Commentary

Heisman much more than a 'moment'

Originally Published: October 29, 2013
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

The human polls love the BMOC, but the computers not so much. Apparently we have SOP issues (Strength of Paragraphs).

PREGAME SPEECH

The next person who lectures me about the importance of a "Heisman Moment," I'm going to go Bo Pelini on them.

There is no such thing. It's a fabrication, much like the idea that Nick Saban and Miss Terry are going to bolt Alabama for Austin, Texas. You know, because that way Saban can coach Texas and then take the family on a bike ride in the Hill Country with Lance Armstrong.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesJohnny Manziel took home the 2012 Heisman Trophy.

Anyway, Johnny Manziel passed or rushed in 635 of Texas A&M's 1,025 plays last season. He accounted for 5,116 yards of A&M's 7,261 total offense total. But his 2012 "Heisman Moment," the play that supposedly helped clinch the trophy for him, came during the Nov. 10 upset at No. 1 Bama, when Manziel eluded the rush, bobbled the ball, scrambled to his left like his compression shorts were on fire, and then threw across his body to a wide-open Ryan Swope in the end zone for a 10-yard TD?

Don't get me wrong: It was a jaw-dropping, instinctive, quintessential Johnny Football play. Just listen to the call by CBS's Verne Lundquist: "Got him … No, they didn't … Oh, my gracious! How about that!"

Heisman voters swooned. He won the trophy less than a month later and did so with ease.

I voted for Manziel, but not because of that play. As cool as that play was, it happened during the middle of the first quarter and covered less than a dozen yards. And the truth is, Manziel's stats that day weren't record-book quality (253 passing yards, 92 rushing yards).

Plus, Bama still went on to win the SEC West, beat Georgia in the SEC championship game and win the BCS National Championship. So Johnny Football got the statuette, but the Tide got the confetti shower.

Manziel didn't win the Heisman because of one brilliant moment in early November, but because of dozens and dozens of them in September, October and all through November. To insist that the Heisman is his because of the spectacularness of one play -- a 10-yard TD pass -- is to cheapen what Manziel did during the width and breadth of the entire 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
AP Photo/Patrick Green/CSMJohnny Manziel left an impression on Bama despite losing, as the Aggies posted 42 points.

I guarantee you that SMU, Louisiana Tech, Arkansas, Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri thought he had some Heisman moments against them. Oklahoma, which Manziel cut up like beef brisket in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, can confirm their assessments.

This season, A&M didn't beat No. 1 Bama. Manziel didn't have his "Heisman Moment." (Though, his wild scramble and jump-ball completion in the second quarter was a gas to watch.) And yet, he still threw for 464 yards and five touchdowns, ran for another 98 yards and put up more points against Bama in one game (42) than the Tide have given up in their other seven games (36 combined points).

Saban was 61 when he started the game, 161 when he shook A&M coach Kevin Sumlin's hand after the close Bama victory. How about that for a Heisman moment?

You can make an easy and compelling argument that Manziel is having a better season in 2013 than he did at this same point in 2012. Actually, it's not an argument, it's fact -- he's doing more with less.

But he doesn't have that defining "Moment." And he doesn't need one.

The same goes for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Sure, the Ducks are unbeaten, lead the nation in Most Contrails Produced, and get everybody's best shot.

But Mariota hasn't matched "moments" with 2012 Manziel or with 2013 Jameis Winston, the Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback who had signature and singular plays against Boston College and Clemson.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty ImagesMarcus Mariota's had a consistent run of excellence.

So what? Mariota is averaging more than 10 yards per completion, nearly 10 yards per rush and hasn't thrown an interception since last November. He needs a "Moment" like Obamacare needs another computer glitch.

And likewise for Bama's AJ McCarron. At what point do we simply appreciate his performances for what they are: nearly flawless, controlled, in perfect sync with an Alabama offense that doesn't try to run 600 plays in less than 3 minutes. Efficiency can be beautiful, too.

By the way, I'm not discounting the power of Winston's performances, or of those moments. But when it comes time to fill out my Heisman ballot, I'm going to judge Manziel, Mariota, Winston, McCarron, Baylor's Bryce Petty, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Fresno State's Derek Carr, and all the rest of them, by the body of their work, not by one play.

If it's a coin flip, OK, we'll talk. But it almost always isn't.

FIRST QUARTER

Seriously? People are making a deal -- small, medium and large -- about Manziel saying he'd like to party with Rob Gronkowski, Charlie Sheen and Tiger Woods?

What'd you want him to say in the scoreboard video which, according to Texas A&M, was done by 12th Man Productions and was reviewed for content by the school's game operations team? This … ?

Guest questioner: "If you could invite three celebrities, living or dead, over to a party, who would they be?"

Manziel: "I don't believe in partying, but if my parents asked me to do so, I'd invite my pastor, my calculus tutor and the elderly woman down the street who takes care of stray cats."

The Aggies quarterback has said and done his share of knucklehead things, but this wasn't one of them. First of all, if one of his A&M teammates had given the same answer (and other Aggies were featured in the video), nobody would have said a peep. Or they would have laughed.

But since Manziel said what he said, it somehow becomes "news."

It was a silly scoreboard video. He's in college. He was having some fun with a fun question. That's it.

And anyway, I can't quibble with his choices of Sheen, Gronk and TW.

SECOND QUARTER

In: The chances of Alabama, Oregon and Florida State finishing the regular season undefeated. According to ESPN researcher extraordinaire Chris Fallica, Alabama has a 66.2 percent chance to win its remaining regular-season games, followed by Florida State (63.2 percent) and Oregon (55.1 percent). And Fallica's number crunching shows that FSU (54.7 percent) actually has a better chance of entering the bowls undefeated than Bama (54.3 percent). Oregon is at 45.5 percent. The conference title game opponents are based on the highest teams in the standings.

Out: Ohio State's chances of finishing the regular season unbeaten. Of the top four teams in the BCS standings, the Buckeyes had the lowest probability of surviving the regular season without a loss (48.4 percent) and entering the bowl season without a loss (26.1 percent). Fallica also calculates that there's a 10.3 percent chance that all four teams are undefeated on Championship Saturday, Dec. 7.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
AP Photo/The Roanoke Times/Matt GentryDavid Cutcliffe pointed Duke past Virginia Tech.

In: Cutcliffeville? Duke upset Virginia Tech, making David Cutcliffe's team bowl eligible for a second consecutive year and giving the Blue Devils their first win against a ranked team on the road since 1971.

Out: Logic. Duke beat Va. Tech despite quarterback Anthony Boone completing just seven passes (11, if you count his four interceptions) and none in the second half … converting zero third-down plays … running 30 fewer plays than the Hokies … having the ball just 20:33 compared to 39:27 for Va. Tech … losing its best player on defense (cornerback Ross Cockrell) for most of the second half because of an injury.

In: Oregon State's unis. If only the Beavs had played as good as they looked.

Out: It might be Nebraska's Pelini, whose team lost to a Minnesota program that hadn't beaten the Cornhuskers since 1960. Nebraska entered the game ranked No. 24 in the AP poll, but it didn't leave it that way.

In: Storming the field. That's what Minnesota's fans did after the win. And good for Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill, who is on indefinite medical leave because of epileptic seizures. Kill spoke to his team before the game and at halftime, prompting Gophers senior safety Brock Vereen to tell the AP: "The way that [Kill] can inspire us without even being down there, it's unbelievable."

Out: Bobby Petrino Fever! Western Kentucky has lost its last two games and is 1-3 in the Sun Belt Conference standings.

In: Overtimes. South Carolina and Fresno State needed them.

Out: Mistake-free football. Duke and Va. Tech combined for eight interceptions. What has happened to the Hokies' Logan Thomas? For the season, he has nine TD passes and 10 INTs.

[+] EnlargeJordan Hall
AP Photo/Paul VernonJordan Hall and the Buckeyes rolled up 686 total yards and 63 points on the Nittany Lions.

In: Ohio State's offense.

Out: Penn State's defense.

In: Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch. Threw for four TDs, ran for one and caught one in win against Eastern Michigan. A week earlier, he rushed for an FBS quarterback record of 316 yards.

Out: Mizzou mojo. You just can't blow a 17-point fourth-quarter lead.

In: Fresno State wide receiver Davante Adams. In the past three games, he has 36 catches for 493 yards and nine touchdowns. His 13 TD receptions are tied for first in the FBS. And by the way, Fresno hasn't opened a season 7-0 since 1991.

Out: Any and all attempts to put a smiley face on the winless seasons: Georgia State, UConn, Southern Mississippi, Hawaii and Miami (Ohio).

HALFTIME SPEECH

Florida State hasn't started a season 7-0 since 1999, which is also the last time the Seminoles won a national championship. Miami hasn't started 7-0 since 2003, which is the same season the Hurricanes beat FSU twice -- once in October, and later in the Orange Bowl.

Well, they're both unbeaten. Both in contention for a national championship (FSU, more than Miami). The rivalry has teeth again.

Of course, it would be more fun if Miami's players popped off like they did in the good old days. Instead, they're pretending that facing the No. 3 Seminoles is like facing Florida Atlantic.

"Nobody's actually talking about Florida State," Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley told reporters after Saturday's narrow win against Wake Forest. "Like we say, we just take it as another opportunity, just another game."

Memo to Coley: Everybody is going to be talking about Florida State … and this upcoming game. Including me.

Which is why there's this video link.

THIRD QUARTER

There are only three spaces on the official Heisman ballot for names.

So if I had to fill it out right now, it would read:

1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon. There was a ball knocked out of his hands for one fumble, and a low dribble snap that resulted in another turnover. And, no, Mariota didn't fill up the stat sheet against UCLA.

But here's what he did do: He went another game without throwing an interception (UCLA's Brett Hundley threw two). He kept his calm, and his Oregon teammates kept theirs. He impressed the Bruins' defense with his speed. He completed 21 of 28 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown. He got the win.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Phil SearsJameis Winston has had plenty to smile about in lopsided wins over NC State and Clemson.

2. A tie between Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.

Coaches crack me up. A&M's Kevin Sumlin knew Manziel, who was nursing a dinged-up shoulder, was going to play against Vandy. Manziel knew he was going to play. Even Reveille knew Manziel was going to play.

Yet, Manziel's playing status wasn't made official until just before kickoff. So he goes for 300-plus passing yards and four TDs and afterward said … he was always going to play.

The Aggies have the same record as they did last year at this time. The difference is that Manziel is basically carrying A&M on his shoulder pads and that he couldn't beat Bama all by himself. BMOC doesn't penalize Johnny Football for that.

Winston's game against NC State was such a laugher (FSU led 35-0 at the end of the first quarter), that he could have watched most of the second half with former Noles coach Bobby Bowden in a stadium suite. Jimbo Fisher pulled Winston from the game after the first series of the third quarter. By then, Winston had thrown for 292 yards and three touchdowns.

4. Bryce Petty, Baylor. Petty's Heisman clock could really start ticking if he puts up Kansas numbers (430 passing yards, four TDs in all) against OU during the Thursday night game Nov. 7.

5. AJ McCarron, Alabama. McCarron threw for 275 yards and two TDs in the blowout of Tennessee, but it could have been 475 yards had Saban wanted to pad his QB's stats.

(In consideration: Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, Oregon State's Sean Mannion, Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Ohio State's Braxton Miller.)

FOURTH QUARTER

Here's the weirdness of college football:

Earlier this month -- Oct. 3, to be exact -- it was almost assumed that Texas' Mack Brown was Dead Bevo Walking, and that a guy such as, say, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, would be a logical candidate to replace him.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesMack Brown has his Horns 4-0 in the Big 12 after a rough nonconference start to the season.

Texas was 3-2, but could have been 2-3 if not for an Act of God non-fumble, non-call in the Iowa State game. And the Longhorns had to play OU next, a game they would sure lose, right?

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald's team was 4-0, feeling good about itself and getting ready to play Ohio State in Evanston, Ill. Northwestern was the feel-good story and Texas was the program in turmoil.

Since then, the Wildcats have lost four consecutive games and are the only 0-4 team in the conference. And with their upcoming schedule (at Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State and at Illinois), a bowl game isn't such a gimme anymore.

Compare that to Texas, which beat OU and just held TCU to seven points in another win. And the Longhorns' next two games are home against Kansas and at West Virginia. In other words, Texas could be 6-0 in the conference and 7-2 overall when it plays Oklahoma State Nov. 16.

Needless to say, nobody is dropping Fitzgerald's name for the Texas job opening anymore. That's partly because there shouldn't be an opening if Brown keeps winning games.

Give Brown credit for somehow turning a toxic situation into something that smells like fresh lilacs. He tossed then-defensive coordinator Manny Diaz out of the program and then stood defiant to the critics who questioned his leadership and decision-making.

Has Brown saved his job? Who knows? It's Texas -- anything is possible (with the exception of Nick Saban coming there). The Longhorns have that Nov. 16 home game against the Cowboys, then have a 12-day gap before they face Texas Tech in Austin. Then comes the regular-season finale at Baylor.

It could come down to those mid-to-late November games in Austin. It could come to the Baylor game. It could come down to the football politics of Texas.

Whatever you think of Brown, you have to say this much for him: He said he was going to fix the program and so far, he's done exactly that.

FIFTH QUARTER

From the home office in Wheaton, Ill., comes this week's version of a four-team BCS playoff format.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
AP Photo/Dave MartinNick Saban has the Crimson Tide cruising again as the calendar turns to November.

No. 1 seed Alabama vs. No. 4 seed Ohio State.

The Tide lost starting strong safety Vinnie Sunseri to a season-ending knee injury last week, so his replacement, sophomore Landon Collins, comes in this week and records six tackles and a pick-six against Tennessee. This is what you call roster depth.

Anyway, Bama, which swaps places with Oregon in the weekly BMOC poll, continues to evolve into a championship-quality team. Saban wouldn't have said that earlier in the season -- and he probably wouldn't say it now (at least, not out loud), but it's true.

The Tide don't play again until the Nov. 9 home game against LSU.

Meanwhile, Ohio State rushed for 408 yards (408!) as the Buckeyes handed Penn State its worst loss in 114 years. I still have questions about Ohio State's defense, but zero concerns about Urban Meyer's offense and Braxton Miller's ability to run it, especially against a Penn State defense devoid of speed and playmakers.

No. 2 seed Oregon vs. No. 3 seed Florida State.

The Ducks didn't play particularly well against a better-than-you-think UCLA team -- and they still shut out the Bruins in the second half and won by 28. Oregon has flaws, but not many of them.

UCLA tried to shorten the game and pound at Oregon with 52 rushes for 219 yards. The Ducks said, "OK, we'll run it right back at you." And they did: 53 rushes, 325 yards.

Stanford, which faces Oregon at The Farm on Nov. 7, will try the same sort of thing.

As for Florida State, it probably is more 2B than a 3-seed. Maybe Miami can beat the Noles this week, but I doubt it. In Tallahassee? Against Jimbo Fisher, who is 3-0 against the Canes? Then again, Miami has won two of the past three games at Doak Campbell Stadium.

On the bubble:

[+] EnlargeKevin Hogan
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan and the Cardinal are headed toward a showdown with Oregon.

5. Stanford: The Cardinal are 98th in passing, which probably isn't a good thing when you play Oregon.

But Stanford remembers last season, when it came to Eugene, Ore., in mid-November and upset the then-No. 2-ranked Ducks. Kevin Hogan completed 25 of 36 passes for 211 yards and the Cardinal rushed for 200 yards. Stanford also kept the ball more than 14 minutes longer than Oregon.

Thing is, Oregon remembers the game too. And in two of Stanford's past four games, Hogan has thrown for 100 yards or less.

6. Baylor: The Bears' next game is Nov. 7 against Oklahoma. But here's something that will give the OU coaching staff the heebie-jeebies: Baylor is ranked in the top 10 in passing offense and rushing offense. And congrats: BU's No. 5 ranking in the AP poll is its highest since 1953.

7. Auburn: Alabama's toughest game isn't going to be that Nov. 9 game against LSU, but the Nov. 30 game at Auburn.

8. Miami: If the Hurricanes had to choose between beating Florida State or egging the NCAA headquarters, I still think FSU is the pick. Somehow The U keeps winning games. Will the Cardiac Cane streak continue this week?

9. Clemson: After a slow start against Maryland, the Tigers actually looked like the Tigers again.

10. Missouri:  Mizzou is No. 10 because somebody has to be. In review, the Tigers blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead (on Gamecocks drives of 65, 69 and 63 yards), missed a 24-yard field goal in the second overtime, and did all of this at home. Missouri went from all but clinching the SEC East to now having to sweat out the rest of the schedule (Tennessee, at Kentucky, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M).

Close, but not quite there: LSU, UCF, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, South Carolina.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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