Thoughts of the Day: December 22, 2020

A few thoughts to jump start your Tuesday morning:

In 1973, John Cappelletti of Penn State won the Heisman Trophy. Legend has it that Cappelletti sealed the trophy with a four-touchdown performance against West Virginia. In the days before that game, Cappelletti asked his younger brother Joey, who was dying with leukemia, what he wanted for his 11th birthday. Joey said four touchdowns. Cappelletti had three at the half, but Joe Paterno put him on the bench because he didn’t want to run up the score. A teammate whispered in Paterno’s ear about Joey’s wish so Cappelletti was inserted back into the game where he got the fourth touchdown to keep the promise as Penn State won the game 62-14.


At the Heisman ceremony, a tearful Cappelletti spoke of the courage of his little brother, a moment that inspired the movie “Something for Joey” which chronicled a big brother’s love for his younger sibling. The Heisman speech was well after the West Virginia game but it adds to the legend. It’s a great story.


The Heisman Trophy vote in 1973 is also a great story. Ohio State had a great team that year, finishing 10-0-1 and allowing just 43 points during the 10-game regular season. The only blemish was a 10-10 tie with Michigan. The Buckeyes capped their season with a 44-21 rout of Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.


There were three truly great players on that Ohio State team – offensive tackle John Hicks; tailback Archie Griffin who would go on to win the 1974 and 1975 Heisman Trophies; and linebacker Randy Gradishar. Hicks finished second in the voting, Griffin finished fifth and Gradishar finished sixth. Cappelleti won the trophy with 1,057 votes. Hicks, Griffin and Gradishar combined for 1,132. Without the Ohio State kids splitting the vote, Cappelletti would have never won.


It’s worth mentioning what happened in 1973 because something very similar could happen in 2020. The five players who figure to dominate the voting are quarterback Kyle Trask of Florida, the three Alabama superstars – QB Mac Jones, wide receiver Devonta Smith and tailback Najee Harris – and Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence.


Here are the numbers for all five: TRASK: In 11 games, 285-409 passing (69.7%) for 4,125 yards (10.1 per attempt), 43 touchdowns (5 interceptions); 61-50 rushing for 3 touchdowns. JONES: In 11 games, 250-327 (76.5%) passing for 3,739 yards (11.4 per attempt), 32 touchdowns (4 interceptions); 26-(-9) rushing for 1 TD.

SMITH: In 11 games, 98-1,511 yards receiving (15.42 per catch) for 17 touchdowns; 3-11 rushing (3.67 per carry) for 1 touchdown; 8-199 on punt returns for 1 touchdown.

HARRIS: In 11 games, Harris was 214-1,262 yards rushing (5.9 per carry) for 24 touchdowns; 32-316 receiving (9.88 per catch) for 3 touchdowns.

LAWRENCE: In nine games, 198-286 passing (69.2%) for 2,753 yards (9.6 per attempt), 22 touchdowns (4 interceptions); QB rating 172.67; 211 rushing yards (3.64 per carry) for 7 touchdowns.


Because he missed two games with Covid-19, one of which Clemson lost, and played against an Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, it’s pretty much an uphill climb for Lawrence. He will be the first pick in the NFL Draft, but this is the Heisman Trophy where most figure he will finish fifth.


This is where it gets interesting and why this could be 1973 all over again. The three from Alabama are all superstars and if they were the only one on their team, it might be a runaway vote – the best player on the nation’s best team wins. But those three might very well split up the vote the same way it was split in 1973 among Hicks, Griffin and Gradishar.


Alabama hasn’t lost this season and is considered the odds-on favorite to win Nick Saban’s record seventh national championship (six at Alabama which would tie him with Bear Bryant for the school record). Picking a Heisman winner from the best team might seem a no-brainer to many Heisman voters, but which one? All three are great and deserving.


Florida, on the other hand, has lost three times. In 10 of Florida’s 11 games, Trask was absolutely brilliant but there was that LSU game in which he threw two interceptions and fumbled in a loss to an unranked team. Will that kill his chances or will it be like 2016, when Lamar Jackson of Louisville wasn’t punished for a late-season loss to unranked Kentucky. Jackson threw three costly interceptions. The voters overlooked that speed bump and he became the first Heisman winner on a team that lost three regular season games since Tim Tebow in 2007. Trask did bounce back and that could work in his favor. He was brilliant against Alabama, throwing for 409 yards and three touchdowns while running for two others as the Gators put the fear of God in mighty Alabama.


Also working in Trask’s favor is the fact there is no more compelling story in all of college football. Who else sat on the bench three years in high school, then another three in college before he got his chance only to turn into a legitimate superstar once he got the chance? Kyle Trask is the kid who inspires the underdog in any sport to never give up, keep working hard and when your chance arrives, make the best of it.


Still, for Trask to become Florida’s fourth Heisman winner, it might very well require Alabama’s three superstars knocking each other off. If it happens that way, it won’t diminish what Trask has accomplished this year. He’s so humble he will tell you just getting recognized as one of the best players in the country is a true honor – and it is – but he is deserving. Perhaps the most deserving Heisman candidate we’ve had in years.


FLORIDA ATTRITION All-interplanetary tight end Kyle Pitts opted out of the Cotton Bowl game to prep for the NFL Draft. Also opting out is safety Shawn Davis. There is a report that corner Marco Wilson will either leave for the NFL or hit the transfer portal. Redshirt freshman linebacker Jesiah Pierre has placed his name in the transfer portal.


HERE THEY COME, THERE THEY GO IN THE SEC Tennessee tight end Austin Pope, who last played in 2019 when he started nine games, has entered the transfer portal and will seek an opportunity to play elsewhere as a graduate. Pope has had major back surgery twice.


Arkansas defensive back Jarques McClellion, who started 21 games in 2018-19 but opted out for the 2020 season, is transferring to Florida State. McClellion played his high school football at American Heritage in Fort Lauderdale.

Georgia will be without three players for its Peach Bowl encounter with unbeaten Cincinnati, the most important of which is linebacker Monty Rice, a three-year starter who was in on 49 tackles with a fumble return for a touchdown in 2020. Opting out along with Rice to prepare for the NFL are corner D.J. Daniel, who had nine tackles and one pass breakup and tight end Tre McKitty, who caught six passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. Rice will get drafted fairly high. Daniel and McKitty better be incredible combine warriors or they’ll be trying to sign as free agents.


LSU lost two players to the transfer portal Monday, the most important of which is running back Chris Curry, who was the Tigers’ leading rusher with 64 yards in the upset of Florida. Also entering the portal is defensive lineman Nelson Jenkins, who opted out before the 2020 season began. Curry, who hails from Lehigh Acres, FL has three years of eligibility remaining.


Missouri’s best defensive player, linebacker Nick Bolton, has opted out of the Tigers Music City Bowl game with Iowa to prep for the NFL Draft. Bolton had 95 tackles this season and 224 for his career.


SO SAYS MATT HAYES …

There is growing discontent with the College Football Playoff, where it seems the same 5-6 teams play for the national championship every year. In a column for Saturday Down South, Matt Hayes addressed the need for change moving forward:


“The CFP can’t get complacent. It’s time to grow.


“There’s too much television/streaming money available for the Playoff to not expand. Programs are losing money and eliminating Olympic sports at a drastic pace because of this COVID season and will likely continue to do so well into 2021.


“Change shouldn’t happen because Texas A&M got hosed in this year’s selection process, or because Ohio State was gifted (again) a spot in the Playoff. Or because SEC commissioner Greg Sankey – the sport’s most powerful commissioner – decides he’s ticked off about the Texas A&M snug and wants to set the wheels in motion (which he absolutely could and may do.


“It should arrive because without change – without an expansion of the CFP – college football risks damaging its brand and ignores potential billions in broadcast revenue.”


SAY IT AIN’T SO BO … Matt Zenitz of al.com, who has a habit of coming up with scoops regarding SEC football, is reporting that LSU will be making a change at defensive coordinator. Bo Pelini is on his way out after one season per the report. Pelini, the defensive coordinator for Les Miles when LSU won the national championship in 2007, came back to LSU after stints as the head coach at Nebraska and Youngstown State. LSU will owe him roughly $4.6 million when he cleans out his office.


Footballscoop.com is reporting that defensive line coach Bill Johnson is going to retire and safeties coach Bill Busch is not expected to return.


JUST SAY NO … TO AUBURN Louisiana head coach Billy Napier and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian have withdrawn their names from consideration as Auburn’s new football coach. More and more this looks like it will come down to a decision to hire either UAB head coach Bill Clark or Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. If you’re willing to eat nearly $22 million of the former coach’s contract it would seem you have to do better than Bill Clark or Kevin Steele. If it’s Steele, then nuclear winter has descended upon the loveliest village on the plains.


OUT WITH 3-7 TENNESSEE, IN WITH 9-2 ARMY Consider the Liberty Bowl lucky. In this pandemic year in which bowl games will be played in near empty stadiums, the Liberty Bowl had a rather substantial stroke of good fortune Monday when 3-7 Tennessee was forced to opt out because of an increasing number of Covid-19 cases within the program including head ball coach Jeremy Pruitt. Tennessee got the bowl game because (a) every team that played college football this fall is bowl eligible and (b) the SEC has a contractual arrangement with the Liberty Bowl. With Tennessee out of the picture, the Liberty Bowl picked up 9-2 Army, which was bowl-less because it had signed a deal to go to the Independence Bowl only to have that bowl game cancel due to the virus.


While the Liberty Bowl seems to have landed on its feet, you can’t say the same about Tennessee, which seems to be stuck with Pruitt for at least another year. At least that’s what you would gather from tweets from UT athletic director Phattus Maximus. Phat Phil Fulmer did a tweet-a-thon about Pruitt, claiming he was “thrilled” that the 3-7 Vols were going to be playing in the Liberty Bowl against West Virginia, adding that the game is “a tremendous development opportunity for our team and should serve as a primer to spring practice for Coach Pruitt and our returners.” As you might expect, the Big Orange Nation erupted. What they would like is for Pruitt and Phat Phil to exit stage left and never return again.


A PITHY PARTING SHOT: It took a pandemic to knock down the financial house of cards that is the college football financial model. We’ve known for years that it was unsustainable. All the virus has done is accelerate the collapse. What 2020 has also taught us is that good football is played in a lot of places other than the Power Five. College football needs Cinderella stories. It needs something other than the same teams to play for the national championship every year if it intends to get back on its financial feet. We need an eight-team playoff that puts a premium on conference championships and opens the door for at least one from the Group of Five to get a shot at hoisting the big trophy with the confetti flying down every year.




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