Two years ago, high school senior Jameis Winston’s potential was unfulfilled, but his skills were unquestioned. However, there was a subtle debate over whether a 6-4 contemporary senior signal caller seven hours away in Columbus, Indiana was just as skilled, if not more. The recruiting services ranked them one and two as quarterback prospects and even today their paths are inextricably linked.
ESPN 150 considered Winston, the 14th best prospect in the Class of 2012, while Kiel was the 52nd rated player behind just Winston and former Cal quarterback Zach Kline. Rivals was a little more generous, rating Winston rated 10 spots higher than Kiel, their 20th ranked prospect. Only Scout.com had Kiel ranked as the nation’s top quarterback.
Lost amidst the Jameis Winston maelstrom was the lobg overdue debut of Gunner Kiel on Saturday. If you have a dumbfounded look on your face right now, that’s okay. In the two years since he began his heralded college football career at LSU and Notre Dame, Kiel’s hype has dimmed dramatically. However, his talent is still glowing on the outskirts of college football’s Power 5 spotlight.
Prior to his senior season at Columbus East High School, Kiel gave his verbal to the Indiana Hoosiers whose campus was 45 minutes away from his home, providing former Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson with a recruiting coup. Much like Robert Nkemdiche’s choice a year later to play with his brother at Ole Miss over attending Clemson, Kiel would also play alongside his brother Dusty, who was a run of the mill sophomore quarterback. However, Dusty was beginning to execute his exit strategy from Bloomington and soon his brother followed suit. Kiel cracked open his commitment two months before early graduation and ultimately chose LSU in late December — two weeks before he was supposed to arrive on campus.
However, while LSU was reeling from a national championship loss to Alabama, in which he watched their incompetent offense stumble around like a punch drunk boxer as their senior quarterbacks slung feces across the field, Kiel never arrived for enrollment and instead wound up at Notre Dame.
Notre Dame was the best of both worlds for Kiel. His uncle, Blair was a four-year starter at Notre Dame and the camus was still just four hours away.
However, and one month later, a livid Les Miles used Kiel as a punchline before giving big ups to native Mississippi turncoat quarterback recruit Jeremy Liggins.
"There was a gentleman from Indiana that thought about coming to the Bayou state," Miles said. "He did not necessarily have the chest and the ability to lead a program, so you know," Miles said as the Bayou Bash crowd applauded his bashing of Kiel.
"Liggins stood up in the middle of Mississippi and said, 'I'm going to a place where we can win a national championship,' and I like that man's style," Miles added.
Last weekend, Liggins also scored his first career FBS touchdown on a quarterback dive from two yards out — as an Ole Miss Rebel. Liggins now looks more like Jamarcus Russell than Miles could have ever imagined, after he ballooned to 300 pounds.
Liggins failed to qualify academically at LSU before winding up at Northeast Mississippi State Community College where he played defensive end and quarterback.
Kiel began competing with more experienced signal callers at Notre Dame, but in April of 2012 his uncle passed away and he wound up tucked behind redshirt junior Everett Golson on the depth chart, which didn’t appear to be that bleak of a position until Golson led Notre Dame to the national championship game.
A month after Kiel transferred to Cincinnati, Golson was dismissed from Notre Dame forcing Kiel to sit out the season and watch senior Tommy Rees ascend to a starting job that he could have won.
After years of playing hot potato with his collegiate destination, Kiel finally played hot potato with his receivers during live game action last week.
Because Stony Brook cancelled their arranged season opener, UC practiced through bye weeks while every other program in the nation was kicking off, becoming the last program in the nation to kickoff its season. No stranger to late starts, Kiel exploded for 418 yards and six touchdowns against Toledo, shattering an obscure FBS record for touchdown passes by a quarterback in his college football debut.
Those 418 yards were no dink-and-dunk prestidigitation either. Kiel came out blazing, beginning with a 52-yard completion on his first play from scrimmage and finished his afternoon with a 67 percent completion percentage as well as the nation's highest passer rating and its fourth highest yards per attempt average.
Although, Kiel is a mystery in live action, this was an unexpected leap forward from the impressive up-tempo, vertical offense Kiel displayed in UC’s spring game where he complete 17-of-22 passes for 300 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.
"He exceeded my expectations," UC head coach Tommy Tuberville said after their 58-34 victory. "I didn't think he'd play that well."
Kiel may look like a stereotypical flat-footed throwzini (because he’s Caucasian, that’s the assumption many will make), but while he went shake defenders out of their shoes with his lateral quickness, his straight-line speed is enough to keep defenses honest.
"For me, I think I silenced the critics. People were bashing me." said Kiel after overcoming butterflies prior to kickoff. After years of silence and movement off the radar, Kiel didn't need to say much. This was a statement game that Miles, Brian Kelly and the NFL were meant to hear.
While the university’s Nippert Stadium undergoes renovations, Kiel will share his home field with the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. If he continues at this pace, this season won’t be the last time he’s trying to win games on an NFL field in September.
While Jameis Winston begins sabotaging his own NFL future, Kiel is succinctly re-emerging at just the right time and reminding everyone that he may be a more stable prospect than Winston after all.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND HEISMAN STATISTICS
Marcus Mariota (Oregon, QB) – Mariota’s career has felt a little like Colt McCoy’s. He’s barely missed out on title opportunities in the recent past, then while McCoy was a third wheel in the Tebow-Bradford triumvirate, Mariota was a tertiary complement behind Winston and Manziel. He’s been criticized for not being vocal enough of a leader, but after Jameis Winston’s kerfuffle, maybe a little reticence isn’t such a bad thing.
Todd Gurley (UGA, RB) – Through no fault of his own, Gurley has stumbled for a negative gain in this week’s Heisman Watch. If you have to blame someone, direct all eyes to UGA offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and Mark Richt. After Damian Swann jumped Dylan Thompson's pass and an illegal blocking penalty flag gave the offense half the distance to the golf. Instead of putting the ball in Gurley's chest at the South Carolina 4, the Gamecocks sniffed out the play-action and as a result, a sure ground touchdown became an unintentional grounding that set up Marshall Morgan's "Wide Richt" 1 miss.
Amari Cooper (Alabama, WR) – Hangin’ with Mr.Cooper’s been an impossible task of late for cornerbacks.
However, depending on how he comes out looking after being blanketed by lockdown corner Vernon Hargreaves III this weekend could determine the future of his Heisman candidacy. The bar is raised for wide receivers, therefore any slippage could squash his candidacy.
READY FOR A HEISMAN CLOSE-UP
Demarcus Robinson v. ‘Bama: Amari Cooper leads the SEC in receiving yards and the nation in receptions, but the Gators sophomore has more end zone ticket stubs and is the only player averaging more yards per game than Cooper, but thunderstorms have slowed him down as he was robbed of the chance to pad his stats against Idaho during opening weekend.
Collin Downing (P, Iowa State) – After Eric Kendricks and Washingon defensive tackle Danny Shelton held down this spot for two weeks, there is no defensive Heisman representative in this edition.
However, there is Downing, whose efforts are vital for a Cyclone team that ranks 105th in scoring offense and 85th in scoring defense. Unlike Texas A&M’s self-aggrandizing punter, Drew Kaser who continues pushing his own Heisman candidacy on a team that has rarely punted this season and ranks fourth in scoring offense, Downing’s team looks to his leg often when times during their long scoring droughts.
ISU's punter Collin Downing has kicked 15 punts with an average return of 2.4 inches per punt so far this year. Not bad. @brentblum
— Kyle™ (@hellonnnewman) September 17, 2014
THE SHAME OF JAMEIS
"If I ever get Manziel disease, I want all of you to smack me in the head with your microphones." Jameis Winston quipped nearly a month before his inaugural start as the Seminoles starting quarterback.
Forget bopping him over the head with a microphone. Where’s Winston’s mom with a switch when you need her?
We’ve come a long ways from Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow’s attempts to repeat as Heisman Trophy winners.
Remember the good old days when Johnny Manziel’s “money sign” and “phantom autograph” touchdown celebration was the nadir of an immature reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s behavior?
As you’ve probably heard by now, Jameis Winston has been banished from the first half of Florida State’s primetime clash with Clemson.
On the list of things not to yell out when you’re being investigated by you university for sexual assault, “F*#k her right in the pussy!” ranks somewhere behind “In the wise words of Marion Barry…” or “If I did it.”
Winston has No.1 overall pick talent but is on a dangerous path to a ghost town on the fringes of relevancy occupied by Anthony Weiner and Ryan Leaf. Winston's own NFL future and any potential endorsements could be in jeopardy if he continues down this path.
There’s never been a worse time to have issues communicating with women than now and given his dubious history, that’s exactly what Winston appears to have going against him.
What’s scarier about Winston is that he appears to suffer from a debilitating case of IDGAF disease. It’s a malady that affects individuals with no filter and prompts listeners to utter a synchronized, “WTF?”
It’s even more devastating to men and women in powerful positions who have a propensity for speaking off the cuff.
Politicians Michelle Bachmann, Anthony Weiner, Allen West and Richie Incognito have suffered from this verbal vomit that's accompanied by a lack of shame.
Since Winston foreshadowed the dark turn his image would take prior to his freshman campaign, Winston looks like the Ebola virus in contrast to the hiccups caused by the aforementioned Manziel disease.
Winston’s downfall is much like that of Weiner’s.
The sharp-tongued Weiner was the quintessential New York politican, however a scandal exposing his sexting compulsion turned him into a Congressional pariah during the summer of 2011. Weiner retreated into obscurity for two years before re-appearing as a candidate for the Mayor of New York City.
However, a second scandal involving text messages, sent a year after he’d resigned for posting an inadvertent dick pic on Twitter instead of as a Direct Message essentially crushed any hopes presently or in the future he’ll ever have for higher office.
Someone needs to stand up in a public forum and tell Jameis, “Stop f**kin’ yourself over!” because he's an obscene text message away from being a leper because his mistakes endanger the national championship repeat aspirations of his other 84 plus teammates, coaching and training staff as well.
Winston should save his proclamations for the locker room and the football field. Last year, it was Winston’s pre-game speech before the Clemson matchup that accentuated the positive vibes surrounding his meteoric rise. The crater surrounding his name is indicative of how quickly his lofty reputation has fallen.
Beating Clemson is in the short-term interests for Winston, but in the long-term, keeping a low profile outside the lines between now and the NFL Draft, whether it’s 2015 or 2016 is the best play he could make.