Ask CFN - The Hidden Heisman Five
Posted Oct 5, 2006

Who, like Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart, are five guys who won't be within ten miles of the Heisman, but should be considered? What programs aren't winning as much as they should? What Texas A&M should do if Coach Fran gets fired, why Jim Tressel is underrated, and more in the latest ASK CFN.

Pete Fiutak

Fire over your questions to me at I might not be able to answer them all, but I promise they're all read. Any e-mails sent to this address may be published or edited unless requested otherwise. (Please put ASK CFN in the subject line, and PLEASE keep the questions short ... it makes my life easier.)

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UNLV fan here.  It’s looking like another typical UNLV Rebel season – buy into the hype of all the transfers from big-time schools, get excited, and 4 weeks into the season, here we are at 1-3 just like every year.  Rocky Hinds has been…um…worse than Jason Thomas, if that is even possible.  And after two consecutive blowout losses to solid, but not great WAC teams in Hawaii and Nevada, I came to a conclusion – UNLV has got to be the biggest “enigma” program in college football.  Has any program consistently done less with more?  Great town, nice campus, nice facilities, hottest co-eds on the face of the earth, fertile recruiting base, no pro-sports team competition, the legacy of Tark (i.e. win in Vegas and you own the town), and what should be a home field advantage similar to Hawaii (can anyone say Sapphire @ 4am?).  It just doesn’t make sense how UNLV does so poorly, so consistently. So, what are the top “enigma’ programs? – SE

A: Part of the problem when you’re relying on JUCO players and transfers to step in and star right away is that you don’t get any consistency. Give your Rebels time: Hinds is a talent and there’s a decent amount of overall skill and athleticism that might need the rest of this year to get seasoned for 2007. UNLV needs to generate a culture of winning football, and that’s easier said than done for more than just a year. Five schools that I think should be better considering their positives are …
1. Illinois – It’s a basketball school, but there’s a great history, even if you have to go back a long way, of good football teams and better stars like Red Grange and Dick Butkus. Recruiting-wise, there’s St. Louis and Chicago to draw on.
2. Kentucky – I know, I know, it’s all about basketball in Lexington, but it’s all about hoops in Louisville, too. If the Cardinals can put together a juggernaut, then why can’t Wildcats?
3. UCLA – Having that team rock and roll on the other side of town doesn’t help. The Bruins get the athletes and they always have offensive playmakers, but you’d think at some point the program, by sheer luck of the draw, would have a fantastic defense. The campus and location are nicer than USC’s, and the weather is always perfect.
4. Alabama – Coaching issues and probation were problems in recent years, but this is freakin’ Alabama. With its history, fan base, recruiting base, and facilities, the brand name alone should be good for at least nine wins. Auburn might be a powerhouse program, but Alabama has the better history and shouldn't take a backseat to anyone.
5. Syracuse – Western New York isn’t exactly Miami or L.A. in mid-November, but the weather is perfect in the Carrier Dome. It wasn’t all that long ago when this was a BCS caliber program that cranked out pro talent by the boatload. Greg Robinson appears to be turning it around, but it’s taking a while.

After the loss to Texas Tech last week, there is a lot of concern towards the rest of the Texas A&M season, especially with the problems attached to the pass offense and defense.  A lot of my fellow Aggies are shouting for Coach Fran to get fired, and I have even heard a rumor that if Fran doesn't do very well this season (at least 8 wins and a bowl victory) that we already have a coach lined up to replace him.  If this were to happen, and there will be a lot of talk if we lose any of the next four games, who would be most likely to replace him? ~Eric, - Katy, TX

A: How about R.C. Slocum? Texas A&M would be a plum job, but it’s not quite the elite gig that Aggie fans might think it is; who wants to beat his head against the Texas-Oklahoma wall every single year? As I said at the time when Coach Fran got hired, it’s not like the Longhorns and Sooners are suddenly going to stink. Fran was a big-time, big-name, splashy hire, and I’m guessing it’ll take a big name to make Aggie fans happy even though guys like Tulsa’s Steve Kragthorpe and Akron’s J.D. Brookhart might be great choices. Want to win now? Find a way to get Paul Johnson away from Navy, suck it up, and run the option. I guarantee you A&M would become a ten-win program every year with Johnson or Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe. With that said, A&M is pretty good this year and Fran should be back next season.

Everyone knows about Brady Quinn, Troy Smith, Adrian Peterson, and now, Garrett Wolfe. The Heisman is all about popularity and hype, but if everything was equal, who are five guys outside of the obvious who deserve Heisman hype? I have a guy in mind and I’m wondering if you’ll pick him. Thanks!  - DB

A: The five should be Heisman candidates that aren’t:
1. Rutgers RB Ray Rice, Soph. – 2nd in the nation in rushing and tied with Wolfe and Clemson’s James Davis with 11 rushing touchdowns.
2. Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart, Soph. – Among the top rushers with at least 30 carries, only Wolfe is averaging more yards per carry (9.88) than Stewart and his 7.88 per try. Despite struggling through an ankle problem, he ran for 144 yards against Oklahoma and 142 against Arizona State.
3. Missouri QB Chase Daniel, Soph. – His team is unbeaten going into the showdown with Texas Tech, and he’s throwing well with 13 touchdown passes and only four interceptions to go along with 130 rushing yards and three scores. Now he needs a win over a team with a pulse.
4. Ian Johnson, RB Boise State, Soph. – Seven yards per carry, fifth in the nation in rushing, and the main man on a possible BCS team.
5. Colt Brennan, QB Hawaii, Jr. – Brennan’s not Troy Smith, but watch his first five games and you’ll think he could be the nation’s best quarterback. It’s not just the system; he’s that good as the top player in the top 20 in passing in yards per attempt and yards per completion.

Ohio State almost never beats itself, it always has very good special teams, and they are rock-solid performers in the clutch (close games, bowl games, rivalry games).  That all points to coaching.  How many teams could lose 9 starters on defense and be a top 5 team?  Again, it goes back to coaching.  Your thoughts why many prefer Carroll, Weis, Stoops, etc over Tressel, other than style points?  - DK

A: Two separate ideas here. First, it’s easy to have great special teams when you have next-level athletes. If you’re a superpower, just pay a little bit of attention to them, and they’ll rock. Second, and I said this in a past article, most don’t understand that places like Ohio State and USC and Texas replace former NFL-caliber with future NFL-caliber starters. Yeah, what the Buckeyes have done on defense is impressive, but it’s not like they had to pull kids out of a math class to suit up.

As far as Tressel being given the credit as a coach, I think the problem is the way OSU wins. It’s not fair, but the perception seems to be that a program with as much talent as this one should be obliterating everyone in its path by 40, like USC and Texas did last year. Of course, that’s not really the style of how this team runs under Tressel. Weis has the street cred because of the Super Bowl bling, and Carroll has become a god after taking a sleeping giant and going on one of the most dominant runs in college football history. This isn’t a knock on Tressel (it’s actually praise), but he basically has tweaked what John Cooper was able to do and win a national title and consistently beat Michigan. With that said, there are a ton of coaches out there that would rock if they got the chance head up the Ohio State machine.

What in is going on in the Pac-10? Is it mediocre coaching? They certainly get the better players. Other than USC, Cal and Oregon, no one is winning against the better teams. - Jack Fuller

A: And what else have you noticed? Name the conference that really rocked this year against the better teams? The SEC did, but most of the big non-conference games were in SEC houses. Ohio State and Michigan were fantastic in non-conference play, but that’s Ohio State and Michigan. The Big 12 basically tanked going winless against the good teams in non-conference play. The ACC didn’t exactly extend itself and lost the one big showcase game when Miami got whacked at Louisville. So yeah, the Pac 10 might not have been stellar, but it was fine at home and lost tough road games like Washington State at Auburn, Cal at Tennessee, and Arizona at LSU. I’d argue that the Pac 10’s as good as it’s been in years with the resurgence at Washington and with UCLA, Washington State, and Arizona State, Oregon game aside, all solid.

What's going on at Fresno State? Why the struggle? – AM

A: The first theory is that the program is geared on a BCS or bust attitude. When it loses, all dreams deflate and the team goes into the tank. While head coach Pat Hill says all the right things about wanting to win the conference, but the reality is that WAC championships carry no weight whatsoever on a national scale and this program has dreams of being bigger on a national scale. The second theory is that the teams just haven’t been that fantastic. Oh sure, it pushed USC to the wall last year and gave Oregon all it could handle this season, but what’s the biggest win in the Hill era? There was the 2001 win over a Colorado team that ended up winning the Big 12 title, but that’s sort of it. Technically, a  win over the1997 Air Force team that finished 10-3 was the second best victory under. The national-headline wins over Oregon State and Wisconsin in 2001 came against teams that failed to go to bowls.  The supposedly splashy wins in 2004 against Washington and Kansas State turned out to mean jack squat since those two turned out to stink. The bowl win over Virginia, who collapsed as much as FSU won it, was great, but you get the point. The Fresno State hype might just be that. This year’s team is in a bit of a transitional phase and is obviously playing like a deflated bunch after losing to Oregon and Washington.

Can you enlighten me concerning the insanity of the coaches' poll?  For reference, I should note that I'm a Yellow Jacket. – Casey

A: As I’ve railed before, there’s no way anyone could’ve watched Georgia play all five of its games this year and have it currently ranked higher than LSU, Oregon, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Clemson, California, or Georgia Tech.. Obviously, the big beef is where your Yellow Jackets are ranked (20th), compared to Virginia Tech (18th), after last week’s dominant Georgia Tech win in Blacksburg. Hopefully everyone understands by not what a major joke the poll is and thanks their college football stars that the BCS uses computer formulas in the mix.

Pete, do you think the miami hurricanes will be able to get their heads
on straight and turn their downward spiral around. With the next 4 games against houston, NC, FIU, and duke before the meat of their acc schedule. Do you think the coaches and players have what it takes to right the ship and make it to the acc championship.
  Thanks –scott

A: We’ll see, but the main thing the team has going for it, as you alluded to, is the schedule. Virginia Tech has to come to the Orange Bowl, while the toughest road test is at Georgia Tech. Don’t tell me that this team, struggling as it might be, can’t beat North Carolina, FIU, at Duke, at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, at Maryland, at Virginia and Boston College. It’s almost like the team has to wake up and realize the season can still be a success. Winning the ACC title and going to a BCS game is nothing to sneeze at, and those are still within reach for a team this talented. Health and consistency are the biggest problems, but if it can come up with just one breakthrough performance, the Canes might finally play as expected the rest of the way. However, a loss at Georgia Tech could send things into an ugly spiral.