AJ McCarron and Kenjon Barner had different contributions to their team’s BCS-bolstering, road conference wins Saturday night. Both are Heisman Trophy candidates after Week 10. Each is on the opposite spectrum of Heisman voting logic that exposes the inconsistencies of awarding college football’s most prestigious individual honor.
Barner dominated in Oregon’s 62-51 defeat of USC, rushing for 321 yards and five touchdowns. Dr. Saturday’s Graham Watson wrote that Barner made himself a Heisman candidate. That following such a performance marks the first widespread attention Barner’s received for the award is somewhat confounding, given Barner has been the most outstanding player on the nation’s best offense.
Conventional wisdom is that playing for a championship contender ensures that team’s best player (typically on offense) an invitation to New York. To wit, six of the last eight BCS championship games have hosted a Heisman finalist from each participant.
2011, Alabama vs. LSU: Trent Richardson and Tyrann Mathieu
2010, Auburn vs. Oregon: Cam Newton and LaMichael James
2009, Alabama vs. Texas: Mark Ingram and Colt McCoy
2008, Florida vs. Oklahoma: Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford
2005, Texas vs. USC: Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart and Vince Young
2004, Oklahoma vs. USC: Jason White and Matt Leinart
Before Saturday, Barner’s case suffered because Oregon was actually too good. Say the Ducks hadn’t needed Barner to register otherworldly statistics against USC and won in the convincing fashion that has been the Ducks’ M.O. throughout the campaign. Though he came into the Coliseum among the nation’s leading rusher, his statistics weren’t transcendent. That doesn’t make him any less outstanding, or any less vital to the Ducks’ success. Chip Kelly’s system simply doesn’t function without a cornerstone like Barner.
Barner only now commanding this attention shows how stat-enamored some are; well, they are — but they aren’t. McCarron only recently entered into the Heisman conversation because his statistical output was not garish — largely because, like Oregon, Alabama has been so efficient as a team. McCarron is also in a system not conducive to lofty statistical output, and a system that could probably function with a different quarterback behind center.
There’s a reason a Nick Saban-coached quarterback has never been in the Heisman conversation. McCarron’s candidacy only began recently, and more as a byproduct of the aforementioned mindset that championship caliber teams must be represented than statistics, save his impressive streak without an interception.
McCarron was a default candidate, mostly because Eddie Lacy and TJ Yeldon have shared carries and limited each other’s individual production. The stout LSU defense shut down McCarron, forcing him into his worst performance in almost a year — save the final drive, that celebrated “Heisman moment.”
The truth is, McCarron did not have a Heisman caliber performance. His leadership on the final possession led Alabama to victory, but Yeldon rushed a screen pass into the end zone. If anything, McCarron’s moment as Yeldon’s moment.
Eliminating Alabama players from the conversation because the team is so effective is unfair as Barner’s previous lack of attention. I just believe the attention given to the Tide is misplaced. McCarron has been perfectly consistent, Saturday night notwithstanding. Saban could replace McCarron in his offense and likely not miss a beat, but that’s not the case with offensive lineman Barrett Jones.
Jones is a cornerstone to Alabama’s scheme, with tangible results. I’ve been advocating his inclusion in the Heisman conversation for awhile now, but after seeing McCarron-for-Heisman rhetoric following an underwhelming performance, my Jones stance bears repeating. He’s a proven leader, and the stats-obsessed can glean tangible results from his place in the offense.
Moreover, the game-winning touchdown that may or may not be McCarron’s Heisman moment? That was Jones’ brainchild.
An offensive lineman has not historically gained traction in the Heisman race, but maintaining the status quo because hive-mind precedent dictates it so is inexcusable in this day and age. Last December, I wrote that Robert Griffin III’s candidacy was built on social media. While it’s much easier for a quarterback to build interest, Griffin proved that voters are capable of deviating from tradition. Recognizing the non-skill position players, or those who are vital cogs to their teams without accruing historic stats, is the next step to making the Heisman a wholly MVP/MOP award.
HAS THE TIDE SHIFTED IN LOS ANGELES?
We all know the ad an overzealous supporter purchased after UCLA hired Rick Neuheisel that erroneously declared the competition gap between Los Angeles-area rivals UCLA and USC over. Had the financier of said ill fated campaign just waited four years, he might be vindicated.
UCLA overtook sole possession of No. 1 in the Pac-12 South with its thrashing of Arizona coinciding with USC’s loss to Oregon. The Bruins remained perfect against divisional competition — they’d beaten all of Utah, Arizona State, and Colorado previously — with just one to play. But that one is the biggie.
The Victory Bell has called Westwood home just once in the 21st century, after UCLA dominated the Crosstown Showdown through the ’90s. USC monopolizing the series was just part of the Trojans’ overall dominance both in the Pac-12 and college football. USC occupied a place in the national landscape UCLA has desperately wanted to reclaim, and a shift in that direction just might be underway.
Of all the knocks on Neuheisel’s time there, he recruited well. We’re seeing the manifestation of that now under Jim Mora and his staff. Jonathan Franklin is the most notable from this talent-rich classes, and is breaking out at a level that deserves Heisman consideration. He torched Arizona for three touchdowns and 162 yards, setting the tone with a 37-yard score on the first possession.
Only Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson and Kenjon Barner have been more prolific among the nation’s running backs than Franklin. He’s flourishing under Noel Mazzone’s system, and if he can attack the USC defense similarly to Barner in Week 10, Franklin will be in the national consciousness.
Last year’s 50-0 debacle hasn’t been forgotten, rest assured. As UCLA erases misfires of recent years — like smashing Arizona’s five-year win streak in that series — all leads up to the rivalry match-up. A Bruin win sets an interesting tone for the coming years. The worst of USC’s NCAA sanctions has yet to set in, though this year the reduction of scholarships is evident in the Trojans’ lack of depth.
USC will continue to land elite recruits; it will just land fewer than UCLA. That could go a long way in establishing a new era in the rivalry.
LEHIGH RALLY EXTENDS LONGEST REGULAR SEASON D-I WIN STREAK
The longest regular season win streak in college football was perilously close to ending when Lehigh surrendered 21 third quarter points to one-win Holy Cross. With both seeding and pride at stake, Lehigh rallied with 13 fourth quarter points — the final of which came on Mike Colvin’s touchdown pass to All-America wide receiver Ryan Spadola with just two minutes remaining.
Lehigh is the sole unbeaten left in the FCS, and hasn’t lost any regular season games since an overtime decision to New Hampshire on Sept. 10, 2011. That’s 18 straight now for the Mountain Hawks, who also extended an impressive Patriot League win streak. Coincidentally, Lehigh’s last conference loss came to the same Holy Cross program that threatened the Mountain Hawks on Saturday — that loss was on Nov. 7, 2009.
- Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville
The sophomore quarterback continues to power along undefeated Louisville, on Saturday lighting up Temple for five touchdowns and 324 yards passing. Bridgewater is unlikely to generate Heisman buzz, but he’s in just his second year. His college football career’s future is very, very bright. His present is already looking great.
- Ryan Griffin, Tulane
Tulane dropped a heartbreaking 49-47 loss to Rice, which would have been the Green Wave’s third Conference USA win in its last four tries. That’s remarkable progression for first year head coach Curtis Johnson’s program, which languished among the very dregs of college football. Though quarterback Ryan Griffin’s two-point conversion attempt that would have forced overtime fell incomplete, the Green Wave senior was central to Tulane even having that chance. He threw three of his four touchdown passes in the second half and finished with 476 yards.
- San Diego State
The Boise State of 2012 is not quite at the same level as Bronco teams from 2008-2011, nevertheless came into Saturday’s Mountain West tilt with San Diego State harboring realistic BCS bowl aspirations. SDSU didn’t just deny Boise State a possibility at crashing the top tier of bowl games, but also put the Broncos on the outside-looking-in for the Mountain West title.
With the tiebreaker en tow, San Diego State can accomplish something this year that even the Marshall Faulk era Aztecs failed to do: win a conference championship. Top 25 wins have been rare for this program — a tweeter pointed to a 1977 defeat of Florida State as being the milestone for San Diego State — but in the years since, Saturday’s victory on the Smurf Turf is a decided high point.
- Texas Defense
Manny Diaz’s unit has been roundly criticized throughout 2012, and justifiably so. But on Saturday in a much needed win, the Longhorn defense met its potential in holding Texas Tech to 22 points. In particular, the Longhorn rush defense met the challenge for the first time in Big 12 play by limiting Tech to just four yards per carry. Texas also held the Red Raider offense out of the end zone on all but two drives.