Better to be lucky and good

554994.jpg

Better to be lucky and good

It might actually take some Luck after all.

Andrew Luck, Heisman favorite in August, hoping to seal the deal in November -- well, his fans are hoping, he doesnt seem to be concerned with it -- but all of a sudden the consensus best player in college football might not be the frontrunner for the award given to the best player in college football.

Lucks numbers dont match up with some of the other QB contenders, but you know that. And you know why. And you know it has very little to do with Andrew.

To say his weapons are limited is like saying fast food is bad for you. Everybody accepts it, but few this side of Morgan Spurlock really understand the scope of it. Put Luck in Oklahoma States system or given him Oklahomas pass catchers, and the numbers would be, well, supersized..

HEISMAN WATCH: Meet Robert Griffin III

Stanfords top receiving targets over the last month: Griff Whalen (23 catches), a former walk-on who squeezes every once of ability out of his 6-1, 185-pound frame but possesses zero breakaway ability; Ryan Hewitt (15), a 240-pound H-back; Levine Toilolo (14), a lumbering 6-8 freak of nature; and Coby Fleener (11), a big-play tight end but a tight end nonetheless.

To steal a phrase from a drunken frat boy who probably does not attend Stanford the Cardinal has no RAC.

I dont have any way of checking, but Id venture to guess a substantial portion of Robert Griffin IIIs statistical fortune comes from Kendall Wrights Run After Catch totals. Ditto Brandon Weeden courtesy of Justin Blackmon, and Landry Jones thanks to Ryan Broyles (pre-ACL) and Kenny Stills. Just to scratch the surface.

The majority of Lucks passes that are completed 20 yards downfield result in 20-yard gains. Even his supposed big play guy, Chris Owusu, wasnt living up to that moniker when he was healthy. Owusus 10.7 yards per reception ranks 309th in the nation.

And dont even get me started on the drops. Fleener -- an All-American caliber talent -- had four of them in a recent two-game stretch, including an easy long touchdown grab against Oregon State. Toilolo and freshman Ty Montgomery both dropped surefire scores against Cal. Whats more, half of Lucks eight interceptions this season came on plays where the receiver either blatantly muffed the ball or simply fell down.

Factor in Stanfords power run mentality and it becomes all too obvious that the statistical playing field is far from level.

That said, Ive watched the same games you have. I realize that Andrew has been solid, steady, cool, reliable ... but he hasnt been magical. He hasnt blown us away. He hasnt had his Heisman moment.

Does he deserve the Trophy based on what hes done to this point? Probably not. Griffin and Wisconsins Russell Wilson have a better case, and Alabama running back Trent Richardson might as well.

But theres still time. One game, against a Top-25 team that just happens to have an immense national following, at home, Thanksgiving weekend. Luck can vault himself back into the favorite-status by beating Notre Dame, and beating them with flare. One Heisman moment is all it takes to make this a one-horse race.

Because when all is said and done, I believe the voters -- and the nation, for that matter -- want Luck to win. He is the Golden Boy, he is Peyton 2.0, he is ability meets humility, he is all that is good about college sports.

Furthermore, I would submit that this year -- unlike 2009 -- tie goes to the Cardinal. Remember, the voting system is weighted; three points for a first-place vote, two for a second-place vote, one for a third-place vote. While Luck might not be everybodys No. 1 right now, hes probably still on just about everybodys ballot. Ironically, its the one time all season statistics might work in his favor.

And we all know, a little Luck never hurt anybody.

Jackson, Watson headline five 2016 Heisman finalists

2016-heisman-finalists.jpg
USATSI/AP

Jackson, Watson headline five 2016 Heisman finalists

NEW YORK -- Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is a Heisman Trophy finalist for the second consecutive season, joining Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Oklahoma teammates Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook.

The finalists were announced Monday on ESPN and the award will be presented Saturday in New York.

Watson finished third in last year's voting, won by Alabama running back Derrick Henry. Just like last year, he heads to New York not as the favorite but as the contender coming on strong at the end. Mayfield finished fourth last season, but did not get an invite to Heisman presentation in New York.

Peppers is the first defensive player to be a Heisman finalists since Notre Dame linebacker Manti Teo was a distant runner-up to Johnny Manziel in 2012.

Westbrook and Mayfield are the first teammates to be finalists since Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart from Southern California finished first and third, respectively in 2005.

Finalists are determined by the margins between vote-getters. The ballots of more than 900 voters, which included former Heisman winners, were due Monday.

Watson entered as the preseason favorite in what looked like a strong field of contenders, but Jackson quickly swept past them all to be front-runner. He was brilliant for the first two months of the season and Louisville was looking like a College Football Playoff contender.

It seemed as if Jackson would be a runaway Heisman winner, but the 15th-ranked Cardinals lost their final two games of the season. He was sacked 11 times in a lopsided loss at Houston and he committed four turnovers in a last-second loss against Kentucky.

Watson, meanwhile, has surged since Clemson's only loss to Pitt in mid-November. He also had the benefit of playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference title game last Saturday and took full advantage of the spotlight. Watson threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores in a 42-35 victory against Virginia Tech to seal a spot in the College Football Playoff.

The raw numbers still favor Jackson, who is second in the nation in total yards per game (410.7) and has accounted for 51 touchdowns (21 rushing TDs and 30 TD passes) with 13 turnovers (nine INTs and four lost fumbles) in 12 games. Watson averages 341.8 yards per game and has 43 touchdowns (six rushing and 37 passing) with 15 turnovers (all interceptions) in 13 games.

When the two met on Oct. 1 at Clemson in what was one of the season's most entertaining games, Watson threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns, ran for 91 and was picked off three times. Jackson had 295 yards passing, 162 rushing and accounted for three touchdowns with one interception. Clemson won 42-36.

Mayfield and Westbrook have been a dynamic combination, and late in the season No. 7 Oklahoma started a dual campaign to promote both for the Heisman. Mayfield is on pace to break the NCAA record for passer efficiency rating in a season (197.75). Westbrook has 74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns and has more receptions covering at least 20 yards (26) than any receiver in the country.

Peppers played defense, offense and special teams for Michigan, lining up all over the field.

College football roundup: The case for an eight-team playoff

harbaugh-urban-us.jpg
USATSI

College football roundup: The case for an eight-team playoff

Would eight be better than four?

That was the obvious question after Sunday’s announcement of the final College Football Playoff rankings, which determined the four teams that will compete for the national championship.

The semi-finals will match No. 1 Alabama, the SEC champion, vs. No. 4 Washington, the Pac-12 champ, in the Peach Bowl, and No. 2 Clemson, the ACC champ, vs. No. 3 Ohio State, the Big Ten East Division runner-up, in the Fiesta Bowl.

On the outside looking in are the Big Ten champion, No. 5 Penn State, and the Big 12 champion, No. 7 Oklahoma, as well as No. 6 Michigan, which beat Penn State by 39 points and lost to Ohio State in double overtime, and No. 8 Wisconsin, the Big Ten West champ. 

As a bowl director, I originally was opposed to the playoff, fearing that it would diminish the bowls (which it did) and the regular season (which it didn’t). The playoff has proven to be a huge success, and a boon to the sport. 

But if we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Four teams is better than the old two-team BCS model, but when you have five “power” conferences, one or more champions will be left out of the playoff every year—two were left out this year—and one or more deserving teams won’t get to compete for the title. If you go to an eight-team tourney, each year’s field would feature the five league champs plus the next three highest rated teams. More elite teams would have a chance to grab the brass ring, and there would be less quibbling over who was left out.

Imagine these quarter-final pairings in an eight-team playoff this season:

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 7 Oklahoma
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Michigan
No. 4 Washington vs. No. 5 Penn State

We’re in the third year of a 12-year playoff agreement between the conferences and ESPN. However, the playoff could easily be expanded to include eight teams before the original contract expires. Why? Because the structure is already in place. At present, two semi-final games rotate through six different bowls (the “New Year’s Six"). These same six bowls could host an eight-team playoff—four for the quarter-finals and two for the semis, with the championship game awarded by bid, as it is now. Is it possible the commissioners had expansion in mind when they set up the original six-bowl format? 

Our feeling is that the eight-team playoff will become a reality in 2020, after the first six years of the 12-year deal are concluded. 

Blowout epidemic: Washington’s blowout win over Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game is the latest example of a disturbing trend. Consider the scores of the Pac-12 title game since its inception:  2011–Oregon 49, UCLA 31; 2012–Stanford 27, UCLA 24; 2013–Stanford 38, Arizona State 14; 2014–Oregon 51, Arizona 13; 2015– Stanford 41, USC 22; 2016—Washington 41, Colorado 10. Only one close game in the bunch, and an average victory margin of 22 points. CBS’s Jon Solomon did an analysis that showed the Power Five championship games had an average margin of victory of 17.4 points, and that was before last weekend’s games, which averaged 20.75.

Understandably, with the advent of the playoff, championship games have lost much of their luster. Many fans see these games as a stepping-stone to the playoff and stay home rather than having to travel to two—or possibly three—postseason games to follow their team. The blowouts don’t help. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby recently suggested that if the playoff expands, conference championship games might be one of the casualties.

Neutral sites: Friday night’s Washington-Colorado game also marked the end of the Pac-12’s three-year agreement to play the championship game at neutral-site Levi’s Stadium. Our feeling is that these games should be played on campus, on the home field of the highest ranked team. The first three Pac-12 games followed that format. The 2011 game at Autzen Stadium in Eugene was a sellout (59,376) and the 2013 game at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe fell just short (69,535). (The 2012 game at Stanford didn’t do well because it was held in a driving rain and the two participants had played each other the week before).

By contrast, the three games at Levi’s have drawn crowds of 45,618, 58,476 and 47,118 in a venue that seats 68,500. The conference likes the certainty of knowing in advance where the game will be played, and that reasoning may work in the football-crazy SEC, but not on the West Coast. Instead of 47,118 in Santa Clara, imagine last Friday’s game being played in an on-campus environment before 70,000 in Seattle. 

Blame Game: Michigan might well be one of the best four teams in the country, and Jim Harbaugh is a great coach, but Harbaugh’s attempt to blame the officiating for his team’s double overtime loss to Ohio State deserved a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. The officials didn’t throw a pick-six or mishandle a snap from center on the one-yard line—the two plays that cost Michigan the game. Yet after Harbaugh’s rant, the officials received numerous death threats from rabid Michigan fans. There’s no excuse for that type of behavior, or for Harbaugh’s sideline antics and post-game diatribe. 

Dr. Pepper: What’s happened to the “Dr. Pepper Tuition Giveaway” at the various conference championship games? Contestants used to throw the football toward the target like a quarterback attempting a forward pass. Now they all use a chest pass, as in basketball. While this technique might be more accurate from short distances, it makes a mockery of a competition at a football game.

Foster Farms Bowl: The Bay Area’s bowl, now in its 15th year, will be played at Levi’s Stadium on Dec. 28 and match Utah from the Pac-12 against Indiana from the Big Ten. This will be the Hoosiers first appearance in the game. The Utes played in the bowl in 2005 at AT&T Park, when it was known as the Emerald Bowl, and upset Georgia Tech 38-10. 

Stanford to the Sun: Despite the presence of one of the most exciting players in college football, Christian McCaffrey, a higher ranking and a superior record (9-3), No. 18 Stanford was bypassed by both the Holiday Bowl (which selected unranked, 8-4 Washington State) and the hometown Foster Farms Bowl (which took No. 19, 8-4 Utah), and fell to the Sun Bowl in El Paso. The Holiday apparently felt that WSU would bring more fans to San Diego. The folks in Santa Clara went with Utah because Stanford has played in Levi’s Stadium in each of the past two seasons, beating Maryland in the Foster Farms Bowl in ’14 and USC for the Pac-12 championship last year. That’s understandable for the bowls, but disappointing for Stanford and its fans, who might choose the family room couch over a vacation in beautiful El Paso.

Rose Bowl criteria: There was some confusion as to why USC was picked over Colorado to be the Pac-12’s representative. If the league champ (in this case Washington) goes to the playoff, then the Rose Bowl takes "the next best team" in the conference. That could be interpreted to mean the next best team in the standings, which would be Colorado, winner of the South Division with one regular-season loss in league play. Or it could mean the highest rated team by the CFP Selection Committee. The Rose Bowl used the later criteria and took USC, rated 9th to Colorado’s 10th. 

Heisman Watch: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the favorite for most of the season, stumbled a bit in his last two games. But Jackson still had the best season of any player in college football, passing for 3,390 yards and 30 touchdowns, and rushing for 1,538 yards and another 21 scores. No other player came close. Washington quarterback Jake Browning had an outside chance to overtake Jackson with a stellar performance in the Pac-12 championship, but Browning had a subpar outing in a game dominated by the Huskies’ running backs and secondary. In all likelihood, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who had a brilliant game in the ACC championship, but was plagued by turnovers early in the season, will be the runner up.