It’s enthralling that there is a major individual award of such high stature among the 129 competing teams at the highest level of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision ( FBS), namely the Heisman Trophy. (Editor’s note: Coastal Carolina jumps from the FCS to the FBS in 2017 to become the 130th team at that level. That’s an easy flight to Myrtle Beach when we plan our game to see them compete at that level for the first time). There are so many teams and players that will never compete directly against one another, and yet the pundits, who basically focus generally on one team each during the season select supposedly the best of the best despite the limited number of players they’ve seen perform. ( Based on talent, stats, leadership, off-field accomplishments, and what we saw amongst 27 FBS teams in 20 different games we saw in person last season, we still say Navy QB Keenan McReynolds should have won The Heisman in 2015.) In addition, we think there is too much emphasis on just the quarterback and running back positions and not enough focus for the skills of other players on the field of play. As far as Heisman Watch 2016 goes, we at CollegeFootballfan.com got early seats to see some of the best perform already.
Our solution to this is to take the winners of the awards for the best player at each position. Examples: WR for the Biletnikoff award, QB for Davey O’Brien Award, Outland Trophy for best interior lineman, LB for Butkus Award, etc. and select from among the best of all the position players. Every position has a “watch list” any how. Certainly no one will heed these words in honor of tradition which is what I usually prefer in most cases (like conference alignments), but in the case of selecting one best player from among so many skilled players, I’m willing to break from tradition. The best blockers and the best tacklers, the building blocks of football, are rarely valued among the primary skills of the gridiron. It’s time to start evaluating each skill necessary for what makes a team player successful and determine who brings the most talent from among all the positions that give his team dominance from the talent he brings from his primary skill set. There is plenty of film the pundits can analyze from among the best player at each position to make the assessment, and in most cases it will likely still be the top RB or QB, maybe an end, but once in a while they may come up with that defensive stalwart or “pancaker” who led the way consistently for his team’s successful running game. The analysis would be assessed better than by just watching game scoring highlights of QBs and RBs. In any case, the process is definitely not changing this year, so we’ll carry on with traditional means though we think we have an advantage in this assessment compared to the voters who watch TV highlights every weekend.
At collegefootballfan.com, we’ve had a head start in the evaluation of talent for the 2016 Heisman selection process. Though it’s about selecting the best player in 2016, we’ve been very lucky in seeing many of this year’s candidates play last season, and in some cases, the season before. Among “Five Favorites” noted in The Sporting News preseason publication, and “three more” identified as outsiders, we’ve attended games played by six already and will add two more major candidates during the upcoming season. We will see a third play for the third time in three seasons. We’ve seen many of the” darkhorses” play as well who are at least worth a mention. In general, we’ve gotten to see a lot of the top talent returning to play college football this season despite all the early entries into the 2016 draft last spring.
Here’s our “spin” and experiences observing these talented players for this year’s Heisman competition (calling it the Heisman “race” seems to give an inside track to the players who only carry the football):
The six “Favorites”
Christian McCaffery, RB Stanford, SO – an early favorite after a sensational freshman year running for 2,019 yards and receiving for 645. We get to see him play this year at Notre Dame and against big rival Cal in November.
Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, JR – threw for 4,014 yards and 35 TDs and rushed for 1,105 yards and 12 TDs last season leading the Tigers into the CFP Championship game losing to Alabama, 45-40. We saw him lead Clemson by Oklahoma in the CFP semi-final in Miami Lakes with a 37-17 win. Watson completed 16 passes for 187 yards and a TD and carried 24 times for 145 yards a TD in a dominant second half.
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU, JR – In the 2014 American Home Mortgage Music City Bowl, LSU fell to Notre Dame 31-28 on a FG on the last play of the game. Fournette, a freshman, was voted game MVP for carrying 11 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns and returning a kickoff 100 yards for another. He got off to a hot start last year before only 31 yards on 19 carries a year ago against Alabama. Improving his performance against The Tide in Tuscaloosa on November 5 could put him back on the Heisman track this season.
Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma – He completed 26 of 41 passes for 311 yards, one TD and two INTs in the Sooner’s 37-17 loss in the CFP semi-final in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. It was a close contest until the Tigers dominated the second half. A showdown against Ohio State at home on September 10 could be a Heisman elimination game for the losing QB in this one.
Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State, JR – In 2014, we saw Cook shine with 23 carries for 122 yards at Syracuse as a freshman in a 38-20 win as he capped off the FSU score with a seven-yard carry for the Noles final TD. Last season, he tallied 82 yards on 17 carries and scored again against Georgia Tech in our first trip to Bobby Dodd Stadium, but his performance was overshadowed by Tech’s last score on the final play of the game for a 22-16 upset victory in an exciting finish. Cook supposedly has a great line up front to open up the holes this year for what should mean a big season for him and for FSU.
J.T Barrett, QB Ohio State, SR – We will see him return for his final season at QB for OSU in a prime time game at 8 pm on October 22 at a White-out in Happy Valley against Penn State . Last season, we saw him lead the Buckeyes to a 42-13 win over Michigan in the Big House. He ran 19 times for 133 yards and three TDs, and he threw for 113 yards and another score in the win over their despised and improved archrival under equally despised first-year HC Jim Harbaugh. In 2014, we saw his debut as a starter replacing injured Heisman candidate Braxton Miller against Navy in Baltimore. In the 34-17 win, it was a sign of things to come as he passed for 226 yards and two TDs while running for 50 yards in an impressive career start that eventually took Ohio State to a national championship. A second one this year along with an unblemished record could possibly assure him of this year’s Heisman.
Greg Ward, QB, Houston – We will see him play Navy at Annapolis on October 8.
Luke Falk, QB Washington State – Completed 47 of 66 passes for 478 yards and four TDs in last season’s opener in a 37-34 win over Rutgers whose secondary was depleted because of suspensions for criminal activities.
DeShone Kizer, QB Notre Dame – Picked up the pieces last season after starter Malik Zaire went down with an injury in the second game of the season. Against Temple he led the Irish to a winning TD pass with 2:09 left to finish off a 76-yard drive for a hard-fought 24-20 win. He carried his offense with 23 for 36 passing for 299 yards and that lone TD while rushing 17 times for 143 yards and two scores.
Malik Zaire, QB Notre Dame – HC Brian Kelly will have to decide who starts for the Irish this year as Zaire returns from his injury and Kizer returns after leading ND to a 10-3 mark a year ago. At the American Home Mortgage Music City Bowl two years ago, Zaire threw 12 of 15 complete and duplicated his totals passing and running with 96 yards each on his arm and with his legs while tallying a TD through the air and one on the ground in the 31-28 win.
Samaje Perrine, RB Oklahoma – Nothing special when we saw him play Clemson last season in their CFP loss; 58 yards on 15 caries and one TD.
Wayne Gallman, RB Clemson – Very special when we saw him play Oklahoma last season in their CFP win; 150 yards on 26 carries and two TDs.
Elijah Hood, RB North Carolina – 13 carries for 118 yards and no TDs against Baylor in the Russell athletic Bowl. Had some good runs.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR USC – Three receptions for 66 yards and a TD against Colorado last season.
Gabe Marks, WR Washington State – 14 catches for 146 yards and a TD versus Rutgers last year.
Adoree’ Jackson, DB/WR USC – Showed versatility on defense blocking a FG attempt when CU trailed 20-17 to kill the Buffs momentum in last season on our first trip to Folsom Field.
Jabrill Peppers, DB Michigan – 25 kick returns, 18 carries, and eight receptions last season; but against Ohio State, they made the entire Michigan D looked like mince meat.
Our Honorable Mention Player list based on who we’ve seen to keep an eye on this year:
Jalen Hurd, RB Tennessee; P.J. Walker, QB Temple; L.J. Scott, RB Michigan State; Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State; Jahad Thomas, RB Temple; Daniel Gonzalez, LB Navy; Ben Boulware, LB Clemson; Ray Lawry, RB Old Dominion; Justin Thomas QB, Georgia Tech; Jeremy Timpf, LB Army; Andrew King LB, Army; Donnel Pumphrey RB, San Diego State; Marlon Mack RB, South Florida; Rodney Adams, WR South Florida; Raekwon McMillan, LB Ohio State; Jacobi Owens, RB Air Force