Any Given Saturday, Week 5: Nobody Can Hang With Mr. Amari Cooper

No FBS wide receiver has won the Heisman since Desmond Howard floated to the podium 23 years ago. However, if it had not been for his return ability and his "Hello, Heisman" moment playing special teams against Ohio State, you’d have to glance back at Tim Brown’s 1987 award for the last receiver to take home college football’s most prestigious award. Playing purely receiver, Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald nearly won the award as a sophomore, hauling in 92 receptions for nearly 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns. Michael Crabtree finished fifth in 2008 on the strength of Texas Tech’s 11-1 regular season record, although his best season was the year prior when he caught 134 passes for 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. However, he finished second to Oklahoma’s stat-stuffer Jason White, whose collegiate career ended ignominiously with putrid performances in the Big 12 title game before getting whacked by LSU in the national title game.

USC"s Marqise Lee quietly finished fourth in 2012 with some ridiculous numbers. However, USC's .500 record mitigated his impact nationally.

Cooper fits all the criteria of what Heisman voters are looking for. Despite, his blue chip status as a high school prospect, the stars were never expected to align for Amari Cooper like this.

Cooper currently leads the nation in receptions and reception yardage, but an offense like Alabama’s is supposed to be predicated on limiting turnovers and using up clock. Those are usually reserved for the Air Raid attacks.

Instead, Lane Kiffin, Blake Sims and Cooper have flipped the script in Tuscaloosa. Through four games, Sims’ security blanket is leading the nation in receiving yardage, receptions and more importantly is doing so on an undefeated SEC team.

To put Cooper's start into perspective, all one needs to do is look back at the Crimson Tide's 2013 offense where he led all ‘Bama receivers with a modest 45 catches for 736 yards.

Receivers are usually the supplementary characters that quarterbacks use as their trampoline to the Heisman Trophy. In 2011, RGIII’s unheralded trio of receivers included Terrance Williams and Kendall Wright (Josh Gordon transferred before the season).

Tim Tebow had the benefit of throwing to Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper.

Johnny Manziel’s star blotted out Mike Evans’ contributions as his safety net.

However, Sims’ profile is so low for Alabama that the limelight has had no choice, but to wander over to Cooper who is putting up video game numbers in a traditionally conservative scheme.

Against Florida last week, the clash between Cooper and Florida’s human eclipse Vernon Hargreaves III was advertised as a matchup of Pacquiao-Mayweather proportions. Instead of Hargreaves putting the brakes on Cooper, the Bama receiver’s star swelled like a supernova as he caught 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

If you extrapolated Cooper’s current pace to a full season, the SEC Championship Game and a bowl game, Cooper would shatter the NCAAFBS single-season record for catches (140) and receiving yardage (2,060).

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. As long as Lane Kiffin keeps giving Sims the greenlight, the most exciting Alabama offense we've seen in the Saban era will continue airing it out and by season's end, Cooper may lead the nation in votes for the sport's most coveted award. 


1. Marcus Mariota – Until otherwise determined, Marcus Mariota is our Heisman frontrunner. That may change once conference play allows other quarterbacks to break out with their own Heisman moments in pivotal contests.

He's completing 74 percent of his passes, compared to 63 percent last season, averaging 11 yards per completion, on pace to throw for a career-high in touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception. Aside from Michigan State, the three defenses he's faced have been chopped liver.

2. Amari Cooper – Cooper’s hands are the most prolific in Alabama football history and he’s only midway through his junior season. While other offenses teleported into the up-tempo offensive mode years ago, Alabama has remained committed told-fashioned ground and pound. While their defense finds its rhythm, 2014 has been the exception and instead of a running back sledding the offense up and down the field, Cooper is leading the Crimson Tide's aerial offense into new heights.

3. Todd Gurley – His last name is feminine, but only Aloe Blacc can capture exactly what he means to UGA’s SEC East hopes.

UGA’s junior phenom is hurt by the fact that whenever Richt rests him, another backup runs through defenses, obscuring just how special Gurley actually is.  However, Gurley’s 9.8 yards per carry and ability to continue churning after contact that reminds you he is the best runner in college football.


Danny Shelton – Washington’s 4-0 start to the regular season has been swept under the rug in the Pac-12. Shaq Thompson gets all the end zone deposits and Marcus Peters patrols the secondary like a drone, but the hogs filling gaps along their front four are what’s been giving opposing offensive coordinators heartburn. Washington ranks 18th in yards allowed per rush, and their defensive tackles Shelton and Hau'oli Kikaha rank first and second, respectively nationally in sacks. However, Shelton has already tallied a team-high 39 tackles through four games after recording 59 all of last season. At this rate, not only is Shelton on pace to eclipse the single season sacks record set by Kikaha last season, but he's having an overall season reminiscent of Nebraska nose tackle Ndamukong Suh's 2009 assault on quarterbacks. Next up is Stanford’s impenetrable O-line. At 340 pounds, Shelton is over 30 pounds heavier than Suh, but don’t call him fat, he’s Huskie.


Charlie Strong's Texas Massacre

In high school, Jameis Winston shouted from the lunchroom table tops that Texas was the football program he wanted to play for. Last season, Mack Brown faced endless criticism for his reluctant approach to recruiting Winston in 2011 and resigned on the night "the one that got away" was awarded the Heisman. Conversely, Winston may not have become a household name  if Strong were his coach. Last month, Strong dismissed receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, who were both arrested on sexual assault charges. Whether he'd make the same decision given Winston;'s track record is all hypoethical, however, Texas’ problems go deeper than the quarterback position.

Losses began trending upward as the troublemaker quotient rose simultaneously. The chicken or the egg theory always applies to situations in which coaches tasked with rebuilding a program begin pointing at discilinary issues as the root cause, however, Strong believes he's identified the problem.

The first chocolate head coach in the history of the nation’s most lucrative football factory is college football’s Willy Wonka. He is a bit of a recluse. Sure, he speaks to the media every now and then, but he’s a reticent man of very few words.

He treats a UT scholarship as a Golden Ticket. Likewise, at an increasing pace, kids are dropping off one-by-one Strong’s football factory tour like Willy Wonka’s kids.

In the nine months since Strong has been head coach nine players have been abruptly dismissed from the program in what can only be described as roster purging.

As the season progresses, the number of souls lost on this journey through the 2014 season may only continue to rise. Strong's personal conduct policyleaves no stone unturned. As the NFL and the rest of the country have become more lenient on marijuana use, Strong is preparing to ramp up his own personal War on Drugs in Austin.

According to the Austin American Statesman, 188 drug tests have been administered during the first eight months of Strong's tenure. Between 2010 and 2013, there were an average of 104 per year.

At a time when NFL franchises are pleading ignorance to domestic violence incidents in search of leniency from the Commissioner while the Heisman Trophy winner is originally given a half-game suspension for an act of recidivist stupidity from his head coach before media pressure raises it to a full game leave of absence against ranked Clemson.

Ultimately, Winston and FSU may have come out the other end stronger for it. In the midst of its purge, the burnt orange have been toasted by foes such as BYU and UCLA. Oklahoma and Baylor lie ahead and even this week’s opponent Kansas is being given a legit chance to emerge victorious over the Longhorns.

Early in his Texas tenure, Strong’s record may look less like Mack’s and more like Mack Brown’s brother, the future leader in all-time losses. However, given the current state of franchises and football programs weeding out snakes in the garden, Strong is ahead of the curve in at least one regard.


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