Mailbag: Heisman chatter

Make sure you send Ted a great big thank you in his mailbag for doing the Best/Worst for another year. I've enjoyed them as much as you all have.

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To the notes!

Jon in Tumalo, Ore., writes: Kevin where is (Taylor) Lewan in your Heisman Poll? Clowney had one highlight play against Michigan. Lewan was dinged up and still more than held his own in this game. Clowney's sack total vs. the SEC comp is not all that. In fact, Will Sutton put up equally impressive numbers. We'll see this season, but Clowney simply takes too many plays off IMO to win the Heisman. But never underestimate the SEC hype machine. All the best.

Kevin Gemmell: That’s a fair question, and, unfortunately, Lewan wasn’t in my preseason top five. Not because I don’t think he’s an outstanding lineman (and I know that Michigan coaching staff really well and spent a lot of time with O-line coach Darrell Funk when he was at San Diego State), but because the metrics –- unfairly -- aren’t available to compare Lewan to other players in Heisman consideration. For example, last year, Michigan ranked 28th in the country in sacks allowed, giving up 1.38 per game. Lewan might not have given up any, but he’s part of a unit that did. It’s really tough to compare what impact an offensive lineman makes because with them it's more about what you don't see.

And that’s also one of my biggest gripes with the award, that offensive linemen are overlooked. I would love it if the Outland Trophy were held in the same regard as the Heisman. But that's not the case. And I fall prey to it sometimes as a writer -– using the phrase “skill position,” for example, to describe quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers. I usually catch myself, knowing, as we all do, that it takes just as much skill to play on the line. Maybe I’ll re-think my top five after Week 1 and go against the grain.

I would, however, argue your point that Clowney's sack total against SEC competition “is not all that.” Actually, I think it’s more impressive because they simply don’t pass as much in the SEC, so there are fewer opportunities for sacks. The SEC’s 14 teams averaged 386 passing attempts last year. The Pac-12’s 12 averaged 447. More opportunities for Sutton or Anthony Barr, but the same sack total. And I know, Sutton missed time last year so we can get down to the nitty gritty if you want. I get all that. That’s why we get to wipe the slate clean and start fresh.

Sutton and Barr are very much on my Heisman radar and I’m looking forward to what should be an outstanding defensive season for the Pac-12.

Tim in Salt Lake City writes: I'm not sure I buy your logic for ranking De'Anthony Thomas so low. I understand that he's tough to classify, but that should only matter when trying to compare him to running backs, receivers, or return specialists, but this is a list of top players overall. He's easily a top-10 candidate and probably a Heisman contender. No homerism here (I'm a Utah man!) but I have to give credit where credit is due. I don't know what else he needs to prove.

Kevin Gemmell: I hear ya, which is why I stipulated that he could end up No. 1 on the postseason list. What we tried to do is really focus on the returning players and rank them based on their credentials from last season and not as much projection. I’m guessing the postseason list will look a lot different because players such as Shaq Thompson, Dion Bailey, Isaac Seumalo, Jordan Richards, Eric Kendricks, maybe even a Connor Halliday, etc. will garner some postseason honors.

In coming up with this list, we first looked at returning All-Americans and then returning all-conference players. Hard to believe that DAT was only an honorable mention last year – but it’s true. Yet he’s ranked on this list ahead of several players who got first- or second-team all-league honors last year such as Hroniss Grasu, Ben Gardner, Xavier Su’a-Filo and Morgan Breslin.

No one is disputing his big-play ability and explosiveness. I think most folks are just waiting to see what his role is going to be in 2013. And if he continues the same production with increased touches, we’re going to see him ranked much higher in January.

Brett in Portland, Ore., writes: Is it just me or is the Stanford hype this year a little premature. It seems like the trendy pick is to pick the Cardinal over the Ducks for the North title, but looking at the results from last year, eight of Stanford's 12 wins were by a touchdown or less, compared to 0 for Oregon. In fact, outside of the loss to Stanford, the only game Oregon played that was in doubt in the fourth quarter was against USC. Teams like Oregon State, Washington, Arizona, and Washington State were close to Stanford -- a few different bounces and the Cardinal are an eight-win team. These teams were simply not overmatched against Oregon. Even looking at the bowl games, Oregon notched a much more impressive win, blowing out No. 6 Kansas State while Stanford only beat unranked Wisconsin by 6. Are these preseason predictions based on uncertainty over Oregon's coaching situation, or is there something else I'm missing?

Kevin Gemmell: Actually, the Pac-12 blog is going against the grain in picking the Cardinal to win the conference. The rest of the media that covers the Pac-12 picked Oregon to win the division and the Ducks are ranked ahead of Stanford in the ESPN.com power rankings and the coaches poll.

This wasn’t an easy selection – at least on my end – for some of the reasons that you mentioned. But anytime there is a coaching change, there is some hesitation. And it’s actually some of those reasons that you mentioned about Stanford winning close games that gave them a 51-49 edge when I filled out my ballot.

If the Cardinal had graduated a ton of players from last year’s team, it would be a completely different story. But the fact that they have so many of those veterans back who are used to playing in tight games should actually be more reassuring. It’s unlikely Stanford will be in a situation they haven’t seen before. When you look at Oregon, however, the only time they got into a tight game in the fourth quarter, they lost. That’s not to say it will happen again -– some of Oregon’s pups from last season are more mature and hopefully learned from that. The fact that Oregon hadn’t really been in a tight game before the Stanford showdown worked against them. Even the USC game -– which was 34-31 with 10 minutes left in the third –- never really felt like a close game.

The bottom line is these two teams play very different styles of football. Once again, Stanford probably won’t be the sort of team that wins by 28 points every week, which is fine. They aren’t built that way. A win is a win. Both should be really, really good this year and both should be fun to watch. Can’t wait until Nov. 7.

I put a lot of time and thought into my power rankings and predictions. But I also know, just as fans, coaches and players do, that the only rankings that matter are at the end of the season.

Jim in Chicago writes: Is there an appreciable aftereffect from playing an especially physical team? The reason I ask is because two of the tougher games on Oregon's schedule (since they don't play USC or ASU, or a nonconference opponent with a pulse) are UCLA and Washington, who conveniently enough are playing Stanford the week before the Ducks.

Kevin Gemmell: Depends on what your definition is appreciable aftereffect is. Are players more likely to be sore after a physical game? Of course. Is there a greater chance for injury –- maybe? Though I don’t think so. Every team hits hard. And sometimes it’s the hits that don’t look as hard on the outside that ring the most on the inside.

The idea of “physical” football, I think, is more applicable to within the game. A physical team wears down opponents over the course of the game. Five-yard runs in the first-half turn into 2-yard runs in the second half because of a physical defense. Likewise, 2-yard runs in the first half turn into 7-yard runs in the second half with a physical offense. A quarterback who takes a number of hits in the first half will start to feel it more in the second half. QB hits is a very important, yet underrated stat. As for week-long impact, I wouldn’t read too much into it. These are young men who are in phenomenal shape. They tend to bounce back pretty quickly from soreness and other ailments that would keep most of us on the couch for two weeks.

Jon in Salt Lake City writes: Why is everyone just penciling a win for OSU against Utah. Utah steamrolled OSU in 2011 and held them to their lowest total yards (263) and yards per play (3.51). Utah was ultimately undone by four turnovers. This just isn't a good matchup for the Beavs; expect a close one.

Kevin Gemmell: I think “pencil” is the operative word here. I’m certainly not putting it in ink. But I think it’d be fair to say that the Beavers will at least be road favorites.

I mentioned in the Oregon State season preview that I thought they had a good chance to start 7-0 or 6-1. I’d say if there was going to be a loss, Utah would probably be the team to do it. It’s a home game for Utah, which helps, and we’ve all been looking forward to some improvement in the Utes offense this year.

However, I still think, as of today, Oregon State is still favored. They’re going to pass it quite a bit and there are a lot of question marks in the Utah secondary right now. I’m certainly not saying it’s a 100 percent win for the Beavers. But it’s hard not to look at Utah as an underdog in that game given some of the question marks surrounding the defense.

Larry in Los Angeles writes: You made a funny with your all-scrabble team reference. I liked that. Who else is on your all-scrabble team?

Kevin Gemmell: Ted and I have been known to make the occasional funny. During that media day chat, however, I think the best line went to Ted with this gem:

Ted Miller: BREAKING: Graham just said that Arizona State would attempt to play 2 games at a time this year.

Ted Miller: CORRECTION: He said one game. My bad.

But back to the original question. I quickly eye-balled all of the rosters – but I didn’t go through and do the math on every player. After all, we’re not in the business of goofing off on the Pac-12 blog.

After a quick scan, I’ve decided that the MVP of my all-scrabble team is Oregon State’s Tyrequek Zimmerman. By my count, 43 points without double or triple scores. It’s money when you can get a “Q” a “Z” and a “K” all put together. I’m sure there is a higher-scoring name out there. I’d encourage you all this weekend to go over every name on every roster and report back to me on Monday. Go forth and get your scrabble on.