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Stewart Mandel college.football.mailbag

Rock the vote

First Heisman ballot is in hand, but actually picking a winner a tough task

Posted: Wednesday December 1, 2004 12:03PM; Updated: Saturday December 4, 2004 1:49AM
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  Jason White
Should Jason White win another Heisman? Let Stewart know what you think.
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

I don't get to the office all that often these days -- the beauty of this job is you can do it in your bathrobe while eating oatmeal and keeping one eye on The Price is Right -- so when I do, there's usually a stack of mail awaiting. Sitting on top of the stack this week was a rather official-looking package from the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche.

My initial thought: Uh-oh, I'm being audited. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so liberal with those expense reports. But then I remembered that Deloitte is the company that tabulates the votes for the Heisman Trophy, and this was indeed my first official ballot.

As I've said in the past, I think the Heisman has lost a lot of its prestige in recent years, but I still consider it an honor to be part of the process. And with that honor comes responsibility to do a thorough job.

It would be easy for me to sit here on my soapbox and tell you what I look for in a Heisman candidate, one whom I, the supposed expert, think should win. To be honest, though, I have no idea what I'm going to do. I'm sure longtime voters have an established criteria and perhaps already have come to a conclusion. Me? I'm doing this for the first time, and there still are about eight players who could make it into my three.

So, I'm seeking your help in making my decision. I'm curious who the choice of the people would be. Share with me your opinion as to who most deserves this year's trophy, and I'll share with you my thought process and what I wound up doing next week.

Just a few requests:

•  Due to the anticipated volume of e-mails, please try to contain your argument to one, short paragraph (about 50 words). Anything much longer, I'll probably have to skip over.

•  Keep it smart. I'm looking for more convincing cases than, "Vote for Jason White because he's such a nice guy."

•  And, finally, while I won't necessarily discourage fans of the teams involved (Oklahoma, USC, etc.) to chime in, I'm most interested in hearing from neutral observers. Just because your team doesn't have a candidate this year doesn't mean you don't have an opinion.

Speaking of opinions ...

Notre Dame is a joke. Firing Tyrone Willingham after three seasons? The kids he recruited didn't even get a chance to play. Notre Dame needs to wake up a get a clue. You can't play all the top teams wherever and whenever and expect to win.
-- Steven, Toronto

What do you think about Notre Dame firing Willingham after just three years? He deserved at least one or two more. He had leftovers from Bob Davie's system, and he never had a team of his own. He has great recruits coming in next year and would have turned it around. I personally think Notre Dame made a dumb decision. What do you think?
-- Chris, U.S. Naval Base, Italy

I know you'll probably get a lot of e-mails pointing out his record and the blowout loses, but Notre Dame should have let Willingham bring in the players to run his system. We saw what he could do in his first season, and now we'll never know what might have been.
-- William Rainey, Little Rock, Ark.

Isn't it remarkable the vast difference in opinion out there about Notre Dame's decision between that of the general public and actual fans of the Irish?

In reading e-mails and columnists around the country, there seems to be a sense of bewilderment how any school, not to mention Notre Dame, could fire a guy two years after a 10-win debut season. A coach who so clearly was handcuffed by an empty cupboard and brutal scheduling and whose team, while admittedly still mediocre, showed clear signs of progress this season, beating two top-10 teams.

Reading other e-mails and a couple Notre Dame message boards, however, and you see how many Irish fans generally despised the man, were embarrassed by the team's performance and, prior to Tuesday's announcement, considered it nothing short of outrageous that he still had a job. I even received an e-mail Tuesday morning from a group of ND students who were planning "an anti-administration rally, because they are blindly supporting Tyrone Willingham." In a climate like that, it's hard to imagine he even would have wanted to come back for a fourth season.

The only thing that remotely justifies the decision is the chance to get Urban Meyer. This is a guy who any down-on-its-luck program in the country would want, and of all those programs, Meyer likely wants to be at Notre Dame. So it's hard to fault them for going after him. Everything else about it is downright sickening. How would you like to be offered a managerial job where the description is, "You have three years to take our company to a level it hasn't seen in over a decade, and which no one knows for sure is even possible anymore, or you're fired."

Meanwhile, we're now down to just two African-American head coaches in Division I-A (out of 117 schools), and as long as schools keep yanking coaches after three years (Stanford, Indiana and Florida did the same this season) it's going to be hard to get that number to go up. I wish Notre Dame well in its continued effort to return to dominance, and I certainly think they could be getting a great coach in Meyer.

But if they think he'll just wave a magic wand and the Irish will start winning national championships, they're delusional. Next season's schedule opens with road games against Pittsburgh and Michigan and also includes USC, Tennessee and Purdue. News flash, people: Knute Rockne would be lucky to go 9-2.

Stewart, here's a twist on the normal BCS "top 3" question. If Auburn thumps Miami or Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl and No. 2 Oklahoma upsets No. 1 USC in the Orange, do you think the AP writers will vote Auburn No. 1 (not only because the Tigers would deserve it, but also to stick it to the BCS once again)?
-- Will Brinkley, Auburn, Ala.

Not likely. The only reason there was a split championship last season was that USC was No. 1 going into the bowls, not No. 3. Think about it: If Oklahoma were to end what would at that point be a 22-game USC winning streak, while Auburn beat a two-loss team, it'd be awfully hard for any voter to justify jumping the Tigers over the Sooners. Auburn's only hope is for one of the other two to lose this weekend.

How's this for the worst BCS nightmare?

1. Cal chokes against Southern Miss as the Golden Eagles punish the Bears for their spurious "hurricane" rescheduling.

2. UCLA rises up and upsets USC to redeem its program.

3. Oklahoma blows it again in the Big 12 Championship game to Colorado.

4. Tennessee, embarrassed by almost losing to the two cellar teams of the SEC, lays out Auburn in the SEC Championship Game.</b>

That leaves us with ... Utah and Texas in the Orange?

Just remember, there is one more weekend of play. Ask Boston College about "guaranteed" slots. And, no, I was not intoxicated at the time of this writing.
-- David White, Clodine, Texas

No worries, David. As long as you don't drive afterward, feel free to consume whatever you like while writing in to the Mailbag. Some people say it makes them more lucid.

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Stewart Mandel will answer questions from SI.com readers each week in his mailbag.
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Your scenario is extremely far-fetched, but it brings up an important point: Nothing is set in stone. People seem to forget we entered the final weekend of 1998, the first year of the BCS, with this exact same situation, and two of the three undefeated teams, UCLA and Kansas State, lost to considerable underdogs, allowing one-loss Florida State to slide into the Fiesta Bowl. Anything could happen in a rivalry game like USC-UCLA. And Tennessee recently has seemed to save its best performances  for when it's the underdog.

However, in the scenario you lay out you're assuming all four teams would fall below the current No. 5 and 6 teams. I find that highly unlikely. Texas would probably be able to move into the title game, but not Utah. My guess is it would be USC-Texas. Just a guess.

Now that East Carolina has Terry Holland as athletic director, can it land a "big-name" coach to resurrect its program?
-- M. LeDoyen, Charleston, S.C.

I'll tell you who East Carolina should hire -- Steve Logan. He never should have been let go in the first place! My buddy Pete Thamel at the New York Times affectionately refers to Logan as a "Legend of Thursday Night," alongside guys such as Sonny Lubick and Jeff Bower. I guarantee Logan would have the Pirates right back where they were in the David Garrard-Jamie Wilson days. But, then again, after the raw deal Logan got maybe he doesn't want to go back.

But to answer your question, yes, I think Holland can land a big name, relatively speaking. Butch Davis isn't coming to Greenville. Some more realistic possibilities: former Georgia coach Jim Donnan, former N.C. State coaches Dick Sheridan and Mike O'Cain and Virginia offensive coordinator Ron Prince.

This must be some amazing coincidence! Last week, while messing around with NCAA Football 2005, I discovered that a one-point safety existed. My brother and I discussed how it could possibly happen and wondered if it has ever happened ... and, sure enough, it happened on Friday in the Texas-Texas A&M game!
-- Tom Sullivan, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

As I've said before, that game is often a more realistic depiction of college football than college football itself. For instance, I remember being disgusted a few years ago when I got fired from my dynasty team for not winning a conference championship within three years. I think we now know that would be a distinct possibility.

ESPN calls it a "raging debate." You call it the "Tigers-Trojans-Sooners debate." But you know what? Everywhere I go, nobody brings it up in normal conversation when talking about college football.
-- Rob Bartlett, Miami, Okla.

Well, of course not -- you're in Oklahoma!

Where was Georgia on your list of 2004's disappointing teams? All summer, we here in Atlanta heard non-stop blabber about how this is "their year." To cap off such hype with losses in your two biggest games and a trip to the Outback Bowl is what I'd deem a "disappointment".
-- Chris Creel, Atlanta

I'm sure it is, but I'd hardly say a team that's in the top 10 and is playing in a New Year's Day bowl belongs on the same list with teams that finished 5-6 and 4-7. If anything, I think the Dawgs may have overachieved the past couple years when you consider the level of injuries they've endured, this year losing starting tailback Kregg Lumpkin and star linebacker Tony Taylor before they even played a game. I certainly hope their fans appreciate that.

I'm sure I could figure it out, but assuming Hawaii wins Saturday, what will be the lone eligible not going to a bowl game?
-- Steven Smith, Jacksonville, Fla.

My guess is Akron. Like the Zips, MAC rival Marshall went 6-5. But even though Akron beat the Thundering Herd, Marshall already has secured the Fort Worth Bowl bid. Akron pretty much sealed its fate when it drew 17,410 to its home finale, a game in which it was playing for the division championship. However, there's been a last-minute wrinkle in the bowl scamper. In the wake of Willingham's firing, Notre Dame's players still are deciding whether to play in the Insight Bowl. If the Irish decline, some bowl will have no choice but to take Akron. And if Hawaii loses to Michigan State? It's doomsday, baby.

I looked at your preseason picks, particularly in the SEC. Boy are you an idiot.
-- Randy Huggins, Springfield, Ill.

Thank you, sir. May I please have another?

Stewart, when is the last time you had your eyes checked?
-- Robert Senn, Hallandalle Beach, Fla.

Hah, hah, hah. An obvious reference to my statement last week that the only criteria I was using in ranking Auburn No. 1 was what I've seen with my own eyes.

Sorry to disappoint you, Robert, but I had LASIK surgery in August (no more glasses) and can now see 20/15 in one eye, 20/20 in the other. I'm seeing through walls. In fact, not only can I tell you how fast Carnell Williams is, I am happy to report that all his internal organs are working properly.

Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.

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