So San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey won’t be in New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony to celebrate college football’s best player, as called for in a previous post on this blog.
The finalists announced a few hours before this writing are Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, Clemson QB DeShaun Watson, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield and WR DeDe Westbrook, and Michigan jack-of-all-trades Jabrill Peppers. No Pumphrey. Not a running back or West Coast player among them.
The second leading career rusher was probably among the top three as recently as mid-November, but he gained just 76 and 53 yards in a pair of Aztec losses to end the regular season. To win the Heisman, of course, you need to do amazing things at money time to lead your team to unimaginable heights. Not only did he not do so, but his fumble in the third quarter at Wyoming arguably cost them the game.
It was pretty clear midway through the season that Pumphrey was well behind Jackson in the Heisman horse race, so getting him to New York was the goal. And he fell short. But that doesn’t take away from his tremendous senior season and career. While the Heisman isn’t a career trophy, a strong bowl game performance will make him the NCAA career rushing leader. That will be more than enough to celebrate.
If I had a Heisman vote, by the way, I’d pick Watson, who has had to overcome a surprisingly weak Clemson defense to outscore opponents on a weekly basis. One of Pumphrey’s problems in the race is that there have been a lot of great performances this fall, and he’s not the only one with an argument who won’t be going to New York.
So Ohio State, as expected, made the college football playoff field despite not even having advanced to the Big Ten championship game, in which Penn State outscored Wisconsin. Again, the Buckeyes are clearly one of the top teams in the sport — whether among the four best is up for argument — and while there needs to be flexibility for the selection committee and there’s a place for a wildcard team, one would think that a team being considered for playing for a national championship should have at least won their division.
My playoff picks: 1. Alabama 2. Clemson 3. Washington 4. Oklahoma
Pumphrey’s bowl game will be against Houston in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17. A COACH AT HEART touches on the frustration among SDSU coaches, players and fans about never reaching a bowl game in the 1970s despite posting sparkling records. Late that decade, there were only a dozen, most in the South and favoring southern participants.
Now, there are so many bowls that most fans only care about a few of them, and the match against the Cougars will be the Aztecs’ seventh in a row. That’s quite a contrast to how things used to be. The game is already being called one of the best matches of the postseason, and Houston figures to be the most talented of the seven opponents to date.
The other program featured in A COACH AT HEART, Stanford, will play North Carolina in the Sun Bowl on Dec. 30. The Cardinal finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak after some mid-season struggles.