Why Ingram won't win back-to-back Heismans; more Mailbag
History shows voters hold returning Heisman winners to a higher standard
An extremely important, overlooked angle when discussing BCS vs. playoff
Plus: Favorite offenses and defenses, Vols' ticket woes, soccer talk and more
For a few precious hours last Saturday, it felt like the college football season had begun two months early. Or at least it did in my Brooklyn neighborhood, where fans in U.S. soccer jerseys spilled on to the sidewalks outside of several overflowing sports bars. The atmosphere inside my chosen viewing locale, Downtown Bar and Grill, was every bit as intense and electric for USA-Ghana as a September game day in Ann Arbor or Tuscaloosa.
But alas, once that second Ghana goal went through the net, a sense of utter deflation took over the room. It wasn't just that our dream of a deep World Cup run from the Americans was dead; suddenly a whole bunch of bandwagon soccer fans like me had to ask themselves: "NOW what are we going to do for the next two months?"*
(* -- Personally, I protected myself somewhat from this occurrence by adopting Argentina as my "backup" team prior to the tourney, and Diego and the boys have not disappointed. It's not too late to hop on board.)
The answer: Start talking about college football. Sept. 2 still seems an eternity away, but hey, my Phil Steele preview arrived in the mail last week and Washington's starting quarterback visited our offices this week, so let's start filling the void, shall we?
And let's start with that aforementioned barnstorming quarterback.
Hey Stewart, I've got a preseason question for you. Washington recently launched an East Coast campaign to put a face with a name -- Jake Locker -- that is starting to get wide recognition as a Heisman contender. With the obvious exception of Mark Ingram, who do you see as the other early contenders? And do you think someone from the often forgotten Pacific Northwest ever has a real shot at getting a Heisman, even with the skill set that Locker has?
-- Richard Gau, Gilbert, Ariz.
First off, give credit to Washington for its creative Locker media push. (He spent Monday and Tuesday visiting ESPN's campus and meeting with various East Coast-based media, including Sports Illustrated.) A lot of people outside of the Pac-10 don't know much about the guy because his team has been so far off the national radar. Now, Heisman voters aren't sheep. They're not going to vote for a guy solely because they met him in June. But much like the famous Joey Harrington billboard in 2001, the trip got Locker in the news, at least for a couple of days, which created awareness. Now he and his team have to go deliver on the field.
At the same time, I don't think the Pacific Northwest teams are forgotten anymore. Oregon, for one, gets plenty of coverage. Dennis Dixon launched himself into the thick of the Heisman race three years ago with almost no prior name recognition, and Jeremiah Masoli could have done the same this year had he not blown it for himself. Jacquizz Rodgers is pretty close to a household name as well.
Meanwhile, the one guy I'm fairly certain won't win the Heisman is Alabama's Mark Ingram. As we've seen with recent winners like Jason White, Matt Leinart and Tim Tebow, voters hold those players to an even higher standard the following year. To pull an Archie Griffin today, someone would likely have to put together an absolutely monstrous year, which for Ingram might mean rushing for 2,000-plus yards. With Alabama likely to open up its passing game a bit more and Trent Richardson sharing carries in the backfield, I don't see that happening.
The guys I think you'll see mentioned most frequently as candidates to start the year will be (in no particular order): Ingram, Locker, Rodgers, Terrelle Pryor, Kellen Moore, Ryan Mallett, Noel Devine, LaMichael James, Ryan Williams, Christian Ponder, Jacory Harris and Case Keenum. These are guys who fit the traditional Heisman mold: established quarterbacks or running backs with built-in name recognition who are likely to put up big numbers.
Some guys who would jump up the pecking order pretty quickly if they and their teams get off to hot starts: Matt Barkley, Andrew Luck, Landry Jones, Garrett Gilbert, John Brantley, John Clay, Dion Lewis, Evan Royster, A.J. Green, DeMarco Murray, Jonathan Baldwin, Michael Floyd, Jerrod Johnson, Robert Griffin, Josh Nesbitt and Julio Jones.
The other thing we know for certain is that come December, there will be at least one or two finalists, and perhaps even a winner, who weren't on anybody's radar coming into the season. Go back to this time last year and you won't find Ingram, Toby Gerhart or Ndamukong Suh on too many Heisman Watch lists. Who will those guys be this year? Like I said, we don't know. It would be impossible to predict. They may include someone who's not even currently projected to start for his team. But here are a few under-the-radar possibilities: Arizona running back Nic Grigsby, Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton, and, for this year's Suh, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
I think I learned something new this summer: The big teams don't care if we have a playoff or a BCS or anything else. Whatever happens, they will be fine. It's the lower-level BCS teams -- Iowa State, Washington State, Kansas State, etc. -- that will fight tooth and nail to keep the current system. They have the most to lose if things ever change. Am I right?
-- Mike Nicholas, New Orleans
You are absolutely, 100 percent right, Mike. And in being right, you touch on an extremely important angle that's almost never addressed when discussing BCS vs. a playoff.
I think we can all agree that a playoff, were it to suddenly materialize tomorrow, would please an overwhelming majority of fans. It would also be received quite warmly by Boise State, BYU, TCU and all the other non-AQ schools that feel disenfranchised by the current system. Of course, we also know they're not the ones making that decision. The BCS conferences are.
So ask yourself: Of the 67 schools that control the BCS, how many would actually benefit from a playoff? I.e., how many programs realistically compete on a regular basis for national championships? Ten? Maybe 15? At the very most, 20. But if you're at Michigan State, Ole Miss, Oregon State or any other rank-and-file BCS program, the current system is far preferable. You get to mooch financially off the two or three elite teams in your conference while at the same time competing for more realistic goals (an occasional conference title, decent bowl games) that keep your fans engaged and encouraged.
Reasonable minds may disagree as to whether a playoff would devalue the regular season, but the reality is, a playoff would completely alter fans' standards for success. Just like with any other sport, any season in which your team doesn't qualify for the playoffs would be deemed a failure. Which means, even with a 16-team playoff, roughly 85 percent of the country will be disappointed every season. And if you happen to be a fan of a team that perennially misses the playoff -- which, within some BCS conferences, might be eight out of 12 teams -- it stands to reason that your interest in the sport would wane.
Conference commissioners must look out for the welfare of all their teams, not just the elite ones. They know they'll never have it better than they do with the current system, which creates (mostly) meaningful postseason opportunities -- and thus, maintains seasonlong interest -- for the vast majority of their teams. Playoff or no playoff, Texas will be fine. Texas Tech will not. In fact, in a true March Madness-style playoff, in which every conference gets a berth, it's not inconceivable that Boise State, much like Memphis or Gonzaga in basketball, would become a more lucrative property to television networks than two-thirds of the current BCS-conference members.
So you can guess who's fighting the hardest to keep the current structure intact -- the same type of schools that stood to lose the most had the Pac-16 gone down.
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