October 24, 2008

Mailbag: Could Berry be Heisman hopeful?

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Some wounds just won't heal, not even after 11 years.

The mere mention of the name of former Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson still invokes reactions of disgust within the state of Tennessee, where more than a decade later the locals cannot fathom how Woodson received the Heisman Trophy instead of Peyton Manning.

Considering the NFL careers of both, the '97 Heisman vote does seem surprising in retrospect. But Tennesseans are hardly alone questioning past results of Heisman voting.

No doubt, Syracuse faithful still scorn the '56 vote, in which Jim Brown finished fifth. And any old-timer in Champaign, Ill., is sure to bring up that Illini linebacker/lineman Dick Butkus unjustly finished third in '64 behind Notre Dame's John Huarte and Tulsa's Jerry Rhome.

Tennessee has had four Heisman runners-up, but never a Heisman recipient. Vols fans may never forgive the Heisman voters until one of their favorite sons wins the trophy. Whether that could happen in the near future is a topic for discussion in this week's mailbag.

Berry good argument?

Franklin in Memphis, Tenn.: Tennessee safety Eric Berry is on pace to have a better year than Michigan's Charles Woodson did when the media jumped on his bandwagon out of nowhere and snubbed deserving Peyton Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy. Obviously, those of us in Tennessee know if the media wouldn't give Peyton the Heisman, they would never give it to Eric Berry on a bad Tennessee team. If we see Berry on offense this week and possibly returning some kicks, could you see Berry getting the recognition he deserves and garner attention as a possible Heisman candidate next season?

Please allow me to say that in 1997 I voted for Peyton Manning. The knock on him was that he never beat Florida, which never made sense to me because those were tremendous Florida teams and he didn't play the Gators by himself.

But that's not really what your question is about. You want to know if Eric Berry could become a Heisman contender next season.

I believe Berry is one of the best defensive players in the country. This season, Berry has five interceptions, which he has returned for 175 yards and one touchdown. He's the Vols' most exciting player, and rumors are he may be used on offense against Alabama on Saturday.

Frankly, I'm surprised those are just rumors. Berry is so talented that it's a wonder Tennessee coaches haven't used him as a receiver at least a few times a game. And why isn't he returning kicks? You'd think a struggling team would do everything imaginable to maximize its best player. Maybe the Vols will against the Crimson Tide. Perhaps eventually Vols coaches will let him return kicks, too.

If that happens and he proves adept in those roles, he would only increase his value and raise his profile. But he won't be a Heisman contender, as Woodson was, for two reasons.

No. 1, Woodson played on a great Michigan team that went undefeated. Tennessee likely won't be that good next year.

Second, in retrospect, it seems obvious Manning should have been awarded the Heisman, and the voters probably wouldn't want to make a similar mistake. There's the irony: Tennessee's Berry won't have a shot at the Heisman because of the error in not awarding the trophy to Tennessee's Manning.

Tuberville in trouble?

Dustin in Alabama: What do you think about the struggling offense at Auburn, and do you think Tommy Tuberville needs to worry about job security?

Looking back, Auburn's offensive struggles should have been anticipated. After all, the offense already was having trouble, which is why Tuberville fired Al Borges and replaced him with Tony Franklin. Franklin was supposed to install his version of the spread, which in theory would have given the Tigers a high-scoring offense to go with their usual solid defense.

That combination figured to make the Tigers nearly unbeatable. And the idea showed some promise. With Franklin running the offense for just a few weeks, Auburn rolled up 423 yards against Clemson in a 23-20 Chick-fil-A Bowl victory after last season.

Maybe that fostered unrealistic expectations. A successful transition in systems often requires a significant period of growth and adjustment. Why would Auburn players recruited for a pro-style offense suddenly be better in a completely different scheme?

Remember, West Virginia only won three games in its first season under Rich Rodriguez, and Michigan is undergoing similar growing pains, too. Nebraska struggled mightily in its first seasons under Bill Callahan, when he was changing a power-option attack over to the West Coast offense.

I'm surprised Tuberville apparently didn't anticipate similar growing pains and gave up on Franklin so quickly. That said, Tuberville's job security shouldn't be in question.

Auburn has enjoyed great success under Tuberville and has posted at least nine victories in each of the past four seasons, including an undefeated season in 2004.

Just a year ago Auburn was scrambling to ensure that Tuberville wouldn't leave for Texas A&M, so one disappointing season shouldn't overshadow all the success Auburn has had.

But nothing surprises me where SEC football is concerned.

Wondering about rankings

Robbie in Coweta, Okla.: How does USC stay in the top 10 after being beat by a non-ranked team? Georgia lost to a top-10 team, but USC is ranked higher. A little bit of a question there, don't you think?

That's a valid question. But one has to remember that rankings are based on the opinions of voters, not on a formula on who beat who.

Some voters may feel that USC would beat Georgia in head-to-head competition and vote accordingly. Some may feel that while USC's loss was on the road, Georgia's loss was at home and feel that makes a difference.

Most probably take the entire season into consideration.

Yes, the argument can be made that Georgia should be ranked ahead of USC for the reason you mentioned. But USC also has blowout wins over Arizona State (a team also beaten by Georgia), Ohio State and Oregon; the latter two were ranked at the time they faced the Trojans.

Georgia's only victory over a ranked team has come against Vanderbilt, which no longer is ranked.

But Georgia fans shouldn't be concerned with USC. They should be more worried about LSU and Florida.

Heisman hopes

Derick in Utah: Does any player on a team outside the "Big Six" conferences have a chance at the Heisman Trophy? The last one to win it was BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. Before him it was Houston's Andre Ware in 1989. Last year, Kevin Smith from UCF rushed for 2,567 yards and we never heard his name in the Heisman race.

The Heisman does appear to be limited to players from high-profile programs. Really, I thought BYU's Max Hall had a legitimate shot until he struggled in a loss to TCU last week.

Looking back, there are several instances where a player from one of the "lesser" programs should have won. For example, TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson probably would have been a better choice than Florida State's Chris Weinke in 2000. Alcorn State's Steve McNair would have been a better choice than Colorado's Rashaan Salaam in 1994. And now it's hard to imagine that San Diego State's Marshall Faulk lost to Miami's Gino Torretta in 1992.

But that's the way it is.

In the right season, a player from a non-"Big Six" conference can win. But that player will have to have a clearly dominant year in a season when no player from a "Big Six" conference is doing all that much.

That won't happen this year. Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford are playing too well.

Crystal ball

Stan in Gainesville, Fla.: I saw where Rivals.com has predicted a Florida-Texas BCS national championship game. Do you think Texas finishes unbeaten and Florida is the highest-ranked one-loss team? Or do you think Texas also will have a loss?

We're projecting Texas finishes without a loss, although admittedly that is making quite an assumption.

But Texas is playing well and appears to have a well-grounded team that won't get caught up in all the hype that comes with being in the national championship picture.

The Longhorns still have three games coming up against ranked opponents Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Kansas so they easily could stumble. But McCoy is performing at such a high level and the Longhorns' defense keeps getting better under Will Muschamp's guidance, so Texas figures to be a difficult team to beat.

Of course, the Longhorns also will have to win the Big 12 title game, which would likely be a rematch against either Kansas or Missouri in Kansas City, Mo. That's just one more major obstacle to overcome.

Really, if Texas get through that grind with just one loss and still wins the Big 12 championship, the Longhorns probably should get a shot at the national crown.

Florida needs more help, of course. We feel Florida will emerge as the SEC champion and will get the nod over other one-loss teams. But that means the Gators need Penn State to lose somewhere along the way. I know the Gators are pulling for Ohio State this week. Isn't that ironic?

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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