Hype hits high peak

LSU-Alabama show­down may also de­ter­mine front-run­ner for Heis­man

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Brett Mar­tel

BA­TON ROUGE, La. — An­other high stakes tilt be­tween LSU and Alabama could once again prove piv­otal in Heis­man Tro­phy vot­ing.

While the win­ner of the game will have an in­side track to the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off, the matchup also fea­tures top Heis­man hope­fuls at the same po­si­tion for the se­cond time in five sea­sons.

In 2015, the fo­cus was on star tail­backs Der­rick Henry for Alabama and LSU’s Leonard Four­nette. Now it’ll be on the quar­ter­backs — the Tide’s Tua Tago­v­ailoa and Tigers’ Joe Bur­row.

“The one that plays the best and wins the game should have a shot to win it,” LSU coach Ed Org­eron said.

Henry knows how much the game can im­pact the Heis­man. LSU ar­rived in Tuscaloosa un­beaten and ranked fourth in 2015, while one-loss Alabama was No. 7.

“That game I wasn’t re­ally fo­cused on the Heis­man,” said Henry, who ul­ti­mately won it. “They were un­de­feated. We had one loss. They were com­ing in with all the mo­men­tum, so I re­ally wanted to just go out there and play a good game and let it be a turn­ing point in our sea­son.”

Henry car­ried 38 times for 210 yards and three touch­downs in a 30-16 tri­umph that helped pro­pel the Crim­son Tide to a na­tional ti­tle. Four­nette was lim­ited to 31 yards and one TD on 19 car­ries.

Heis­man voter Rece Davis, the host of ESPN’s “Col­lege GameDay,” re­mem­bers how that matchup swayed him.

“It had a big im­pact be­cause Leonard was, if not the fa­vorite, cer­tainly one of them,” Davis said. “There were a cou­ple things that went into Der­rick Henry’s can­di­dacy that year. One was cer­tainly that game and how dom­i­nant he was.”

Davis said it would be ap­pro­pri­ate for Heis­man vot­ers to at­tach ex­tra em­pha­sis to Satur­day’s clash in Tuscaloosa if the win­ning quar­ter­back plays well.

While the Heis­man is awarded to col­lege foot­ball’s “most out­stand­ing player,” Davis said, “most out­stand­ing play­ers should shine on bright­est stage, right? That’s sort of the his­tory of the award.”

Doug Flu­tie’s game-end­ing scram­ble and 48-yard touch­down heave that lifted Bos­ton Col­lege over Mi­ami in 1984, and Des­mond Howard’s 93-yard punt re­turn for Michi­gan against Ohio State in 1991, af­ter which Howard struck the Heis­man pose in the end zone, are “just mo­ments you as­so­ci­ated with Heis­man win­ners,” Davis said.

Org­eron has been an as­sis­tant coach on four teams that have pro­duced Heis­man win­ners, and he has touted Bur­row’s can­di­dacy much of this sea­son.

The LSU coach has seen how big games carry weight with Heis­man vot­ers.

“I re­mem­ber (USC QB) Car­son Palmer beat Notre Dame in a big game in the end and won the Heis­man,” Org­eron said. “It puts you on a na­tional stage and I think it helps you.”

Bur­row has com­pleted 205 of 260 passes (78.9 this sea­son for 2,805 yards (350.6 yards per game) and an LSU sin­gle-sea­son record 30 touch­downs. Tago­v­ailoa, who has played about a game-and-a-half less than Bur­row be­cause of an an­kle in­jury, is 145 for 194 (74.7%) for 2,166 yards (309.43 per game), and 27 TDs. Bur­row has been in­ter­cepted four times and Tago­v­ailoa twice.

Alabama coach Nick Sa­ban has yet to of­fi­cially list Tago­v­ailoa as ready to re­turn from his in­jury, but said he has prac­ticed this week and is do­ing well. When Org­eron was asked if he ex­pects Tagovialoa to play, he smiled and said, “Sure!”

Bur­row said he hears the Heis­man hype he’s gen­er­ated and cares about the award, but won’t sac­ri­fice team goals for it.

“It was a goal when I was lit­tle. Not so much a goal now. I’d rather have a big fat ring on my hand. But, I mean, it does cross your mind,” Bur­row said ear­lier this sea­son, adding that win­ning big games “are the kind of games you need to get there and get to where we want to get to as a team.”

Davis said Bur­row en­ters Satur­day as the top Heis­man can­di­date, but only by a slight mar­gin over Tago­v­ailoa and Ohio State de­fen­sive end Chase Young (131⁄ sacks, five forced fum­bles). Also in the mix is Ohio State run­ning back J.K. Dob­bins (1,110 yards and nine TDs rush­ing, 132 yards and two TDs re­ceiv­ing).

Davis said Bur­row is ben­e­fit­ing from how well he has run LSU’s new spread of­fense.

Org­eron as­serted Bur­row “has all the mak­ings of an out­stand­ing pro,” adding, “I do be­lieve he’s as good for sure, or bet­ter, than the quar­ter­back we’re play­ing. But the only way to an­swer that is on the field.”

On the flip side, Davis said, Tago­v­ailoa could be a vic­tim of his own suc­cess.

“Peo­ple started com­plain­ing about him throw­ing slants all the time. It’s ridicu­lous,” Davis said.

“So, a guy that’s been in the fore­front like that, ev­ery lit­tle is­sue, even if it’s not a real is­sue, gets mag­ni­fied.”

LSU run­ning back Clyde Ed­wards-He­laire, who’s from Ba­ton Rouge, re­mem­bers how the 2015 game hin­dered Four­nette’s Heis­man can­di­dacy. He has mixed feel­ings on how much in­flu­ence one game should re­ally have.

“If Joe plays a good game, you can’t just say, ‘Well, if it didn’t swing our way, he shouldn’t win the Heis­man,’ ” Ed­wards-He­laire said. “Right now, he’s play­ing like the best player in col­lege foot­ball. I don’t think it should be dic­tated by a game.”

Even if one game doesn’t de­ter­mine the Heis­man, Satur­day’s show­down is bound to have a huge im­pact.

AP Sports Writ­ers Teresa Walker in Nashville, Ten­nessee, and John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, con­trib­uted to this re­port.

ERIC GAY/AP (BUR­ROW), VASHA HUNT/AP (TAGO­V­AILOA)

KEVIN C. COX/GETTY

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