As a reward for his victory in his rookie debut, Correspondent Brandon Gould will be the judge in Week Seven of AtD. WTSR Sports Director Mike Leatherwood and Correspondents Drew Conn and Dan Neyman will make their cases for the Heisman trophy frontrunners, which teams in the NFL have been the most surprising and disappointing, and which NHL player is the preseason favorite for the Hart Trophy.
1. Since Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow have been banged up already, is Colt McCoy a lock to win the Heisman or is there an outsider who will steal the spotlight?
ML: Before we start handing the Heisman over to Colt McCoy, we can’t count out Tim Tebow yet. The Gators have a bye week this week which will give him a chance to rest before the matchup with SEC rival LSU. Also, Urban Meyer said that Tebow looked “terrific” last Tuesday night, which tells me Tebow is recovering well. With Tebow’s toughness, don’t count him out playing against LSU and if he leads Florida to the title, he’s almost a lock for the Heisman. As far as other candidates go, McCoy is the favorite. The voters tend to favor star players on the top-tier teams, which knocks Houston quarterback Case Keenum and Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike out of the picture. With Texas being a very strong team this year and very few other candidates close to McCoy, he gets it as long as he can stay healthy and Tebow doesn’t pull off a comeback.
DC: Don’t count Tim Tebow out yet. With Florida’s bye week providing additional time to heal, I would not be surprised in the slightest to see Tebow play against LSU next week — the only way he isn’t returning for that game is if Urban Meyer and the medical staff literally form a barrier in front of the door and don’t allow him to walk onto the field (even then Tebow would probably put his head down and barrel through them). The injuries to Sam Bradford and Tebow definitely make McCoy the new favorite, but he will only be a lock to win if Tebow misses significant time. No one else is even in the same realm as Tebow and McCoy right now, and it will continue to be a two-man race unless Jimmy Clausen or Jahvid Best have dominating performances for the remainder of the season, which is doubtful.
DN: This year’s Heisman Trophy will not go to Bradford, Tebow or McCoy, but instead will go to Cincinnati’s quarterback, Tony Pike, whom most of the country has never heard of. Bradford hasn’t even played two full quarters this season, no one knows how Tebow is going to play after coming back from a nasty concussion, and McCoy has struggled. McCoy has already thrown five interceptions through four games, after only throwing eight all of last year. This year’s Heisman Trophy is going to go to Pike. He has quietly led the Bearcats, who are currently ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25, to a 4-0 start. Through four games, Pike has thrown for 1,223 yards, with a whopping 70.5 percent completion rate, with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. With a relatively easy remaining schedule, aside from next week’s match up at South Florida, Pike should continue to cruise, and if they keep winning, the Bearcats might find themselves in a big bowl game with a Heisman-winning quarterback at the helm.
BG: Dan gets 3 here for picking a dark horse in Tony Pike and providing statistics to back it up. Mike gets 2 for pointing out that most Heisman winners come from top-tier teams. One point goes to Drew for being conservative and sticking with Colt McCoy.
2. After the first three weeks of play in the NFL, which team is the biggest surprise and disappointment?
ML: The biggest surprise in the NFL this year has got to be the Denver Broncos. After trading Jay Cutler and top receiver Brandon Marshall not wanting to be in Denver, coach Josh McDaniels has silenced his critics by getting the Broncos off to a 4-0 start. Yes, the win against the Bengals was on a fluke play, and they play in a fairly easy division, but anytime a team is 4-0 in the NFL is an accomplishment — especially for a rookie head coach. The biggest disappointment has to be the Tennessee Titans. After finishing last season with the best record in the NFL at 13-3, the Titans are sitting at 0-3 and last in the AFC South. The Titans have some tough games ahead of them including at New England and two games against the Colts. With Kerry Collins getting wrinkles by the second, could it be Vince Young’s turn again? Who knows?
DC: Entering the season, we knew the Jets were going to have a very good defense but few expected it to be this dominating, especially against a team like the Patriots. But the Bengals beating the Packers and the Steelers, who saw that coming? The Bengals were literally 10 seconds from being 4-0 were it not for Denver’s lucky play. Nobody knew what they were capable of entering the season, nobody expected resilient and hard-fought wins, and nobody thought they would be able to contend with the Ravens and Steelers. I’m most disappointed in the Panthers because of how they lost their games. With minimal offseason changes to the team, it is shocking to see DeAngelo Williams struggle to put up 100 yards, an extremely erratic passing game, and a mediocre defense. The Titans show some potential to turn their season around soon, but the Panthers are a complete mess right now.
DN: After the first three weeks in the NFL season, there have been a number of surprises and disappointments. I think that the biggest surprise is the 3-1 San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers, who should be 4-0, if it wasn’t for a miraculous throw by Brett Favre with two seconds left in the game, have played well as a team, and Coach Mike Singletary is looking like he is the right man for the job. Shaun Hill is playing good, not great football, but at the end of the game is where he seems to lock in and shine. While he is no Joe Montana or Steve Young, Hill might just be able to lead the 49ers to a playoff berth, honorable mention goes to the Lions for actually winning a game. The biggest disappointment, on the other hand, has to be the 2-2 Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers currently find themselves in third place in the AFC North behind much improved Ravens and Bengals teams. The Steelers barely squeaked by the Titans in Week one, winning in overtime, and have since dropped back-to-back games to the Bears and Bengals, losing with 15 seconds or less in both games. Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t looked right all year, and their ground game has been relatively nonexistent. If I were the Steelers, I would start panicking a little bit.
BG: I like Dan here for 3. He gave to the Lions some love and called out last year Super Bowl champs. I find it funny that the Lions and Steelers currently have the same record. Drew gets 2 for pointing out the Jets’ hot start and attributing the Panthers’ slow start to something other than Jake Delhomme. Mike gets 1 for going with the obvious ESPN choices.
3. The NHL season begins this week. Who is your early choice to win the Hart Trophy (the NHL’s MVP award)?
ML: Instead of picking the really obvious choice in Alex Ovechkin, I really think that Evgeni Malkin could surpass Ovechkin as the Most Valuable Player in the NHL. Last season Malkin had 35 goals and 78 assists in 82 games for the Penguins, as he led the team to the Stanley Cup title. The Penguins are again going to be a fantastic team this year. Going along with what I said in the Heisman question, voters for the MVP, just like voters for the Heisman, like to favor players on better teams. Also, Malkin is more of an all-around player while Ovechkin is more of a pure scorer. Plus with Crosby there along with Chris Kunitz, defenses can’t focus their entire team on Malkin. I think he will have a huge year and could be the favorite for the Hart Trophy.
DC: Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are the popular choices to win the Hart Trophy, and for good reason as both players are obviously immensely talented. But the player I pick is Ilya Kovalchuk of the Atlanta Thrashers, a lesser-known but equally good player. There is substantial talent surrounding both Ovechkin and Crosby, so they will not need to drag their respective teams into the playoffs. Kovalchuk will. He knows that the Thrashers only hope is for him to dominate, and with this being his contract year, I expect him to do just that. He will have a monstrous year, win the Hart Trophy, finally become recognized as an elite talent, and will be hockey’s hottest free agent in years. This year may be the year that Ovechkin wins the Cup, but it’s Kovalchuk’s year to win the MVP.
DN: When talking about the Hart Trophy, the two names that automatically come to mind are Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. My pick for this year’s winner, however, goes to the somewhat underrated Evgeni Malkin. Malkin is often involved in this discussion, but is constantly overshadowed by Crosby, seeing as they both play in Pittsburgh. I think Malkin will shock the NHL by claiming the Hart Trophy this season. Malkin, who just so happens to be the 2009 playoff MVP, was more integral in the Penguins stunning upset over the Red Wings, then Crosby was. Malkin quietly led the NHL in assists and points last year in both the regular season — with 78 assists and 113 points — and the playoffs with 22 assists and 36 points. Malkin has not only been named as the Penguins MVP for the past two seasons instead of Crosby, but he has also been a finalist for the Hart Trophy for those seasons. Malkin is Pittsburgh’s franchise center, and this season, he will finally get the recognition that he deserves and be declared the NHL’s Most Valuable Player.
BG: Even though I disagree with him, I give Drew 3 for making the boldest prediction here picking Ilya Kovalchuk to win the Hart Trophy. Dan gets 2 for going with Evgeni Malkin, my favorite to win it, and explaining his postseason success last year. And 1 goes to Mike for mentioning that Malkin is more of an all-rounded player than Ovechkin.
Neyman wins the first game of his career, 8 – 6 – 4