-finale against Baylor gives him 15,429 career passing yards, the second-most yards all-time (Timmy Chang of Hawaii is the all-time leader with 17,072 yards). The two TD passes against the Bears give him 130 for his career, second to only Colt Brennan (131) on the all-time list. Tech plays Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl on January 2 and a win would give this year's team 12 wins, a single-season record for the school. While Harrell will leave the college ranks without a Heisman (he surely never figured that was "in the cards" when he arrived in Lubbock), he should conclude his college career as the all-time leader in TD passes (he needs at least two vs. Ole Miss) and with only Timmy Chang of Hawaii having passed for more career yards. Those are two pretty nice 'parting gifts.'
3) COLT MCCOY (Texas): As the wonderful Maxwell Smart used to say, "Missed it by that much!" McCoy bested Bradford in the Texas/Oklahoma game on October 11 plus he and the Longhorns came within a dropped interception by Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon of besting Tech and Harrell on November 1. However, Gideon did drop what would have been a game-ending interception on a tipped ball and one play later, Harrell threw that famous TD pass to Crabtree. In the Oklahoma game, McCoy led the Longhorns on four straight second-half scoring drives (three TDs and one FG), as Texas rallied from a 28-20 deficit to a 45-35 win. At Lubbock on Nov 1, his team trailed 22-3 in the late second quarter and 29-13 with less than 30 seconds to go in the third quarter but Texas came back behind McCoy to lead 33-32 before that ill-fated dropped interception and subsequent Harrell-to-Crabtree TD. Sports truly is a "game of inches" and I'm not sure I'm being entirely fair to McCoy by placing him at No. 3 but someone has to be No. 3, something he and his Longhorn teammates have to live with this year. However, let me note that McCoy will enter Texas' Fiesta Bowl meeting with Ohio State (Jan 5) having completed 291 of his 375 passes. That's 77.6 percent, a figure which would break the current single-season completion percentage of 73.6 percent set by Daunte Culpepper of Central Florida in the late 90s. He's passed for 3,445 yards with 32 TDs and just seven INTs, while his QB rating of 179.2 ranks him third in the nation. McCoy is also the Longhorns' leading rusher this year, gaining 576 yards on 128 carries (4.5 YPC) and scoring 10 TDs. He'll enter the Fiesta Bowl having thrown at least one TD pass in 16th consecutive games and his five 300-yard passing games this year, topped the total number of times he had surpassed that 300-yard mark in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined (had four 300-yard games in his first two years at Texas). Reports are that he will return to Texas next season and that means he will continue to extend the school records he already holds. McCoy's 3,445 passing yards this season broke Major Applewhite's record for the most yards in one season in school history. His 32 TD passes in one season is also a single-season record at Texas, one he already owned when he threw 29 as a freshman (2006). The win against A&M in the regular season-finale was McCoy's 31st win as a starter for the Longhorns, tying him with Vince Young for the most by a Texas QB. McCoy passed Vince Young for first place on Texas' all-time list of TDs responsible for (passing, rushing, receiving) more than a month ago and with his two TD passes and two rushing against the Aggies, his career mark is now up to 99 (Young had 81 and former Heisman-winner Ricky Williams had 76). I hate to disagree with Three Dog Night but when it comes to the BCS, Three, not One, is the loneliest number.
2) TIM TEBOW (Florida): The Gators suffered what looked to be a devastating 31-30 loss at home to Ole Miss (Florida missed an extra-point) on September 27. Devastating in terms of Florida's national title hopes and to Tebow's chances of joining Archie Griffin as just the Heisman's second repeat-winner. While Tebow had a season-high 319 yards passing in the Ole Miss game plus two rushing TDs, he had thrown for just six TDs and rushed for only 125 yards (2.6 YPC) over Florida's first four games. Meanwhile, this year's great contingent of prolific Big 12 QBs was piling up incredible numbers. However, Tebow has lived up to his post-game promise (after the Ole Miss contest), in leading the Gators to nine straight wins (8-0 ATS),by a combined score of 445-117. The final win in that nine-game streak came in Florida's 31-20 win over then-No. 1 (and undefeated) Alabama in the SEC championship game. Tebow completed 14-of-22 passes for 216 yards with three TDs and no INTs, while adding 57 yards rushing on 17 carries (he did not score a rushing TD). Tebow had 22 TD passes (just two INTs) plus added 10 rushing TDs in Florida's nine-game winning streak. His final regular season stats look like this, 174-of-268 for 64.9 percent for 2,515 yards with 28 TDs and only two INTs (his QB rating of 176.7 ranks 5th). Florida and Oklahoma are set to play in Miami on January 8 for the BCS national championship but the Heisman needs to be decided before that showdown. No one expected Tebow to match last year's numbers (3,286 yards passing with 32 TDs / 895 yards rushing with 23 TDs) but he's fallen way short of them. I've noted before in this space that Harrell (406), Bradford (302) and McCoy (291) all have more completions this year, than Tebow has attempts (268)! The numbers just don't favor him but he's a tremendous kid and his personality (along with his obvious football talents), will sway many voters. Also, it's very likely that Bradford and McCoy will take votes from each other in the Midwest and Southwest, while Tebow should carry the South region handily. I'm one who believes that career accomplishments should count for something in each year's Heisman race but being a terrific person, while admirable, should count for nothing. Tebow's numbers just don't come close to Bradford's this year and on balance, Bradford, not Tebow, should be this year's winner. However, there is a 'love affair' with this kid (which I totally understand) that gives me a feeling Tebow can (will?) win on Saturday night in New York. Tebow's been near-perfect in Florida's nine-game winning streak and his terrific 4th quarter play, in which he led the Gators on two TD drives to overcame a 20-17 deficit, was quite special. However, it should also be noted that the victory over Alabama was the first time in his career that Tebow had led his team to a win after the Gators had trailed in the second half (Gators had been 0-5 prior to that). John Elway he is not. I'm giving Tebow extra-credit for last year's Heisman win and will move him over McCoy but I will not place him No. 1 on my ballot (so the speak, as I don't have one).
1) SAM BRADFORD (Oklahoma): I believe Sam Bradford should win this year's Heisman, although I'm not convinced he will. As I just mentioned in the Tebow write-up, Bradford and McCoy could split votes and if you don't think I'm right on this issue, consider this. The AP voted McCoy as the Big 12's offensive player-of-the-year, while naming Bradford as its first-team All-Big 8 QB (figure that one out!). Also, Tebow's off-the-field persona, is hard to match. Anyway, Bradford capped a memorable regular season by completing 34-of-49 passes for 384 yards with two TDs and no INTs, as Oklahoma cruised to a 62-21 win over Missouri in the Big 12 championship game. Much has been made of Florida's nine-game winning streak since the Ole Miss loss, but how about Oklahoma's seven-game winning streak since the Texas loss? Bradford topped 300 yards in six of those seven games, throwing 25 TD passes against just one INT, plus added three rushing TDs. The Sooners averaged 59.9 PPG during those seven games, becoming the first team in CFB history to top 60 points in five straight games (the fianl games of that streak). The Sooners have scored 702 points (54.0 per), the first team in modern history to crack the 700-point plateau. Bradford had a terrific freshman year in 2007, throwing for 3,121 yards (69.5 percent completions) with 36 TDs and eight INTs. His 36 TD passes were a new NCAA freshman single-season record and his QB rating of 176.52 led the nation. His current QB rating of 186.3 again leads the nation and he's already easily surpassed last year's TD pass (48) and passing yards (4,464) totals, with his BCS title game showdown against Tebow and Florida still left to be played. Bradford has 11, 300-yard passing games this season, breaking the single-season school record set by Josh Heupel (eight) in 1999 and 13 in his career (two have been 400-plus games). His 48 TD passes for the year extends the school record he already owns, surpassing the 40 Jason White threw in his 2003 Heisman season. How dominant have Bradford's first two seasons really been? His two TD passes against Missouri extends his total to 84 through his sophomore season, which is the all-time record for any QB through his first two seasons (freshman and sophomore years). Who is second on that list? Try Rex Grossman, who had 55 TD passes in his first two years with the Gators. Either Bradford or Tebow will win the Heisman, meaning one or the other will have a chance to become just the seventh Heisman winner to also win a national championship in the same season. The current list includes, Matt Leinart of USC (2004), Danny Wuerffel of Florida (1966), Charlie Ward of Florida State (1993), John Lujack Notre of Dame (1947), Angelo Bertelli of Notre Dame (1943) and Davey O'Brien of TCU (1938). My choice for the Heisman is Bradford, who would join fellow Sooners Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969), Billy Sims (1978) and Jason White (2003). However, Tim Tebow's 'shadow' is looming very large. We'll find out just before 9:00 ET this coming Saturday on ESPN.
Stay tuned to ESPN right after that, as the network is presenting "The Greatest Game Ever," the 1958 NFL Championship Game between the Colts and Giants. Here's a free winner, lay the 3 1/2-points with the Colts.
Good luck, Larry
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