Stanford Football: Ronnie Hillman

Stanford mailbag

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
10:00
AM ET
Cal, Oregon, conference realignment and Andrew Luck are the hot topics this week, plus a question about my Heisman ballot.

Eric in Washington D.C. writes: You are wrapping up a very comprehensive grading of the entire team. A Stanford fan can boil this entire season down to two questions: (1) Does Stanford beat Oregon, and (2) Does Stanford beat Cal. Setting the all-important second question aside: Looking at your grade book, if Stanford played Oregon right now, who do you give the nod to?

Kevin Gemmell: Well, we're cutting right to the chase, aren't we? There are two answers to the Oregon question. First, would they beat them if they were playing today? I would probably give the nod to Oregon. Prior to the Shayne Skov injury, I would have said it's a dead heat or maybe even a slight edge to Stanford. But I think Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley will need a few games under their belts as regular starters to get up to speed with the rest of the linebackers. They are fine players, but they'll be seeing a lot more reps, and that will take some adjustment.

Now, fast forward to Nov. 12. Those guys would have played in six games, ample time to get up to speed. Plus, Stanford gets Oregon at home, which certainly makes a big difference. If the rest of the team stays healthy, then by the middle of November I could see Stanford winning that game.

Do they beat Cal? Logic says yes. The Cardinal have the superior team. But sometimes funny things happen during rivalry games -- especially Cal-Stanford games. My gut says yes, but realize if there are national championship implications for Stanford going into that game, nothing would make Cal happier than to crush those hopes.


Ben in San Diego writes: Any chance of Luck coming back next year for his last year of eligibility?

Kevin Gemmell: About as good a chance as me winning a Brad Pitt look-alike contest. But hey, never hurts to dream.


Daryl in Salt Lake City, Utah, writes: They need to get rid of conference affiliations and only invite teams ranked 1-10. If three SEC teams are ranked Top 10 they all get in. If the Big East doesn't have a Top 10 team they get no invite. If each BCS game was a Top 10 matchup I would stop asking for a playoff. The BCS was created to "pit the best teams against the best teams." But when the ACC or Big East don't have good enough teams, give their invite to a team that does deserve it. No more bad teams in the BCS. UConn unranked yet still gets into the BCS while a Top 10 ranked teams gets left out? (What the heck)?

Kevin Gemmell: Daryl, if conference realignment keeps heading toward the four-conference, Super-16 model that we all feel is on the horizon, then a playoff becomes more and more likely. I'd welcome that.

I see both sides of the issue. I too would like to see the best possible matchups and know definitively that we have a national champion. But I think there is something to be said for winning your conference. There should be a reward for that. Which is why personally don't buy into the 1-10 idea. You might have three SEC teams, but only one is a conference champion. Then you run into the chance of teams possibly playing each other three times in a season (regular season, conference championship, postseason). Don't like that idea.

Now, if you're talking about the non-AQ conferences, I think there have only been a couple of teams that could legitimately make the claim that they could have survived a season in an AQ conference and still won -- that's TCU last season and Utah in 2008. But I don't see those teams maintaining that level season after season, which is why they have at-large exemptions on a per-year basis. The system is flawed, but I don't think it's as horrific as some make it out to be.


Chuck in San Diego writes: I saw you took Ronnie Hillman off your Heisman ballot. Is he done?

Kevin Gemmell: I'm afraid so, Chuck. The NFL scouts I talked to over the summer know what kind of player he is. But it's such an uphill battle for mid-major guy like Hillman to get the national recognition. Marcus Lattimore can recover from a two-fumble game and still make a case for the Heisman. Hillman can't. And since this is a Stanford blog, let me say that I expect Luck to have a supurb game this week against an injury-depleted UCLA secondary. His numbers are solid, but there's a good chance they could be bolstered tomorrow.

Heisman ballot, Week 4

September, 27, 2011
9/27/11
4:00
PM ET
A showdown in the Big House ended the hopes of one Heisman dark horse while a Bronco and Bear continue to impress. Here's the results of the ESPN.com poll and how my ballot looked this week.
  1. Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State: Yawn. Another four-touchdown passing day. Yawn, completing 79 percent of his passes. He continually resets the bar every week to the point that we'll consider a three-touchdown game a bad performance.
  2. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford: His team moved up in one poll and down in another during the bye week. I figured I'd split the difference and keep him static.
  3. Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor: His numbers continue to amaze. The 13-to-0 touchdown-interception ratio and 85.4 completion percentage are jaw-dropping. He was 29-of-33 and threw five touchdowns against Rice and he seems to be getting better every week. He's skyrocketed from an early-season anomaly to a legitimate contender.
  4. Marcus Lattimore, running back, South Carolina: Not the best rushing week -- 77 yards and a touchdown. But the 73 yards receiving -- including a 52-yard touchdown showed he's more than a one-trick pony. His breakaway speed on the screen pass was NFL-esque.
  5. Denard Robinson, quarterback, Michigan: He was the best running back on the field in Michigan's win over San Diego State, Brady Hoke's old team. He had 200 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns -- including a ridiculous 53-yard run. He makes it look so easy. Oh yeah, he threw a couple of balls, too.
Dropped
  • Ronnie Hillman, running back, San Diego State: Despite the 100-yard game, you can't fumble twice in possibly the most hyped game in school history. Mid-major guys have zero room for errors in Heisman runs. Denard Robinson was everything the Aztecs needed Hillman to be on Saturday.

Heisman ballot, Week 3

September, 20, 2011
9/20/11
4:00
PM ET
As expected, there was movement this week -- lots of it -- and my Top 5 looks significantly different than it looked after keeping it the same for the first two weeks. There are a couple of new names on the list, so naturally, a couple fell out. Here's how the poll turned out this week and here's my Top 5.
  1. Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State: Absolutely on fire. He threw for 455 yards and five touchdowns against a team that almost knocked off Ohio State in Columbus. And he did it on the road. Boise has won 40 games under his watch and his deep ball to Tyler Shoemaker displayed what kind of arm strength he has. Might have been the best game of his career.
  2. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford: The numbers don't show it -- 325 yards passing, two touchdowns -- but Luck will be the first to say (and he was, in fact) that he didn't have a great game against Arizona. He threw a few very bad balls and made some bad decisions that almost led to red zone interceptions. That said, he played a much better second half than he did in the first.
  3. Marcus Lattimore, running back, South Carolina: How do you go from not being in the Top 5 to No. 3? Rush for 246 yards and three touchdowns against tough Navy team. That's how. Eat up 6.6 yards per carry, that's how. Take the ball in the fourth quarter and run out the clock for your team. That's how. Lattimore did all of the above and is now the national leader in rushing. His best performance of the season has propelled him right into the conversation.
  4. Ronnie Hillman, running back, San Diego State: I said last week he'll need to rush for 175 plus to get people to notice him. Hope they are watching now. He carried 32 times for 191 yards and four touchdowns against Washington State, snapping SDSU's 19-game losing streak to Pac-12 teams. He averaged 6 yards per carry and had a long of 59. He's 37 yards behind Lattimore for the national lead (with 10 less carries). Put your non-AQ bias aside and realize this guy is something special. Spotlight will be on him this week at Michigan against former coach Brady Hoke.
  5. Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor: I wanted to wait a week before jumping on the RG3 bandwagon. Hope there's still room. He's the total package and 20-of-22 passing (even though it was a shortened game) is nothing short of spectacular. Three touchdowns and 265 yards passing (oh yeah, and 78 yards rushing) in three quarters of ball is awfully impressive.
Dropped
  • Landry Jones, quarterback, Oklahoma: In the Game of Heismans, you're either moving forward or you're moving back. Kudos to Oklahoma for getting a big road win. But this is an individual award, not a team one. And two interceptions to one passing touchdown will drop you from the Top 5.
  • Denard Robinson, quarterback, Michigan: As a passer, he's behind Moore, Luck, Griffin and Jones. As a runner, he's behind Lattimore and Hillman. In total offense, he's still behind Griffin. His greatest strength -- and weakness -- is that he can't be clearly defined.

My Heisman ballot, Week 2

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
4:00
PM ET
I’ve kept my Heisman ballot the same through the second week. But changes will likely be coming once the teams that had byes last week get back on the field.

Here’s the results from this week’s ESPN.com poll in case you missed it.

My ballot:
  1. Andrew Luck, quarterback, Stanford: He had better numbers in Week 2 than he did against San Jose State. He was 20-of-28 for 290 yards and four touchdowns. He did have one interception, but it was a deflection off his receivers hands that dropped into a waiting defender. On the road, across three time zones and in a tougher climate than he’s used to, he looked poised – even when he took more hits than he should have – and was very efficient. Again, he was relieved in the fourth quarter so the numbers would have been higher had he gone the full 60 minutes. From what I've seen through two weeks, he is the best player in college football.
  2. Kellen Moore, quarterback, Boise State: The Broncos were on a bye, so I won’t drop him down because he didn’t play.
  3. Landry Jones, quarterback, Oklahoma: See above.
  4. Denard Robinson, quarterback, Michigan: Four touchdowns, three interceptions, 338 on the air, 108 on the ground and a last-second win over Notre Dame. I don’t know what to make of this guy. But I know I love watching him play. Check out The Heisman Predictor, which has Robinson leading the pack through two weeks. He's still a little too erratic for my tastes to crack him into the top three, but if he keeps having games like he did against Notre Dame, it's going to be hard to keep him out.
  5. Ronnie Hillman, running back, San Diego State: Hillman battled three time zones and immeasurable emotional factors playing at Army on the 9/11 anniversary weekend. He still had 117 rushing yards and two touchdowns and is the No. 2 runner in the country. He hasn't fumbled in 119 carries. But because of the school he plays for and the conference he is in, those numbers won’t be good enough. To get noticed by the country, he’ll need 175-plus every week and needs to be No. 1 in rushing for people to start turning heads. If he does it against Washington State and at Michigan, people will start to notice.
On the rise:
  • Marcus Lattimore, running back, South Carolina: He's on the verge of cracking my top 5. It's almost a dead draw with him and Hillman right now.
  • Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor: He had a lot of hype after the TCU win. But he also had four months to prepare for that game. I’d like to see a couple more games like that one before passing judgment.
  • Russell Wilson, quarterback, Wisconsin: If his completion percentage stays near 80 percent -- look out. This was a nice breakdown of Wilson from ESPN The Magazine's Ryan McGee.
  • Case Keenum, quarterback, Houston: I'm slowly becoming a believer. But not enough yet to put him in the top 5.

Heisman watch Week 1: How I voted

September, 6, 2011
9/06/11
2:00
PM ET
In the interest of full disclosure, each week I'll post my top five Heisman candidates and how I voted in our weekly poll. Make sure you check out the complete results.
  1. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford: He's the front-runner, and it's his to lose. He didn't do anything against San Jose State to really stand out numbers-wise, though there's nothing wrong with two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown in three quarters of play. He was 17-of-26 for 171 yards, and probably would have added to those numbers had he not been spelled in the fourth quarter. I didn't see anything that would cause me to drop him from the top spot.
  2. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State: All this guy does is win. At home. On the road. At neutral sites. Against BCS teams. Against non-BCS teams. Every season, people keep waiting for him to flop and every season he goes out and does what he does best: win.
  3. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: With a talented set of wide receivers around him, he's going to put up the kind of numbers that attract Heisman voters. For example, 375 yards passing. I went back and forth between him and Moore for the No. 2 spot, and probably will all season unless Luck falls or one of them has a monster performance and breaks from the pack.
  4. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan: The most electric player in college football. Excited to see how new offensive coordinator Al Borges -- a steadfast believer in the pro-style offense -- makes use of him. Passing numbers will have to improve for him to really make a stab at the top three.
  5. Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego State: Who? was the response from a colleague when I mentioned my Top 5. My West Coast/San Diego bias is going to come through here, but I don't care. Hillman is the best running back you've never heard of and he might be the best running back in college football. Yeah, I said it. He's Marshall Faulk good. He ran for more yards than any freshman last year and he did it against the likes of Missouri and TCU. Had 191 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. Coming weeks against Michigan and Washington State will be telling.

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