Big 12: C.J. Spiller
Talk about the perfect time to catch a sportswriter at home. The Heisman Trust must be taking clues from the best telemarketers around.
My Heisman ballot is still sitting in front of me. I have until 5 p.m. this afternoon to make a vote which might be the most difficult in my 12 years as a voter.
After last week’s game at Texas A&M, I was ready to vote Colt McCoy by acclimation. Watching him pass and run through that weak Aggie defense convinced me he was the most worthy candidate.
Even after watching big games by Toby Gerhart, C.J. Spiller and the rest, I was ready to vote for McCoy.
But after watching the games on Saturday, I was glad I held off.
After watching McCoy struggle through his worst game of the season it gave me pause on whether to vote for him. After throwing three interceptions and being sacked nine times, it wasn’t the most robust of all Heisman statements.
Some of the sacks were cheap ones when he was stopped a yard or two behind the line after scrambling. His first interception was tipped and the third interception came after Dejon Gomes wrestled the ball away from the Texas receiver on the play.
Obviously, if there was something that awarded lifetime achievement in college football, McCoy would be an easy choice. He’s the Peyton Manning of this era, a player who has accomplished alot. But the Heisman rewards just this season, and that’s where the rub is.
Ndamukong Suh was a one-man demolition crew in the Big 12 title game, racking up 4.5 sacks and a team-high 12 tackles. He’s been the best defensive player I’ve seen over the course of any Big 12 season. He reminds me of when Reggie White is at the highest of levels.
Gerhart has brought the run back at Stanford in a traditionally pass-heavy conference. I wish I could vote after watching him play Oklahoma’s solid run defense to give me an idea of what he could do against a known commodity in my mind. But he’s had a spectacularly strong season.
Spiller makes me gasp with his talents as a runner, receiver and returner. He makes the Atlantic Coast football games must-see television to me.
And Mark Ingram had a huge game for Alabama in the SEC championship game, helping power the Crimson Tide to the title with his running and catching abilities.
I’ve never waited until the last day like this to make my final pick on the Heisman. But this is undoubtedly the most difficult choice I’ve had.
I’ve got until 5 p.m. ET to make my final decision. I’ll probably use every minute I can.
Keys for Kansas State:
- Better production in the red zone: The Wildcats have got to produce better when they get close to the Nebraska end zone. Their struggles inside the Missouri 20 were the major reason they lost last week, producing only three scores in five trips -- all field goals. The Wildcats can’t afford to settle for field goals against the Cornhuskers in those situations. They will need every point they can muster.
- Big plays on special teams: Brandon Banks is the most prolific kick returner in KSU history, holding the school record for kickoff returns for touchdowns in a game (two), season (four) and career (five). And he’s only one behind the NCAA career record of six kickoff returns for TDs set by C.J. Spiller of Clemson, Anthony Davis of USC and Ashlan Davis of Tulsa. A big play or two in the kicking game could really give the Wildcats a surge. But Banks will be facing one of the nation’s best deep kickoff threats in Nebraska’s Adi Kunalic, who averages 68.4 yards on each kickoff and has produced 23 touchbacks on 56 kickoff attempts.
- Opportunism on defense: Nebraska was susceptible to turnovers earlier in the season, tying the school-record with eight against Iowa State. The Wildcats need to force those kind of plays, something coach Bill Snyder and his staff have made a priority throughout the season. KSU's turnover margin ranked 61st in the nation last season. This season, the Wildcats have a plus-8 margin, which ranks 19th in the nation. They’ll need some opportunism to have success in a hostile environment where they have won only once since 1969.
- Getting the defense involved early: The Cornhuskers can get a big lift from the crowd with a couple of big defensive plays early. The play of the defense was so frustrating in the victory over Kansas that defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh graded them with an F, although they won by 14 points. The Cornhuskers allowed 17 points, which was the second-largest total allowed this season. And they were also blistered for 335 yards, which is far above their season average. They still played well enough to win, but have room for significant improvement against a Kansas State defense that will likely try to set the pace with their grinding running game.
- Keep Zac Lee performing in the passing game: A bigger improvement was seen last week in the Cornhuskers’ offense than in recent weeks because Lee’s passing was a solid addition. Nebraska passed for 196 yards last week against Kansas. In the Cornhuskers’ previous two games combined they had passed for 167 yards. They should be able to have success against a struggling Kansas State secondary that has allowed 240 yards passing per game to rank 90th nationally. The Wildcats have yielded 108 yards in two true Big 12 road games.
- Pelini should be relaxed, but ready: Nebraska is facing the master of North Division coaching in Snyder. But Bo Pelini has done well in his brief career, particularly in late-season games when the Cornhuskers have posted a 7-1 record after Nov. 1. This will be his biggest game as Nebraska’s head coach with all of the divisional title ramifications present. Win this game and the Cornhuskers will be making their first Big 12 title game under him. If they lose, this season would be considered a waste because of the relative weakness in the North Division. Pelini's big-game experience compared to Snyder's makes this a question, but he should be ready for the challenge.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Joe Ganz and Nebraska showed a lot of grit and determination Thursday, storming back from early misfortune to cap the season with triumph.
|Marvin Gentry/US Presswire|
|Joe Ganz overcame injuries to direct Nebraska's final scoring drive.|
Ganz overcame a shaky start to direct Nebraska to a 26-21 victory over Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.
The biggest reason was Ganz, who shook off a gimpy knee in the first half to throw two touchdowns and help Nebraska reclaim the lead in the third quarter. Earlier, Ganz's botched option pitch was returned for a Clemson touchdown and his interception late in first half led to another Tigers score.
But Ganz saved his biggest comeback for last after he appeared to be dazed by another hit early in the fourth quarter.
After sitting on the bench for several minutes, Ganz coolly returned to the game and directed Nebraska's final scoring drive, culminated by Alex Henery's fourth field goal.
Nebraska's defenders did the rest, playing like they deserved the Blackshirts that coach Bo Pelini gave them midway through the season to signify their emergence as a unit.
A punishing Nebraska defensive front dominated the game throughout, notching four sacks and harassing Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper from the opening snap. Nose tackle Ndamukong Suh produced two sacks and blocked a field goal and defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler produced another sack.
The Tigers were presumed to have the advantage in speed and athleticism, but Nebraska limited them to 90 total yards in the second half and shackled Clemson's vaunted running combo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The Tigers also converted only 3 of 16 third-down plays, misfiring on nine straight third-down conversions at one point in the second half.
The biggest series came after Clemson had marched to the Nebraska 10-yard line with less than 2 minutes remaining. Nebraska twice gambled on cornerback blitzes by sophomore Eric Hagg, leading to an incompletion and a pivotal 16-yard sack on second down.
Two incompletions later, the Cornhuskers were jubilant and dancing after Pelini had wrapped up his second bowl victory in two tries.
The late defensive stand was clearly the shining moment for the Big 12 so far in the bowl season. It might not change many attitudes about the conference's overall defensive prowess, but was still good enough to lead to the Nebraska triumph.
The Cornhuskers (9-4) finished the season with a four-game winning streak and won six of their final seven games. They should finish the season ranked in the Top 25 and will likely enter the 2009 season as a preseason favorite in the Big 12 North.
After Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu Jr. struggled early, backup I-back Quentin Castille stepped up to provide rushing consistency that helped wrap up the victory. Castille finished with a game-high 125 rushing yards, including a key 58-yard rumble early in the third quarter.
In the process the Cornhuskers continued a tradition of comebacks in bowl games. It was the seventh time Nebraska has overcome a halftime deficit to win a bowl game. The Cornhuskers' 11-point halftime deficit was the largest the team has ever overcome in the school's 45-game bowl history.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here are my picks for the second round of Big 12 bowl games, beginning with Thursday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl -- Clemson 31, Nebraska 28
Dabo Swinney has energized the Clemson program after taking over as interim coach -- a little like Bo Pelini's job with the Cornhuskers from earlier this season. Both of these teams are playing their best football of the season. But I expect Clemson to beat Nebraska with a taste of its own medicine by controlling the clock thanks to a heavy dose of tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller. If the Tigers can do this and keep quarterback Cullen Harper out of too many long-yardage situations, I expect them to nose past the Cornhuskers and fulfill a little of their early promise expected of them. It just took a different coach to get them there.
AT&T Cotton Bowl -- Texas Tech 34, Mississippi 20
It will be good for the Red Raiders to get back to football after some of the travails of the last several weeks. But Graham Harrell's surgery and Mike Leach's contract squabbles should be long forgotten by the team that many forgot still earned a share of the Big 12 South Division title. Look for a healthy Michael Crabtree to be the difference in this game, if the Red Raiders can keep a salty defensive front from pressuring Harrell. And even if the Rebels get ahead early, remember that Harrell has directed two wild bowl comebacks in the last two seasons, rallying the Red Raiders from a 31-point deficit to win the 2006 Insight Bowl over Minnesota and a 17-point deficit in the final four minutes to direct a comeback in last season's Gator Bowl over Virginia. Houston Nutt has directed a nice renaissance with the Rebels this season, leading them to victories over the last two national championship teams. But the chore of beating Texas Tech will prove too much for them on Friday.
Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- Texas 41, Ohio State 20
After being snubbed for the Big 12 title game, the Longhorns will approach this game with a chip on their shoulder. That's not a pretty proposition for an Ohio State team that has been blown out of its last two BCS bowl games by a combined score of 79-38. The key for the game will be the play of streaky Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the return of tailback Chris Wells. I expect Texas' defensive front keyed by Brian Orakpo and Roy Miller to exert enough pressure to keep Pryor discombobulated most of the game. And if Texas can get receivers Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby open against a tough Ohio State secondary keyed by Malcolm Jenkins, the Longhorns should have the edge on offense, too. This game will be close at the half, before the Longhorns pull away in the second half.
My bowl picks last week: 1-1* (50.0 percent)
My picks for the season: 85-14 (85.9 percent)
* Not including Wednesday's Kansas-Minnesota game