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Thursday Morning Brews (7/3/14)

Yup, the bling.

Stacy Revere

Lighthouse Candidates for Heisman, Part II

As I said in the first part of this series, preseason Heisman lists have taken a beating lately. Five of the past seven winners of the award were in their first season as a full-time starter. They may never fully disappear, though, because they also serve a very simple purpose of identifying who the game's stars are in any given year, even if people mistakenly attach Heisman buzz to their name in the process.

And like with any award, it's not perfect, even right up to when it's awarded - Adrian Peterson should've won it in 2004, but the voters weren't ready for a freshman recipient. Tommie Frazier (Nebraska's quarterback) should have won in '95, but Eddie George of Ohio State did. Herschel Walker or at least Hugh Green should have won it in 1980. But while it's not what the players play for, the award is a historic one, and one lucky college athlete gets to be a part of that every year.

Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Mariota has been a star ever since he was a giant question mark, replacing Darron Thomas (6,334 combined yards and 71 touchdowns in 2010 and '11) and playing even better (7,809 combined yards and 77 touchdowns in 2012 and '13). He chose to return to Oregon for a redshirt junior campaign and will have a fantastic chance to capture the Heisman Trophy - perhaps better than Winston, given that only one person has ever won it twice. As a runner, Mariota is quick, but definitely more simplistic and reliant on being faster than defenders and running in places defenders aren't. His running numbers come from the fact that defenses have to stop so many things. And, of course, he is faster than linebackers.

What's truly impressive about him is his quarterbacking. He had a 68.5% completion in 2012, which fell to 63.5% in 2013 but he raised his yards per completion by 20%, and dropped his interceptions. In short, he threw downfield more and suffered more incompletions, without the turnovers. In fact, all four of his picks were in the last two regular-season games, before which his numbers looked like this: 330 total yards per game, 34 touchdowns, three turnovers. And to be honest, I'd expect him to be a better overall quarterback than he was last season and be a finalist, assuming he stays healthy, for the Heisman. An easy prediction, perhaps, but this would be a case where the hype should live up to the expectation.

Nick Marshall, Auburn

Auburn's rise from 0-8 in-conference to playing for the championship is well documented. As magical as that season was for Auburn and anyone who hated Alabama, one would have to expect a return to the relative doldrums of not having the greatest moment in college football history take place against your greatest rival - probably. This, then, is where we'll get to know more about Gus Malzahn and his staff and what they're made of. It's easy to say that Nick Marshall loses his wingman, Tre Mason, and key linemen on both sides of the ball. It's even easier to say Marshall is a fantastic athlete who can put stress on a great defense.

For Marshall to be as effective, he'll need other running weapons for the defense to not key on him. Luckily, he has two in Corey Grant and Cameron Artis-Payne, two seniors who backed up Tre Mason last year and got 1,257 yards and 8.0 ypc with 12 touchdowns. Check. On top of that, all of his top six wideouts from a year ago are back. Check. And while they lose Greg Robinson, they don't really lose anyone else, they have two other All-SEC performers, and have recruited tons of OL talent the past few years, with 9 four-stars from 2011-13. Check.

On the flip side of all this, Marshall would need to do a lot more than maintain his 2013 production. He threw for only 1,976 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, and while he's a wonderful runner (1,068 yards there, another 12 TD's), he doesn't, frankly, merit Heisman consideration yet. He's benefited from being the returning star on a #2 ranked team, but his inclusion on Heisman lists is because of his athleticism, not his production. He would have to go to an entirely differently level to actually beat out Bryce Petty, Jameis Winston and company. And that would be a stretch to predict, despite his inclusion on Heisman lists so far.

Braxton Miller posted similar numbers last year (2,094 passing yards), but he, at least, could reasonably break out as a passer, given that he shows a very deft touch on some throws but poor mechanics on others. He also has more experience throwing downfield, having run an offense for three full seasons. Marshall can work on his passing and has done so, but he's definitely going to be at his best when he's a runner first and a thrower second. In games where he averaged 5.5 yards a carry or less, his completion percentage was below 56%. Better than that, and it was 67.5% with a 7-to-1 touchdown ratio. But unless he gets 1,500 to 2,000 rushing yards, he won't approach the yardage totals that would put him in real Heisman territory, and I doubt Greg Malzahn would run him that much anyway. It essentially breaks down the power of that option offense. And a season like that should be a nightmare scenario for Auburn fans rather than a dream come true.

Darkhorse Candidates for Heisman, Part I

Here's where I really throw things out of whack.

Bo Wallace, Ole Miss

Okay, don't laugh (I'll be saying that a lot). Bo Wallace could be the first Heisman winner in Ole Miss history if the team exceeds expectations this year. In fact, Ole Miss is well set up for that to happen. They don't have a very tough test until the start of October, the fifth game of the year against Alabama, which is at home. Ole Miss runs an offense that could capitalize on Bama's weaknesses. After that, they play LSU in Tiger Stadium and Auburn at home. They have a rivalry game at home against Mississippi State. As tough tests go, that's it. There are other good teams, as well - Boise State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. But all of those teams have lost head coaches, starting quarterbacks, or are Tennessee. If the Rebels - 8-5, 3-5 in-conference last year - can jump to another level, even just being a 10-win team, Wallace will be on Heisman watch lists.

He has some of the athleticism that appeals to the media and voters, with 745 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground over the last two seasons. But he doesn't rely on it like some others, and true running quarterbacks (Michael Vick, Vince Young, Denard Robinson... Nick Marshall) have struggled to either win the biggest games or else win over the minds of voters who've been jaded by 'trick' offenses. Running Heisman QBs tend to be physical, Cam Newton-types. Bo Wallace, to a smaller extent than Newton, is that. Each of the last four recipients threw for at least 2,800 yards and 26 touchdowns, while also getting at least 200 yards on the ground, 4,200 yards total and 4 rushing TD's. The good news for Wallace is he's almost in that territory already, getting 3,346 yards passing last year and 3,701 total.

But of course, the real question is whether Ole Miss can improve or not. The Rebels jumped from 2-10 to 7-6 in Hugh Freeze's first year, then improved by a game in 2013. In fact, the Rebels were top-40 in both offense and defense, and beat LSU and lost to Johnny Manziel and the Aggies by three. They lost to Auburn by eight. The defense should improve overall, given that they were so young last year and return 9 starters.

What might hold the team back was the offense's red-zone efficiency. It's a team that's undersized at the skill positions, and quickness doesn't help as much in a compressed field. Essentially, the talent surrounding Wallace hasn't been able to win the individual battles enough to maximize his abilities or make them elite. There's no ready solution for that on the horizon (6'5" freshman Sammie Epps?), but if the coaches are able to find a way, offensively, to support Wallace, they could very easily drop his interceptions (10) and sacks (24) and highlight his skills (64.8% on the year) for an Ole Miss offense.

An Ode to Tom Harmon

Obviously, most fans know much less about our first Heisman winner than our more recent two, and it seemed fitting to have something about him. But his biography on the official Heisman website seemed to say it all, so I'll just add paragraphs and give it its own article. Enjoy.

In his three seasons, "Old Ninety-Eight" scored 33 touchdowns, kicked two field goals and kicked 33 points after touchdowns for 237 points, and threw 16 touchdown passes. He gained 3,438 yards rushing and passing, and played almost every minute of his three-year career.

A solid 193 pounds, Harmon was a power runner noted for his cutbacks through tackles - usually with his ripped jersey. He was probably the finest ball carrier in the country in his time. Against Ohio State in his final college football game, Harmon went 11 for 12 throwing the ball for 151 yards and 2 TDs. He also ran for 139 yards and 2 TDs, kicked four extra points and intercepted three passes as the Wolverines trounced Ohio State 40-0. He also averaged 50 yards per punt.

Harmon's subsequent career in broadcasting is even more outstanding than his football accomplishments. After a four-year stint as a pilot during World War II (he was awarded a Silver Star and the Purple Heart), he married actress Elyse Knox and played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1946 and 1947. In 1949, after experiences as Sports Director of WJR in Detroit and commentator on KIEV in Glendale, he became Sports Director of the Columbia Pacific Network with daily radio and television shows. Tom reported "live" on major sporting events from the Olympics to the Rose Bowl for networks such as CBS, ABC and NBC, eventually totaling over 10,000 broadcasts. Tom broadcasted for the Los Angeles Raiders until he passed away in March of 1990.

Tom was elected to the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame in 1954.

Hitting the Links Is Slowly Building Up

We'll be seeing plenty of Hilliard & Cornell, after all...

Okay. Okay.

Brady Hoke goes in-depth about California trips

This is a very nice interview from Brady Hoke's office (which is in the Al Glick Building! Did not know that) that includes some photos of Michigan players being trained by Navy SEALs.

Lawrence Marshall bulks up for DE spot

It's fair to say a lot of people are expecting Frank Clark to play often and well. After that, it's a good progression from 20-year old junior Mario Ojemudia to Lawrence. Being at a good weight will help him capitalize on the advantages of learning from and being around two other players at different stages of their careers.

Michigan Embraces Darrin Kirkland, Jr.

I do appreciate this part of Michigan football, a lot.

Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu Is A Polished, Dynamite Player

He's really started getting some name recognition, and he's been great for the Ducks. Obviously, any addition like him to the defense makes that offense that much more unbeatable.

Melvin Gordon vs. Todd Gurley

This is a great film room comparison of the two backs. It also had some great information, like the fact that Melvin Gordon is a career 8.1-ypc running back in college.

ESPN's Take Two: Nebraska's Perspective

There's also an attached link inside that points to Maryland getting a better deal than Rutgers and Nebraska due to its $52 million exit fee from the ACC. I hadn't known about that before. Also, the steepness of the ACC exit fee was a very recent dynamic; it had been around $20 million until September 2012, and the change had been voted against by Maryland's Loh and FSU's Eric Barron.

ESPN's Take Two: Theoretical SEC Expansion Teams

This was inspired by Rutgers' and Maryland's move to the B1G, but it also lets me daydream about something that would win the most absurd fan scenario ever, beating out every time a fan says, "What if we get all those five-stars we offered?" If we do go down the superconference road eventually, and the Big 12 with its Longhorn Network is subsumed into the Atlantic Pacific wherever, the Big Ten might convince a couple interesting teams to join if the conference remains fiscally sound and plays good football over the next couple decades. Notre Dame hates us, but it would feel right having them in the B1G West. Oklahoma would be a coup. Louisville could join from the ACC. Hey, I told you this was the most absurd fan scenario of all time.

Marcus Mariota: The Hawaiian Chill Factor

That was the nickname given to him by Chip Kelly, while Helfrich instead has pushed him to be more of a vocal team leader. I actually feel like Helfrich can help the Ducks go to another level. I remember feeling like Oregon hadn't capitalized on the 'wow' factor they'd created for themselves enough to recruit on both sides of the ball, and they needed a tiny, little more than Chip Kelly's offensive innovation. They were #2 in the AP Poll in 2012, but #22 in the '13 class; #4 in 2011, resulting in the #16 class; and #3 in the AP Poll in 2010, with a #9 class that featured 8 out of 11 blue-chips play on offense their first year, but one of those three defensive players was Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The team doesn't strictly need elite classes like Alabama does - it maximizes its classes on offense, but they have to recruit defense.

No secret to successful conference moves

This is a very nice perspective, and includes some recent migrations and how those teams fared, as well as the takeaways.

Pac-12 Offensive Line Preview

The writer may be optimistic about some of the middle choices, but the Pac-12 is turning into a bit of an offensive line factory between Stanford, Oregon, USC, and Washington.

Imani Cross Spin Cycle

Cross doesn't get much attention, but he's a great complement to Ameer Abdullah with his explosive but more fullback-like style. He had 447 yards and 5.3 ypc, both less than Abdullah, but he scored more touchdowns - 10 to 9. Both players work well together.

Predicting the Spartans' offensive MVP

Langford led the Big Ten in carries last season despite not starting for the first month. Dantonio has a lot of Saban in him, and he'll want to run the ball and choke the clock.

Taylor Martinez in 2012 B1G Championship

I found the video to a gif I had indirectly linked to before, complete with Gus Johnson's play calling.

Eastern Michigan Eagles to feature gray turf

I'll say this: Eastern Michigan's campus, particularly around the Student Center, is beautiful. I'd be very happy to see winning football in Ypsilanti. Erm.... hopefully gray turf will do that.

Nick Marshall passes to himself for 37 yards

No, I'm not kidding. Absurdly fluky but that's what it was registered as.