December 18, 2017

Alabama Repeats and Finishes #1 in the Leatherheads Top 16

Alabama took care of business and beat an undefeated team for the second year in a row to claim college football’s crystal ball. Bama came out of the starting gate at top speed and took control of the game, ultimately winning 42-14. The matchup was over by the second quarter and the Fighting Irish showed no fight. Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o missed more tackles in the game than he did all season, possibly hurting his bank account when the NFL Draft happens later this year. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the Crimson Tide rolled as Eddie Lacy rushed for 140 yards and A.J. McCarron passed for 264 yards and four touchdowns, both showing that they may one day star at the next level. Lacy, a junior, stated yesterday that he will enter this year’s NFL Draft along with cornerback Dee Milliner and tackle D.J. Fluker.

It has been five days since the BCS National Championship Game so most Crimson Tide fans should be over their celebratory hang over by now and Notre Dame fans are coming to grips that it wasn’t meant to be but that the season was still a magical one. As Leatherhead Tex Noel said to me, “When Alabama and Notre Dame met, it was history vs. history and dynasty won.” I would have to agree with that statement. The two most successful schools in college football history met and Bama won, earning their third championship in four years. Alabama joins Nebraska, who won in 1994, 1995 and 1997, as the only schools to accomplish the feat. Alabama also won their tenth national championship, breaking a tie with Notre Dame at nine. Alabama also won championships in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, 1979, 1992, 2009 and 2011.

Since Alabama was victorious, it is no surprise that the Crimson Tide finished #1 in the Leatherheads Top 16 for the second year in a row. Heading into the game we had them ranked #2 after Notre Dame who now sits at the #4 position. The Oregon Ducks finished #2 after beating Kansas State 35-17 in the Fiesta Bowl. Oops! I mean the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Wildcats fell in the poll from the sixth spot to the twelfth spot, the second biggest drop in the rankings. Topping Kansas State’s drop was Florida who lost 33-23 to the surprising Louisville Cardinals. The Gators fell from being tied for fourth with the idle Ohio State Buckeyes (now #3) to eleventh, down seven spots. Didn’t the UConn Huskies beat Louisville a few weeks back? The Cardinals moved back into the poll and finish the year at #13.

Johnny Football showed why he won the Heisman Trophy by leading the Texas A&M Aggies to a dominant 41-13 victory over Oklahoma. Johnny Manziel ran and passed for two touchdowns apiece to become the fourth player in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history to run and pass for 20 touchdowns each in a season, joining Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow. You know I have to mention Tebow. Manziel also had a Cotton Bowl-record 516 total yards, 229 rushing and 287 passing. Crazy! A&M finished fifth in the Top 16, moving up four spots. Leatherhead Terry Keshner relayed to me his thoughts on the game: “Watching Johnny Football destroy Oklahoma was like watching Forrest Gump after six shots of Five-Hour Energy.” Oklahoma manged to stay in the Top 16 despite being crushed. They finished the season ranked #15.

Georgia and Stanford both won their bowl games to finish sixth and seventh in the poll, respectively. Stanford beat Wisconsin 20-14 in the Rose Bowl while Georgia beat Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl. South Carolina beat Michigan 33-28 in the Outback Bowl to finish #8. Rounding out the top ten is Orange Bowl winner Florida State at nine and Chick-fil-A BOWL victor Clemson at ten. In the battle of the Tigers, Clemson beat LSU who dropped from tenth to fourteenth.

Boise State, spending most of the season outside of the Top 16, beat Washington in the MAACO Bowl to complete our rankings at #16. Utah State (11-2) and Northwestern (10-3) received support but fell just short of being ranked. Utah State beat Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl by the score of 41-15. Northwestern beat Mississippi State 34-20 in the Gator Bowl to win their first bowl game since 1949. Nice!  Mississippi State at one time was 7-0 on the season but finished with just an 8-5 record. Ouch!

On behalf of Leatherheads of the Gridiron and all our pollsters, thanks for following us all season and we look forward to doing it all over again next season.

Rank Team Record Points Last Poll
   1 Alabama (11)   13-1    176        2
   2 Oregon   12-1    158        3
   3 Ohio State   12-0    151        4 (Tie)
   4 Notre Dame   12-1    136        1
   5 Texas A&M   11-2    130        9
   6 Georgia   12-2    128        7
   7 Stanford   12-2    108        8
   8 South Carolina   11-2      99      11
   9 Florida State   12-2      74      13
 10 Clemson   11-2      73      14
 11 Florida   11-2      70        4 (Tie)
 12 Kansas State   11-2      65        6
 13 Louisville   11-2      51      NR
 14 LSU   10-3      29      10
 15 Oklahoma   10-3      16      12
 16 Boise State   11-2      15      NR


Others receiving votes
: Utah State – 13, Northwestern – 4.

Participating voters: David Boyce, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob Lazzari, Dan McCloskey, Andrew McKillop, Tex Noel, Pete Sonski, Bob Swick, Joe Williams, Tony Williams.

 

Leatherheads Heisman Poll for 2012

Tonight, the 78th Heisman Trophy winner will be announced on ESPN with three finalists waiting in the audience.  The three finalists are Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Texas A&M quaterback Johnny Manziel and Notre Dame middle linebacker Manti Te’o.

In anticipation of tonight’s announcement, Leatherheads of the Gridiron polled 18 of its contributors to see who we think will be the next name added to the elite list of college football greats who can say they are a Heisman Trophy recipient.  Our voters followed the same format as the Heisman voters: 3 points for our number one choice, 2 for our second choice and 3 for our third choice.  Last season, Leatherheads had a tie for the award with both Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and Alabama’s Trent Richardson finishing first, although RG3 had more first place votes.  RG3 ended up winning the trophy while Stanford’s Andrew Luck was second and Richardson finishing in third place.  Click here for results.

We had 18 voters allocate their votes to ten different players.  A few names missing that have been mentioned as possible winners at the beginning of the season and along the way include USC QB Matt Barkley, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones, South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore, Alabama QB A.J. McCarron, Georgia QB Aaron Murray, Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Stanford RB Stepfan Taylor, Oregon RB De’Anthony Thomas and Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson.  Also missing is LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu who finished fifth in the voting last year and was dismissed from the team before the season for his drug use.  A sad story.  Hopefully, he can turn his life around and make it in the NFL in some capacity.

Our candidates in alphabetical order are as follows:

Montee Ball
Ball is a running back for the 8-5, Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin Badgers.  The senior is ranked third in rushing with 1,730 yards and is tied for eighth with 21 touchdowns.  Last year he finished fourth in the Heisman voting.  Over the last two seasons, he has rushed for 3,653 yards and scored an amazing 60 touchdowns.

Kenjon Barner
Barner is a running back for Oregon.  The Ducks are 11-1 and heading to play in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  Barner ranks seventh in rushing with 1,624 yards and is tied for fourth with 22 touchdowns.  The senior rushed for 321 yards and five TDs on November 3 against the USC Trojans.

Jarvis Jones
Jones is a linebacker for the Georgia Bulldogs.  The Bulldogs are 11-2 and will be playing in the Capital One Bowl.   The junior is the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a two-time All-American.  His 12.5 sacks are tied for fourth in the nation.

Collin Klein
Klein is the quarterback for the 11-1 Kansas State Wildcats and will be playing against Barner and his Ducks teammates in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.  Klein, a senior, led the Wildcats to 10-straight victories before losing to Baylor on November 17.  He has scored 22 touchdowns, tied for fourth in the nation.  Over the last two seasons, the former wide receiver has passed for 4,408 yards and 28 TDs with 13 INTs while rushing for 2,031 yards and 49 TDs.

Marqise Lee
Lee is a wide receiver for the USC Trojans.  The sophomore leads the nation with 112 receptions, is second with 1,680 yards, and ranks third in TD catches with 14.  He has also returned 28 kickoffs for 802 yards and a score.  In two seasons, Lee has 185 catches for 2,823 yards and 25 scores.

Jordan Lynch
Lynch is a junior quarterback for Northern Illionois.  He has led the 12-1 Huskies to the Orange Bowl.  He leads the nation in rushing with 1,771 yards, a record for FBS quarterbacks.  He has thrown for 2,942 yards with 24 TDs and just 5 INTs.  He also has 19 rushing touchdowns.

Johnny Manziel
Manziel is a freshman quarterback for the 10-2, Cotton Bowl-bound Texas A&M Aggies.  Johnny Football, as he is called, gained national promience when he led his team to a 29-24 victory over #1 ranked Alabama.  Manziel has passed for 3,419 yards, 24 TDs with 8 INTs while running for 1,181 yards and 19 TDs.

Braxton Miller
Miller is the quarterback for the 12-0 Ohio State Buckeyes and the Big Ten Player of the Year. The Buckeyes were not eligible for the Big Ten championship or a bowl game this season while on probation for past NCAA violations. The sophomore rushed for 1,271 yards with 13 TDs while passing for 2,039 yards and 15 TDs.

Geno Smith
Smith is the quarterback for West Virginia.  The senior is ranked first with 40 passes for touchdowns, fourth with 4,004 passing yards, and sixth with a 164.6 QB rating.  On September 29 against Baylor, he threw for 656 yards and 8 TDs.  Over the last two seasons, he has thrown for 8,389 yards with 71 TDs and just 13 INTs.  The 7-5 Mountaineers will play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Manti Te’o
Te’o is the middle linebacker for the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish.  The senior is tied for second in the nation with 7 interceptions and has made 101 tackles this season.  He has already won several awards this season, including the Maxwell Award.  He will play in the BCS National Championship Game, hoping to lead his team to a 13-0 record and a national championship.

Rank Player First Second Third Total
   1 Johnny Manziel 27 (9)   6 (3)   5 (5)   38
   2 Manti Te’o 21 (7) 12 (6) 3.5 (3.5)   36.5
   3 Collin Klein   6 (2) 10 (5)   5 (5)   21
   4 Braxton Miller   0 (0)   4 (2)   0 (0)     4
   5 (Tie) Montee Ball   0 (0)   2 (1)   0 (0)     2
   5 (Tie) Jordan Lynch   0 (0)   0 (0)   2 (2)     2
   5 (Tie) Geno Smith   0 (0)   2 (1)   0 (0)     2
   8 (Tie) Kenjon Barner   0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1
   8 (Tie) Marqise Lee   0 (0)   0 (0)   1 (1)     1
 10 Jarvis Jones   0 (0)   0 (0)   .5 (.5)      .5

 

So the winner of our poll is Johnny Football, the freshman.  A few of our voters could not vote for him in the number one spot just because he is a freshman.  One Leatherhead stated, “Sorry I do not feel Manziel is worthy of the trophy being only a freshman, let us see what he can do next year.”  I disagree with that thinking since the play is based on this season.  I personally picked Manziel number one, largely for his play in the SEC which is clearly, in my mind and many others, the top conference in college football.

Another Leatherhead would disagree with me making Manziel my top choice, “If raw statistics alone is your game, he’s your winner.  But if you actually take a closer look….he piled up great numbers against some terrible defensive teams. How did he do in the big games?  He completely failed to drive the offense in the second half of A&M’s loss to Florida, and threw 3 interceptions and was held to 27 yards rushing in the loss to LSU.  So that leaves the Alabama game – you’re voting a freshman the Heisman on the basis of one game.  Which means, in his college career, he has as many arrests as big-game victories.”  Ouch!

The arrest refers to an incident last summer when he got in a fight and produced fake identification to a police officer.  Should this count against his chance of winning the Heisman?  I personally do not since it has nothing to do with play on the field.  But it might.  Sports Illustrated’s Thayer Evans did for that reason.  He stated, “I don’t consider players with pending criminal charges.”

Enough about Manziel.  Leatherhead Tex Noel stated about Klein, “He’s an exciting player to watch. He thinks well on his feet as he eludes the defender or diving into the end zone. His passes are straight and on the mark. Without a doubt, Kansas State would not be the same without him.”

Tex has some good words for Te’o fans as well, “One of the best players the Irish have had in some time. He’s fearless as he makes plays sideline-to-sideline. You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him–maybe with a brick wall.”

So the top three finalists are the Leatherheads’ top three.  Early in the season I thought it would be Geno Smith, hands down.  Then the Mountaineers couldn’t stop losing.

I most note that one voter could not pick between Te’o and Jones with their third-place vote.  He declared it a tie and I let it go since no harm was done.  He stated, “I know, it’s a cop-out to do a tie but I can’t separate the two. Te’o is on a higher profile team and rightfully deserves his accolades, but Jones is every bit as special and actually runs sideline to sideline better.”

This is the word from Leatherheads of the Gridiron.  Johnny Football will add his name to the elite list of Heisman Trophy winners.  Will that actually happen?  We will all find out shortly.  Either way, all three finalists had a special season.

 

Participating voters: David Boyce, Bo Carter, Ronnie Foreman, Terry Keshner, Bob LazzariJim Lefebvre, Chris Mascaro, Dan McCloskey, Andrew McKillop, Tex Noel, Michelle Nolan, Pete Sonski, Bob Stevenson, Bob Swick, Dan Totten, Brandon Williams, Joe Williams, Tony Williams.

 

Manti Te’o: A Mantle of Greatness

Following an afternoon of steady showers, the skies had opened into an all-out downpour on rain-soaked Notre Dame Stadium. Students romped with student-athletes, celebrating a dramatic goal-line stand that ended a classic, overtime victory against fellow heavyweight Stanford.

Manti Te’o stood with his arm around his coach, Brian Kelly, explaining for a national audience what had just happened. “This team will scratch, claw, do whatever it takes to win….We walked into the overtime knowing he had to stick together and execute, and that’s exactly what we did.”

There was a knowing look in Brian Kelly’s eyes. As if to say, this man next to me represents excellence. Greatness. Perseverance. Humility. Everything we want here at Notre Dame.

Much has been written and said about Manti Te’o and his tremendous football instincts. His ability to be in position, anticipate the play, read the situation, react and be there. The key tackle, the timely interception. It was never more in evidence than on his third-down stop of Stanford’s Stepfon Taylor in that goal line stand for the ages. Again and again, he makes the biggest plays in the biggest games.

From a strictly football standpoint, it’s his knowing. Knowing what’s coming next. Knowing where to be, how to react. In ways that cannot be measured by statistics, he transcends the game. He is the defender par excellence on the nation’s best defense.

But it’s his knowing about the important things of life that may be even more impressive.

In describing his decision to return for his senior year at Notre Dame, Manti mentioned family members wondering: Wasn’t reaching the NFL your dream? “I said, ‘the NFL is my goal. My dream is to have an impact on the most people possible.’”

He went on: “Money can’t buy the memories I can build here with my friends and family. When I die I can’t take a big Cadillac, a big house or a Rolex with me. But what I will take are the memories of my senior year at Notre Dame.”

For the 2012 football season, consider the dream realized. Manti’s impact, along with his teammates, has been to remind a nation that champions can also be truly decent people – with tremendous passion for doing things the right way, and caring for one another.

“There’s no better combination of person and place than Manti and Notre Dame,” says athletic director Jack Swarbrick. “He embodies so many of the value that are fundamental to this institution. Everybody he touches is a better person for being around him.”

Adds defensive coordinator Bob Diaco: “He’s the type of person you don’t replace. His worth to the team is incredible. They get an example of how to work, how to behave and how you conduct yourself on and off the field.” In describing Manti, strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo uses the term “other-centered.”

Notre Dame has always existed both in reality and as an ideal. In football, that ideal is that championship-level football can be played by real student-athletes who go to class, manage their time, graduate in four years with a meaningful degree, and leave campus ready to make a positive impact on the larger world.

And Notre Dame’s connection to the larger world is played out in numerous ways. As the place “where the church does its thinking” for one. And where various programs reach out to meet the world’s needs, from supporting global justice in Cairo to rebuilding communities in Bosnia.

Nearly 120 years ago, a five-year-old made a voyage from Bergen in Norway to Ellis Island, and went on to create a quintessential life as a successful immigrant to the U.S. Knute Rockne became the face of a Notre Dame that knew its mission could not be contained by geography, and had to go coast-to-coast, impacting millions along the way.

It’s fitting that in a season where the Irish traveled back to Europe, and criss-crossed the continent from Boston to Los Angeles to Miami, the key individual is one who crossed another ocean to become Irish. It is not too much to say that Manti brings with him the sensibilities of the indigenous Hawaiian peoples – a simple grace, more concerned with caring for friends and family than with material possessions.

Manti may not win the Heisman Trophy. (He also hasn’t tried to trademark a nickname.) Voters are distracted by shiny objects, like offensive statistics – in a game where once again, we’re reminded that defense wins championships.

But we all know. We know he truly deserves the Heisman. That he represents everything positive one could ever hope to associate with college football.

And, most importantly, Manti knows. He knows he will not be changed by winning the trophy, or by not winning it. It really doesn’t matter to him. He knows why he came back for his senior year. He is on a path to impact many other lives. If he makes millions from pro football, which seems certain, he will no doubt use it wisely to help others.

Manti knows the importance of living every possible minute, and living in the moment.
During this incredible 2012 season, coming back to be part of the Fighting Irish, being their leader…he knew he had to be there.

What Notre Dame fans know is that Manti helped turned the page to the next chapter of greatness for this University and its football program.

Manti knew.