Heisman, Smeisman, Lamar Jackson will be much improved

Lots of different feelings tumbling around, ranging from unbridled confidence, cautious optimism to some outright trepidation, as the 2017 college football season begins Saturday for the University of Louisville.

For the first time ever, UofL will have a Heisman Trophy winner calling signals, one of the fast and most elusive quarterbacks to ever play the game, crazy quick feet and a shotgun arm. He’s also bigger, has another year of maturity, hopefully learning from the season-ending adversity.

For much of the national sports media to overlook him is an indictment of the same people who made him the Heisman winner last season. Jackson is inevitably going to be much better, folks, with the sophomoritis behind him. He’s got it all now — speed, experience and, most of all, with extra motivation, thanks to the second guessers.

For Lamar Jackson, a Heisman Trophy is secondary to winning games (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Jackson may not come close to the touchdown production he had last season — 20 rushing, 30 passing. He’s going to be depending more heavily on some of his talent teammates, at least according to Coach Bobby Petrino, noting that Jackson doesn’t have to do it all himself.

With a new offensive line coach in Mike Summers and more beef, talent and experience on that line, Jackson should have more time to read opposing defenses, go through the progressions, find open receivers and provide more opportunities for his running backs.

Oh, he will continue to be a major scoring threat. He’s still going to do more than his share of scoring. But Louisville has a chance to have much more balance on offense this time around. The offense will be anything but predictable, no more zeroing in on Lamar Jackson on every snap.

Reggie Bonnafon may finally be where he needs to be, having played quarterback, running back and wide receiver during his first three seasons at UofL. He’s the featured running back as the season begins, with a chance to finally live up to four-star billing coming to UofL. This is his senior year, and we think he gets it, it is now or never.

The stable of running backs also includes Jeremy Smith and Malik Williams. All three of them are capable of going the distance on any play or broken tackle. The fact that they are lining up with Lamar Jackson makes even more unpredictable.

Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins appear ready to pace the wide receiver corps, having impressed Petrino during the pre-season. “Both of them are catching the ball and getting open, and we’re able to do different things with them,” said Petrino.

Over on defense, there’s Jaire Alexander, a pre-season first team All America selection at cornerback, capable of breakout games on defense and kick returns. Linebackers James Hearns and Trevon Young will terrorize opposing quarterbacks. And there are four seniors on the defensive line.

Much to be enthused about on the eve of the 2017 season. Anything and everything is possible, ranging from a possible breakthrough for a conference championship to another collapse. An experienced team returning, having had  nine months to think about those three consecutive losses at the end of the last season. We don’t believe this team is going to allow that to happen again.

Whether Lamar Jackson wins another Heisman Trophy is the last thing on any of their minds.

Jackson needs Louisville teammates to share spotlight

Experience has taught long-time University of Louisville diehards that it’s best to keep those expectations in check. This one still hasn’t recovered from the disappointing end of the 2016 football season.

Lamar Jackson can’t do it all by himself (Charlie Springer photo).

Three humiliating defeats, including a loss to the University of Kentucky and two games (Houston and LSU) in which the Cardinals were never competitive. The loss to UK occurring after UofL’s Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson coughed up the ball on Wildcats’ 10-yard line.

The worst possible way to end a season. Demoralizing, plunging from sight after being  considered a serious college playoff contender most of the season. A large dose of humble pie for those who dared to envision the ultimate for UofL football.

But that was last year. Here we go again, with UofL kicking off fall camp on Monday in preparation for a new season. Time to put the past behind, look to the future, trusting that Bobby Petrino figured out what happened to his team. Not allow it to happen again. The coach having shuffled his coaching staff during the off season, bringing in some new faces and fresh approaches.

If 2016 taught us anything, it was that having college football’s most elusive quarterback  is no guarantee of success. Jackson was the first player in Football Bowl Series (FBS) history with 3,300 passing yards and 1,500 rushing yards in a season, running for 21 touchdowns and passing for 30 more TDs. Incredible numbers.

Never doubt, however, that someone on the Florida State coaching staff hasn’t spent the last year reviewing game film from UofL’s 63-10 win over the Seminoles last season. Jackson ran for four touchdowns and passed for a fifth in that one. That won’t happen again against FSU.

Good that the game was early. While Jackson was putting all those points on the board, his offensive line was regressing, making it more difficult for him at the end of the season. Some argue that he had already clinched the Heisman Trophy before the collapse. He was lucky to find the line of scrimmage as the curtain closed on the season.

Maybe opposing coaches had just figured out how to manage Jackson, knowing that if they could contain him they could stop Louisville. He definitely was not the threat at the end of the season that he was during the first half of the year.

No one, certainly not this observer, doubts that Jackson is a team player. He was always more critical of himself than his coaches were, even when he was accumulating all those touchdowns. Needing to work within the system perhaps, instead of so much freelancing, knowing how to take advantage of his teammates instead of taking it all upon himself.

One suspects that Lamar Jackson would be okay with not repeating as the Heisman Trophy winner if, in the process, he can make his teammates better players. Even if that means fewer touchdowns, accolades and personal highlight reels.

Jackson has been there, done the Heisman thing, but it was not quite what it was could have been, not with that disappointing end for his team last season.

Super Heisman Man: Louisville’s Lamar Jackson

Hey, Lamar Jackson.

There. Did it. Broke out of the gate early, made America take notice, put University of Louisville football squarely in the national spotlight. Nailed down honor after coveted honor, separated yourself as America’s  best college football player in 2016.

No doubt, not even close.

Play after play, on the ground, through the air, touchdown after touchdown, week after week. Setting new standards for athleticism, so often, so consistently. Considered his norm notching three, four or five touchdowns game after game.

Lamar Jackson winner of the Heisman Trophy winner for the 2016 college football season.  Racking up 3,390 passing yards, 1,538 rushing yards, with an astonishing 4,928 yards and 51 touchdowns. Leading UofL to a 9-3 won-lost record.

Louisville has had many great football players. Among them Johnny Unitas, Lenny Lyles, Deion Branch, Brian Brohm, Elvis Dumervil, Howard Stevens, Walter Peacock … So many names on the flight deck at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

But only one of them ever considered a serious contender for football’s most prestigious award — the Heisman trophy destined to stand alongside the Walter Camp and Maxwell Player of the Year awards on the Jackson family trophy wall.

Lamar Jackson bringing unprecedented attention to University of Louisville football, rewarding the faithful for long-standing loyalty. One of the most outstanding performances in the history of any sport.

Lamar Jackson himself, his fans, his detractors, his teammates, the opposition — everyone knowing he could have done much better. God willing, absorbing the lessons, getting better, setting even higher standards next year.

Hopefully blowing the doors off the hinges next season, having only just begun.

Photos courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton.

Lamar Jackson’s greatness differs from another Louisville legend

There probably has never been a more humble candidate for the Heisman Trophy than Lamar Jackson, representing the University of Louisville in the voting for college football’s most outstanding player in 2016.

Jackson is as soft spoken as they come, unassuming, unassertive, somewhat reluctant to accept all the praise coming his way, giving any credit for his accomplishments to his teammates. He genuinely seems surprised that the sports media is making such a fuss over him.

Lamar Jackson prefers wins over individual awards (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Lamar Jackson prefers wins over individual awards (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“I just go out there and play and try to win games and have fun with the team,” he said during a Monday evening press conference. The UofL sophomore indicated that he was surprised at being named a finalist for the Heisman award.

This  despite becoming the first player in Division I history to gain 1,500 yards rushing and 3,300 yards passing in a single season. Only the sixth player to ever post 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in a single season.

Jackson has achieved greatness in a year when the community of Louisville bade farewell to Muhammad Ali, one of the most recognized faces in the world. Ali was loved and respected in spite of his brashness, his arrogant speech and braggadocious personality.

Jackson is, without question, the polar opposite of Muhammad Ali, quietly going about his business. The UofL sophomore has the college football world focusing on him and Louisville football like never before in the history of the program. 

Jackson is not a natural when it comes to public speaking. He would rather be anywhere else instead of in front of a microphone. He is so reticent to speak that the result that he mumbles his remarks, often making his words almost incomprehensible.

There have been many great athletes at the University of Louisville, among them Darrell Griffith who led UofL to its first national basketball championship in 1980. Griffith was considered a Louisville legend long before his cut down the net in Indianapolis.

Jackson, regardless of his low key approach, may have already achieved the status of another “living legend” at UofL. He may well win the Heisman Trophy this weekend in New York, and may even contend for the award again next season.

But for Lamar Jackson, it’s pretty obvious that team honors come first with him. Even more apparent that Jackson will consider next season a failure if UofL is not a serious contender for the college football playoffs and a national championship.

If Bobby Petrino can assemble a support cast to protect him and take full advantage of his exceptional skills, Jackson’s senior year could be very special. The Heisman Trophy is nice, but it’s a distant second to what Jackson wants to accomplish at UofL. 

Bridgewater snubbed by Heisman pundit on likely 2013 candidates

Tough sledding ahead for Teddy Bridgewater in the Heisman Trophy stakes.

Somehow Chris Huston, a blogger for CBS Sports, compiled a list on the leading Heisman Trophy candidates for the 2013 college football season in which there is no mention of the University of Louisville sophomore quarterback. 

Huston’s list, largely consisting of quarterbacks, included players from the usual schools like Ohio State, Oregon, Alabama, Southern Cal, UCLA, and Oklahoma. Eighteen players total, doubtful he would have included Bridgewater if the list were longer.

A comment from this observer about a list not even mentioning Bridgewater not being very credible was deleted within five minutes. Not surprising since this is same site that allowed Matt Jones, a University of Kentucky fan, to attack anything associated with the UofL for a while.

Huston’s qualifications include a former job as an assistant sports information director at the University of Southern California.and he writes on regular basis for the Bleacher Report. Huston’s site, HeismanPundit.com, says this about him:

Huston coordinates the Heismanpundit Heisman Straw Poll, a weekly survey of Heisman voter sentiment.  The poll was the most accurate of all the Heisman polls in each of the last four years, picking five of the top six finishers in the final vote in 2008 while correctly tabbing the top four in both 2009 and 2010 and, most impressively, the top seven in 2011. He became a Heisman voter himself in August of 2009.

Maybe Huston missed Teddy’s performance in the Rutgers game when he guided a 10-2 Louisville team to a BCS bowl, playing with a broken wrist and a badly sprained ankle. Somehow overlooked a season in which Bridgewater, as a sophomore, completed 267 of 387 passes, or 69% of his attempts, for 3,452 yards and 25 passes. Takes a lot to Huston excited, or was it that he just wasn’t paying attention.

When a so-called expert on the Heisman is so clueless, it is obvious that Teddy Bridgewater faces some major hurdles in being considered a contender for football’s most coveted award. His best chance to turn heads comes Jan. 2 in a prime time performance against Florida in the Sugar Bowl.