Henry / Heisman
As the 2015 football season winds down, the talk centers on what four teams will make the National Championship Playoff, which teams will fill the 40 bowls. (The NCAA needs 80 teams to fill the record high 40 bowl games), and of course, who will win the Heisman Trophy. The Heisman Trophy was originally created to honor the best college football player in America. For the last 65 years it has been presented to the best quarterback or running back in America. The award is named for a former Auburn football coach named John Heisman. He later became instrumental in forming the Downtown Athletic Club in New York where he served for many years. This club initiated the Heisman Trophy in honor of Coach Heisman. It is voted on by a restricted number of writers and broadcasters around the country. In the early days, most of the press were concentrated in the middle eastern part of the United States. Therefore it was very difficult for a player from the south to win because of the small number of voters designated in the Southeast. That changed somewhat when Frankie Sinkwich from Georgia won the award in 1942. He was an all purpose back that did everything for the Bulldogs. Since that time Auburn has had three winners: Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton. Georgia had another, Hershel Walker. LSU had Billy Cannon. Alabama had Mark Ingram. So, as the Southern influence of the press grew, it became a more fair representation for players from the South.
Still the Heisman Trophy is not necessarily given to the best football player, but to the best quarterback or running back. This is of course because these are the players that are written about and talked about the most. For example, before the season started this year, I thought that the best football player in the country was Miles Jack of UCLA. He was a terrific linebacker and he played fullback or running back in crucial situations. He was injured early in the season but he would not have won the award anyway. No linebacker has won this award in modern college football.
It will be a running back or possibly a quarterback this year. Leonard Fournette, the running back from LSU, was the favorite at mid-year until he ran into that star studded defense of Alabama. Fournette has now dropped off the map. Even though Alabama's outstanding running back, Derrick Henry had been putting up big numbers in every game, he was not nationally recognized until his performance against what was considered a really good LSU defense. Henry gained over two hundred yards and Fournette gained less that forty. As November ends, Henry has gained well over one thousand yards, having run for over 200 yards in five games. He has also been a steady pass receiver for quarterback Jake Coker.
Derrick Henry has been a big difference maker since his freshman season. However, offensive coordinator at Alabama, Lane Kiffin, did not know how to use Henry. Kiffin was only interested in getting credit for developing four year backup Blake Sims into a record setting passer. In the process of doing so, Kiffin caused Alabama to lose two games last year, and most likely the national championship. With Kiffin's game plans, Alabama should have lost two more in which they were out played, Arkansas and LSU. During the semifinals of the first four team playoff game with Ohio State, Derrick Henry ran the football only thirteen times, averaging over seven yards per carry. Yet, Kiffin chose to have Blake Sims win the ball game in critical situations such as when a twenty- two yard punt in the fourth quarter gave Alabama a first down inside Ohio State's twenty-five yard line. Alabama was only trailing by six points on first down with six minutes to go in the game. Kiffin calls for a roll out pass on first down that Sims through short into the end zone. Ohio State intercepted and the game was for all practical purposes over. What if Kiffin had called for four straight tailback powers to the left? Four times seven is twenty-eight–touchdown Alabama. Derrick Henry maybe scores with two minutes on the clock–Alabama wins.
Derrick Henry is no "Johnny Come Lately." He has been a star since his first carry as a freshman at Alabama. He is fast, he is strong, he is durable. When was the last time anyone saw Henry injured to where he could not play? He carried the ball thirty eight times against LSU and could have played another quarter. Had he been used properly over the last three years, Henry would have gained over three thousand yards and Alabama would have been national champions in 2014. Coach Nick Saban finally corralled Lane Kiffin and told him to build the offense around Derrick Henry, give Jake Coker a simple way to get the ball to his playmakers on the outside, don't try to create another quarterback star in Kiffin's crown. Credit Lane Kiffin. He has done exactly that. Alabama has a good run pass ratio this year. For this reason with the defense even better this year, there is no reason Alabama can not take the 2015 National Championship Trophy back to Tuscaloosa. Put the load on the best running back in America, Derrick Henry. He delivers.
Even though Henry looks like the front runner for the Heisman, he could be pushed by first year starter Baker Mayfield from Oklahoma as long as the Sooners keep winning. Mayfield is a taller, smarter version of Johny Manzel who is also a better passer than Manzel. He is coming on strong. The members of the press are always enamored by quarterbacks. They don't understand that ten other people on the offense must perform flawlessly for the quarterback to be effective. It has always been this way. It will always be that way. Quarterbacks get too much credit for winning and also too much blame for the failure of their team. They always have. They always will. It would be a disgrace if a quarterback is chosen over Derrick Henry.
Derrick Henry is not a perfect running back as we will find out at the NFL Combine next year. At 6-3, 240 lbs., Henry is much faster than he appears to be. He runs as fast as he has to. The only problem is his starting speed. He probably will not have a good forty yard dash time at the Combine. It takes about three or four steps for him to reach his speed. That is what makes him such a good tailback in college. While he is surveying the line of scrimmage, he has a little extra time to decide what gap he wants. This is a real advantage in the Alabama offensive this year. It should carry over to the NFL. NFL running backs are asked to take a good look at the gaps available before turning on the speed. Derrick just does that naturally. So, his time in the forty will not impress. He will also probably not do well in the cone drill. That involves starting and stopping and getting started again. This is not his forte. When he gets started he becomes what is called a down hill runner. He is mostly a straight line runner who can make deceptive cuts in the open. His straight up running style is not ideal. Scouts would prefer more forward body lean. However, when it is called for, Henry leans on people very well and he lowers his head and shoulders to gain more yards after contact. In other words his YAC (yards after contact) is very impressive. Will the professional coaches try to change him? No way, he is ready. They will draft a pro ready back that can be featured in his rookie year. He is also a very good pass protector which is desired in the NFL. Most pro teams pass 65% of the time. That makes him a first round draft pick even though he will not score well on the four main professional yardsticks, the forty, the cone drill, the vertical jump and the standing broad jump. He will not need any of these measurements when he is running over linebackers in the National Football League.
Derrick Henry has a few more linebackers to run over in college if Alabama is to win the national championship and Henry is to win the Heisman. I get goosebumps every time Coker hands Henry the ball. It's like playing the nickle slot machines. He can be stopped for little or no yardage, but you know one of those carrys is going all the way. You just don't know which one. So you have to keep "Feeding the Beast"!
This is a good time to say a word on my favorite subject; Too many bowls. A few years ago the NCAA authorized more bowls (32), which meant that at least half of the teams in the top division in college football would be playing in a bowl game. One-half would be left out. As more bowls requested sanctioning from the NCAA, we have reached a saturation point where there will be 80 teams playing in a record 40 bowls this year. This makes for an astonishing statistic. Only 48 teams in America will not go to a bowl. We are approaching the system in America where everyone gets a participation trophy –whether you win or not.
Last year I wrote a column called "Cut Bowls.com with a corresponding website of the same name. I got 170,000 hits in the first three weeks. There are millions of football fans all over the country that are tired of the proliferation of bowl games that have been sanctioned by the NCAA.
So, the NCAA has reached the point of over scheduling bowl games. The governing body of college athletics passed a resolution a number of years ago that in order to be eligible to go to a bowl, a team must have at least six wins. In 2015 there are not 80 teams that will have 6 wins based on their records as of November 25th. What will the NCAA do? Break their own rules. That would be a new one.
Here are the teams that are struggling just to get to 6 wins. At this point in the season it looks like the NCAA will come up a few teams short of 6 wins in order to fill 40 bowl games. It serves them right. It will also be very interesting to me personally to see what the NCAA does to solve this problem of their own making.
There are 13 teams as of Thanksgiving Day that have 5-6 records with one game to play: Buffalo, East Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Old Dominion, San Jose State, Tulsa, Virginia Tech and Washington.
There are 4 teams as of Thanksgiving Day that have 4-6 records with two games to play: Louisiana Lafayette, Georgia State, Kansas State and Texas.
There is 1 team with a 5-5 record with two games to play: South Alabama.
It is possible for the 18 teams above to not qualify for a bowl. There are only 72 teams that have already qualified with at least 6 wins. Take away the 4 teams participating in the national championship playoff and there are only 68 teams that are qualified. Therefore at least 12 of the above 18 teams must win 6 games and qualify in order to fill the 40 bowl games to be played this year. The NCAA has a problem of their own making. It will be interesting to watch this drama play out!