The Heisman Trophy is college football's most prestigious trophy, so the editors here at Athlon take the voting for the 13.5-inch, 25-pound award very seriously. Each week, the ballots are collected and tallied from inside the walls of Athlon Sports. Each voter may vote for five players (unlike the official three) and a first place vote is worth 5 points, a second is worth 4 points so and so forth down to the fifth place vote earning 1 point.
1. Cameron Newton, QB, Auburn (35 pts, 7 first place votes)
The burly passer from Auburn jumped from 3rd to 1st in our voting after sweeping the top spot on every ballot. The Tigers' signal caller is still leading the SEC in rushing and passer efficiency. His defense isn't helping him win games but is certanly helping his statistics. Newton finished with 140 yards passing, 188 yards rushing and 4 total TDs in the 65-43 win over Arkansas this weekend. In the fourth quarter, he has been virtually unstoppable this fall.
What's Next: The Tigers of Auburn are hosting the Tigers of Baton Rouge this weekend. In what is normally a defensive struggle, Newton will face by far the best defense he has faced all season when LSU comes to the Loveliest Village on the Plains. Can he hold the top spot in the voting after dealing with the unbeaten Bayou Bengals?
2. LaMichael James, RB, Oregon (20 pts, 0 FPV)
There is very little to write about James here seeing as how he had an off week. But since both Michigan and Ohio State lost, James (while sitting at home on his couch) stepped into the void left by the dual-threat Big Ten passers. He was on all but one ballot (more on that later) and has posted some electric numbers in big situations. There is still plenty of work left for him to do, since he took this No. 2 spot basically by default. How about this: he didn't miss any time due to injury.
What's Next: I highlighted the difficult Oregon stretch run last week and it begins this Saturday against maybe the easiest of the remaining opponents, the UCLA Bruins. James carried 20 times for 152 yards in Westwood a season ago.
3. Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State (19 pts, 0 FPV)
Moore played only two quarters more than James and actually four less minutes than Denard Robinson. The Boise State passer did not see a single snap in the second half of the 48-0 blowout of poor San Jose State. Moore was incredibly efficient, completing 14 of 16 passes for 231 yards and two scores. It was 41-0 at halftime and his services were not needed (keep an eye on Joe Southwick, though, you fantasy owners in keeper leagues).
What's Next: Technically, Boise State is on bye this week. They will play Louisiana Tech on Tuesday, October 26th - which is officially part of Week 9. It can be argued that Moore has played the biggest in the biggest moments (see Va. Tech and Oregon State games) and has few chances (Nevada, Fresno State) to post those big moments like the other players on this list have.
4. Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State (11 pts, 0 FPV)
Mr. Pryor, meet Mr. Watt. The massive Wisconsin defensive end sacked Pryor twice and helped keep the Buckeye's dynamic passer to the worst game of his season. A 3.1 rushing clip (18 for 56) was hurt by three Badger sacks (for 21 yards). He nearly led them on the big comeback after the defense allowed 21 unanswered points, but it was too little too late.
What's Next: Pryor gets to exercise some demons this weekend when the OSU takes on Purdue in the Shoe. After losing to them last season and coming off a crushing defeat to UW, I expect the Buckeyes to roll up a big number.
5. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan (10 pts, 0 FPV)
Another injury and another underwhelming week for the Michigan quarterback. However, when he has was in the game, Shoelace was productive. In roughly one half of football against the nation's stingiest defense (34 minutes of action), D-Rob rushed for 105 yards (5.8 ypc) and threw for 96 yards and a score. Who knows what would have happened had he been able to play the whole game.
What's Next: Robinson and the Wolverines are on a much needed bye week aftet two straight losses. Penn State and Illinois, two solid defenses, will be waiting when they return to action.
Also receiving votes:
6. DeMarco Murray, QB, Oklahoma (5 pts, 0 FPV)
I will not normally write anything about the "ORV" players but I feel compelled to point out a few facts about Mr. Murray (who was second on my ballot). Murray has scored 13 TDs — three more than James. He has caught 22 passes for 170 yards — which is 19 more recptions and 74 more yards than James. He also has 15 more all-purpose yards than James (957 to 942). Murray had his biggest moment against his rival Texas (146 total yards, 2 TDs) like James. He also plays on the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, who according to the Sagarin Strength of Schedule ratings, has played a much tougher schedule than Oregon (No. 15 to No. 50). I am just saying!
7. Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford (3 pts, 0 FPV)
8. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State (2 pts, 0 FPV)
This season was supposed to be a special one for North Carolina, and it certainly has been. Just not in the way everyone envisioned. The program has made far more headlines for off-the-field transgressions, which have led to the resignation of assistant coach John Blake and the suspension and ineligibility of several key players, than on-the-field achievements.
But even without much of its star power, North Carolina quietly has started to shine. The Tar Heels extended their winning streak to four games with a 44–10 victory at Virginia on Saturday, snapping their 14-game losing streak against the Cavaliers at Scott Stadium.
“It feels good,” said senior quarterback T.J. Yates, who passed for 325 yards and three touchdowns. “We tried not to put much emphasis on it this week in practice because we found ourselves doing that a little too much in years past. It kind of got us out of the funk a little bit. Once we got back in the locker room, we acknowledged it, and it’s a good thing for this program to get out of the way.”
North Carolina had taken good teams, bad teams and average teams to Charlottesville since 1981, but none of them had managed to leave town with a victory. That streak ended in emphatic fashion, with the Tar Heels (4–2, 2–1 ACC) intercepting five passes and posting their highest point total at Virginia since 1946.
Wide receiver Dwight Jones, who entered the game with 12 receptions for 104 yards all season, played a big role in the offensive explosion. He registered career highs with seven catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yard scoring grab on the first play of the game.
Jones originally was not expected to play a major role in UNC’s passing game this season, but the absence of starting wide receiver Greg Little (declared permanently ineligible for accepting improper benefits) opened a door for him. Similar stories of players producing in expanded roles — notably at tailback, on the defensive line and in the secondary — are prevalent throughout UNC’s roster.
“We’ve got good kids — this is a good group of football players,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “They’ve got a lot of character, a lot of integrity. There’s a lot of good leaders on this team.”
Chief among them is Yates, who many expected to be a backup at this point. Yates was booed throughout last season and had to hold off a charge from redshirt freshman Bryn Renner in training camp to keep his job, but he has responded well. He leads the nation in interception percentage (one pick in 182 pass attempts) and ranks second in the ACC in passing efficiency.
Yates held together an offense that began the year without its leading receiver (Little) and top two rushers (tailbacks Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston) because of the NCAA investigation, but the haze of uncertainty surrounding UNC’s team has become clearer each week. Draughn and Houston have returned. So have starting safeties Da’Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams.
Now that the Tar Heels have found out that Little and star defensive linemen Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn aren’t going to play at all this season, they have only a few major personnel questions remaining. The fate of All-ACC cornerback Kendric Burney, who finished serving his six-game suspension against Virginia, sits in limbo because of an unresolved issue related to the investigation. Two other defensive starters who have yet to play this season, cornerback Charles Brown and defensive end Michael McAdoo, also face uncertain futures.
The Tar Heels would be happy to have those players available when they play at Miami (4–2, 2–1) in a key Coastal Division matchup Saturday, but they’re not counting on such a development. They’re just happy that they can shift most of their attention to the remaining games on the schedule rather than which players might be participating in them.
“We’ve been through it all already,” Yates said. “It seems like it happened so long ago, but we’ve finally got the guys that we know we’re going to play with now. It doesn’t seem like the roster is going to change too much anymore. Now that we’ve got some confidence and we know which guys are going to go out there, we can focus more on football.”
Clemson 31, Maryland 7
Florida State 24, Boston College 19
Miami 28, Duke 13
North Carolina 44, Virginia 10
Virginia Tech 52, Wake Forest 21
Georgia Tech 42, Middle Tennessee State 14
East Carolina 33, N.C. State 27, OT
Aside from Yates, the only other ACC quarterback who experienced much success throwing the ball in Week 7 was Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech (5–2, 3–0). Taylor tied a career high with three touchdown passes, completing 19-of-27 throws for 292 yards against Wake Forest’s young secondary.
Yates and Taylor combined to complete 36-of-49 passes (73.4 percent) for 617 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions for a pass efficiency rating of 219.6. The league’s other 10 starting quarterbacks combined to complete 143-of-298 passes (47.9 percent) for 1,693 yards, six touchdowns and 17 interceptions for a pass efficiency rating of 90.9. Ouch.
Harris bursts onto scene
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe decided to give redshirt freshman tailback Josh Harris the first start of his career. Good thing Grobe did, too. Otherwise, the Demon Deacons’ blowout loss at Virginia Tech, their fifth defeat in a row, would have been even uglier.
Harris rushed for 241 yards, the most ever by one player against Virginia Tech, and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Harris’ 87-yard touchdown sprint in the second quarter was Wake Forest’s longest run since 1968 and the longest run the Hokies had allowed since 1987 in Frank Beamer’s first game as their head coach.
Virginia Tech dominated Wake Forest’s defense, racking up 605 total yards (the most allowed by the Demon Deacons since 2000) while building an advantage in possession time of 41:26 to 18:34. But Wake Forest (2–5, 1–3) could have an exciting future on offense if Harris and redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Price continue to gain experience.
C.J. Spiller used to refer to Andre Ellington as his “little brother.” It’s become obvious that Clemson’s star tailback of 2010 shares plenty in common with Clemson’s star tailback of 2009, even if that doesn’t include actual genes.
With Spiller back in town to have his No. 28 jersey retired at halftime, Ellington rushed for a touchdown in addition to returning a kickoff 87 yards for a score to help the Tigers (3–3, 1–2) beat Maryland. Spiller delivered one of his NCAA-record seven kickoff returns for a touchdown against the Terrapins last season, scoring on a 92-yarder.
First Noel for Eagles
Dominick LeGrande might need to have the best week of practice of his career to reclaim his position. Heck, even that might not be enough.
LeGrande, a starting safety for Boston College (2–4, 0–3), was suspended for the Florida State game because of a violation of team rules. All his replacement, sophomore Jim Noel, did in his first career start was make 10 tackles, intercept two passes and return one of the interceptions for a touchdown.
Gulp. Wonder if LeGrande has heard of Wally Pipp?
Sore elbow slows Ponder
Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder blamed his decision-making after he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble against Boston College, but his struggles appeared to be just as much physical as mental. Ponder had no zip on his throws to the outside, especially on the one Noel intercepted and returned 43 yards for a touchdown, likely because he popped a bursa sac in his right elbow in the first quarter.
Ponder, who completed 19-of-31 passes for 170 yards and two touchdowns, declined to use his elbow as an excuse for his poor performance. And FSU coach Jimbo Fisher declined to remove Ponder from the game as he struggled in the second half, calling Ponder a “winner” and a “champion.”
All of that is fine, of course. But the first-place Seminoles (6–1, 4–0), who have an open date this week, need to get Ponder healthy in time for their key Atlantic Division game at NC State (5–2, 2–1) on Oct. 28 if they want to continue being winners.
• A couple of quarterbacks were on the receiving end of touchdown passes over the weekend. Danny O’Brien caught a 4-yard TD pass from tailback Da’Rel Scott on a trick play for Maryland, but Logan Thomas scored in even more unconventional fashion for Virginia Tech. Thomas, a backup quarterback who stands 6-6, had to take off his headset before running onto the field as a wide receiver on the Hokies’ first possession. He leaped over a Wake Forest defensive back to catch a jump ball for a 2-yard touchdown.
• Boston College tailback Montel Harris rushed for 191 yards on 26 carries against Florida State. Harris’ success was eye-opening, given that the Seminoles entered the game 12th nationally against the run, but maybe it shouldn’t have been so surprising. Harris has run for 491 yards in three games against Florida State, rushing for at least 121 yards in all three contests. He has averaged 6.5 yards per carry in his career against the Seminoles.
• Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers is establishing himself as the most dominant defensive presence in the conference. Bowers had a career-high three sacks against Maryland — all on third down — and leads the nation in sacks (1.5 per game) and tackles for loss (2.5 per game).
• As usual, Georgia Tech is hitting its stride in the second month of the season. The Yellow Jackets, who have won three consecutive games after forcing six turnovers against Middle Tennessee State, are 11–1 in October under Paul Johnson.
• Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen was in a sour mood after his team’s loss at Clemson. In addition to saying that he would re-implement his old rule of requiring all injured players to practice by Thursday if they are going to play on Saturday, he talked about the Terrapins’ 10-game losing streak on the road. “I think sometimes that our guys think we’re on an amusement trip or something,” he said. “We’re on a business trip to win football games. We have to learn how to do that if we’re going to be the team we want to be.”
• Miami tailback Damien Berry is keeping some mighty good company in the aftermath of the Hurricanes’ victory at Duke. Berry rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, becoming the fifth player in school history to record three consecutive 100-yard rushing games. The other four players on the list? You might have heard of them: Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis. They have rushed for a combined 34,099 yards and 233 touchdowns in the NFL.
• In addition to its off-the-field personnel losses, North Carolina played without star linebacker Quan Sturdivant (hamstring) for the third game in a row. Zach Brown, UNC’s school record holder in the 60-meter dash, has filled in admirably. A week after making a career-high 14 tackles in a 21–16 win over Clemson, Brown tallied 10 tackles and an interception against Virginia.
• NC State had scored in 16 consecutive quarters — and 22 of 24 quarters overall this season — before getting blanked 21–0 in the first quarter at East Carolina.
• First-year Virginia coach Mike London had his players remain on the field after the loss to North Carolina. Why? “I wanted them to feel what it feels like to get beat like we did on your homecoming with the other team’s fans cheering them on,” London said, “and never forget that feeling, the feeling when somebody comes into your house and hands it to you like they did.”
• Wake Forest’s three touchdowns against Virginia Tech covered 198 yards. The Demon Deacons gained only 148 yards on their other 39 offensive plays.
For one cloudy afternoon in Los Angeles, this was the familiar USC, the one that steamrolled opponents for the better part of a decade and left observers shaking their heads in wonderment. The Trojans, reeling after back-to-back losses on the final play of the game, not to mention an uncharacteristically porous defense, dominated Cal in every way imaginable during a 48–14 victory.
If it’s possible to say that a result was even worse than a 34-point win indicates, this was the time.
The biggest improvement for USC came on defense. While the Trojans certainly had their share of explosive offensive players during their unprecedented run of success under Pete Carroll, it was their defense that truly was the elitist of the elite. USC sent scores of dominant defensive players to the NFL, and there didn’t appear to be more than a couple with that kind of future so far this season.
That is, until Saturday. USC entered the game ranked 100th nationally in total defense, but the Trojans limited the Bears to a season-low 245 yards, and a lot of that came in the second half when the end result had long been decided.
USC defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, the head coach’s father who won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, decided to go with a more aggressive scheme against Cal, and the Bears were ill-prepared for it. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley was under immense pressure all afternoon, and he threw two costly interceptions in the first half. Both picks led to scores, but then again, so did almost every Cal punt. The Trojans scored touchdowns on six of their seven first-half possessions to lead 42–0, tying the worst halftime deficit in Cal history.
On the flip side, there was supposed to be a good matchup between USC’s potent offense and the Bears’ stingy defense. Cal had held four of its previous five opponents to one touchdown or less and entered the game with the country’s eighth-ranked defense.
But the Bears were thoroughly outplayed and outschemed on defense. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, the beneficiary of excellent pass protection, performed surgery on the Bears’ secondary, consistently finding open receivers and marching down field time and time again. Barkley threw five touchdown passes — all in the first half. He was resting on the sideline by late in the third quarter, his team comfortably in front.
The question in the Southland now is whether the Trojans can build off Saturday’s performance and start playing more like their pre-2009 days. They will need to in their next game. After a bye week, USC hosts Oregon, the new No. 1 team in the country.
USC 48, California 14
Arizona 24, Washington State 7
Washington 35, Oregon State 34 (ot)
The Great Divide
Pac-10 chancellors are scheduled to meet Thursday to finalize divisional alignment for the new Pac-12, which begins next season. Conference athletic directors have already voted 7-5 in favor of a geographic split, which would put the Washington and Oregon schools in the same division as Cal and Stanford. That would leave the Los Angeles schools and Arizona schools in the other division with newcomers Colorado and Utah.
Assuming the chancellors approve the arrangement as well, Cal and Stanford appear to be the big losers in realignment. The Bay Area schools wanted, like most conference members, to be in the same division as the L.A. schools for recruiting advantages. Cal also likes its rivalry with UCLA, its University of California brother.
But details still need to be worked out. It’s not out of the question that Cal and Stanford could still play the L.A. schools every year. Teams will play every team in their own division and four of the six in the other division. There could be guarantees made that the Bay Area schools will regularly have one of the L.A. schools on their schedule each year.
Foles Goes Down
The Pac-10 saw its second potentially conference-changing injury when Arizona quarterback Nick Foles suffered a sprained knee against Washington State. Foles, who was leading the conference in passing yards, is expected to be out 2-3 weeks.
The injury may not have quite the same ripple effects as Oregon State wide receiver James Rodgers’ season-ending torn ACL, but it certainly could have an effect on the Pac-10 race. The Wildcats are right in the thick of it at 2–1 — Matt Scott took over for Foles and helped Arizona to a 24–7 victory.
The Wildcats must be hoping Foles’ recovery time will be closer to two weeks. In three weeks, they must travel to Stanford for a game that could have major conference title implications.
Going For It
Oregon State lost 35–34 to Washington when the Beavers failed on a two-point conversion attempt in double overtime.
The Beavers almost escaped with a huge win in their first game without Rodgers, a win that would have made them 3–0 in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1968.