The futility of Heisman watches

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I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Everything about it I enjoy, right down to the made for TV cheesiness that ESPN has mastered, with Chris Fowler doing his best Jim Nance at Augusta impression, and the little interview stations in different corners of the Downtown Athletic Club (or wherever the award ceremony has been moved to). If there’s a trophy that’s a better individual prize in all of sports, I’m game for a debate.

That said, there’s nothing I dislike more than the run-up to the actual award. I’ve got no problem with people like the Heisman Pundit, who does his best Politico impression to predict the award’s outcome, but when power brokers like ESPN and Sports Illustrated dedicate weekly power polls to predict the winner, it starts to feel like the tail is wagging the dog.

For much of the preseason, it’s been preordained that the award was a three-man race between Colt McCoy, last year’s winner Sam Bradford, and previous winner Tim Tebow. With Bradford down with a shoulder injury, Tebow being somewhat mortal and now recently concussed, and McCoy already having thrown five picks in four games, the season-long scripted kudos-fest seems to have unraveled a bit.

But don’t tell that to ESPN.

Tebow still sits high above his Heisman throne, even after playing good-to-pretty good football. Yet to see how ESPN’s Tim Griffin (whose Big 12 blog I enjoy and read daily) puts it, they’re already polishing up a second little stiff-armer for Tebow. Ranked #1 in ESPN’s “Heisman Watch, presented by Nissan,” here’s what Griffin had to say about Tebow’s performance Saturday:

1. Tim Tebow, Florida: He still has had the most inspirational season of any leader, and if he
rebounds from the concussion he suffered against Kentucky in time for
the LSU game in two weeks, it will only add to his mystique. His
statistics vs. Kentucky were pedestrian by his high standards before
his injury — 123 yards rushing, two TDs, 103 passing yards, one TD —
but he will be primed for a big comeback when he returns to the lineup.

Meanwhile, down at #5, he has this to say about Jimmy Clausen’s game at Purdue:

5. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame: Back-to-back fourth-quarter comebacks on an injured foot has a certain
sense of drama, particularly when it’s being directed by a Notre Dame
quarterback. Clausen’s 2-yard, fourth-down TD pass to Kyle Rudolph with 25 seconds left showed his moxie in the victory over Purdue. His
statistics were mediocre (171 passing yards, one TD pass, minus-13
yards rushing) but his comeback late in the game on one healthy foot
was supreme.

I’m already on the record as saying this watch list is silly, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it right. There are plenty of superlatives that Tim Tebow already deserves, but let’s dial back the “inspirational season rhetoric.” Was he inspirational in his two performances against cupcakes Charleston Southern and Troy? Was he inspirational still playing with the game well in hand when he was drilled by a defensive end coming around the corner? I’m a Tebow fan, but we’ve yet to see a truly Heisman-esque performance this year.

Likewise, it feels like Griffin is trying to support an argument instead of fill out a ballot when he places Clausen at fifth. Back-to-back fourth quarter comebacks have a sense of drama regardless of where the football is played, not just for Notre Dame. And Clausen’s “mediocre stats” were more a product of him sitting out almost half the football game, not because of anything he did. Even mentioning Clausen’s minus 13 rushing yards is confusing, since when did getting sacked on a bum wheel turn into a negative for a dropback passer like Clausen?

The point of this isn’t to rail on Griffin, a very good journalist most likely assigned to a water-cooler topic as part of a synergistic plan to take advantage of ESPN’s broadcast rights to the Heisman telecast. (Editors Note: Be sure to check out the on-air plugs for the Inside the Irish live blog during the NBC broadcast of Notre Dame games!) The point is that too often we go into the season trying to support a thesis, not trying to decide who the best player in the country is.

There are plenty of “intricacies” to Heisman balloting that already influence voters minds. The last thing we need is season long politicking by the network that broadcasts the ceremony, even if it is just for the sake of additional content.

UPDATE:

In the spirit of full disclosure, it seems like ESPN isn’t the only one that does something like this…  

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.