Friday, November 21, 2008

Stormin' Norman

Norman, Okla., will be in the college football spotlight Saturday night when the Oklahoma Sooners host the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Clearly, the still unbeaten Red Raiders will be in the driver's seat in the Big 12 South if they win the game. The Sooners will have a chance to claim a share of the divisional title if they win — but only if they can beat Oklahoma State next week.

However, the battle for the Heisman Trophy may well be decided on the field in Norman. Texas Tech is led by quarterback Graham Harrell, ranked #1 in passing yardage per game. Oklahoma is led by quarterback Sam Bradford, ranked #3 in passing yardage per game.

Gil LeBreton writes, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, that the key is Oklahoma's defense.

Not too long ago, he writes, "[w]ith its big-play defense and its Heisman candidate quarterback, Oklahoma looked like a national championship contender," but LeBreton contends that OU's defense changed when linebacker Ryan Reynolds suffered a season-ending injury against Texas.

On the eve of the Oklahoma-Texas Tech showdown, Oklahoma ranks 93rd in passing defense. Texas Tech ranks 98th in passing defense.

And LeBreton wonders, perhaps not facetiously, "[h]as there ever been a Big 12 [football] game in which both teams scored in the 80s?"

Last year's Heisman winner, Florida junior Tim Tebow, is often mentioned as a prospect to win this year's award, but I don't think he'll pull an Archie Griffin and win the award for the second straight year. He has the misfortune of being compared against what he accomplished in 2007 — and his numbers aren't close to what he put up last year.

The only way I see Tebow really getting into serious Heisman conversation at this stage is if something unexpected happens tomorrow night (i.e., OU and Tech fight through an atypically low-scoring, defensive football battle with a final score along the lines of 6-3) — and if Tebow has performances of legendary proportions against non-conference rival Florida State on Nov. 29 and then against top-ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 6.

The other name that is often mentioned — although not as much recently &mdash is Texas quarterback Colt McCoy. But he has gradually fallen off the Heisman radar since Texas lost to Texas Tech, and the only way he'll return to prominence is if Harrell, Bradford and Tebow all falter.

Gary Shelton of the St. Petersburg Times counsels his readers not to hate the Heisman "because ... Tebow is probably going to lose it" or "because ... Bradford is probably going to win it" (in anticipation of a "change" brought about in Saturday's game).

"Do not hate the Heisman because it is overhyped or because it is statistic-driven or because it is strangely more popular than the Nobel Peace Prize," Shelton writes. "Do not hate it because it is reserved mainly for quarterbacks or running backs from the major conferences. Do not hate it because it rarely achieves its goal of deciding the best player in America. Do not hate it because, somehow, Andre Ware won it."

Here is the reason, Shelton says, to hate the Heisman: "Every year, the voters are forced to decide the winner too darned early."

Shelton thinks the Heisman should be awarded after all the games have been played in January.

And there is a certain logic to his argument that "[t]he movie is still going on, and already, these guys want to toss Academy Awards at the screen."

But, in 2008 at least, I think the curtain is about to come down. And the final scene will be staged in Norman, Oklahoma.

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