All Heisman Finalists Were Surprise Contenders

On Saturday night the Heisman Trophy will be awarded to the top individual player in college football. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks with Audie Cornish about who is up for the award. They also talk about bowl games, coaching woes, and collegiate realignment.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Tomorrow night in New York City, college football will award its biggest individual prize of the season, the Heisman trophy. There are three finalists and two of them, were they to win, would defy Heisman tradition. Joining us to discuss that and more college football is sports writer, Stefan Fatsis. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So who are these finalists and why is it unusual?

FATSIS: It was unusual because it was just an unusual year for the top players. None of the finalists, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, were considered favorites at the start of the year. Klein was soaring, had one bad game and a controversy over whether or not he sustained a concussion. Te'o would be the first defensive player to win the award since 1997. And Manziel, finally, is a freshman and he's got a great nickname, Johnny Football, and a freshman has never won the Heisman trophy.

CORNISH: OK. This is all happening, though, before the big college bowl games and I want to get into it. I want to preview. Any big surprises as far as the teams that got in?

FATSIS: Well, frankly, Manti Te'o's Notre Dame is kind of a surprise. Notre Dame's been a nonfactor at the top level of college football for about two decades. They're going to playing Alabama, another storied brand. This is going to be one of the most hyped and probably most watched college football games of all time. Big surprise, in the bowl championship series, that top tier of five games, one outlier snuck in.

Northern Illinois, thanks for the system of computer polls, human polls and this convoluted system of contingencies, Northern Illinois with a 12 and 1 record from the Mid-American Conference is going to be playing against Florida State in the Orange Bowl on January 1st. Some commentators have been vilifying this occurrence. I think it's great when a small school comes in and sticks it to the big boys.

CORNISH: But I understand that Northern Illinois will play that game without the coach that got them there. I mean, how does that happen?

FATSIS: Yeah, the coach, David Doeren, took another job before the bowl bid was announced. Overall, 22 schools are going to have new coaches next year. Fourteen because they fired the coach. According to an ESPN report, that's going to cost universities a total of $31 million in contract obligations. And there are consequences to that. After firing its coach, the University of Tennessee announced that its athletic department wouldn't make $18 million in contributions to academic programs over the next three years in part because they have to pay these buyouts for the coach and his staff.

Auburn's coach, Gene Chizik, was fired two years after he won a national championship and he'll get a $7.5 million buyout. This is one of the many outrages in college sports.

CORNISH: And, of course, depending where you stand, there's other outrages, like the conference realignment. I mean, schools leaving one conference to join another, we've seen a lot of that this year, right?

FATSIS: Yeah. And the biggest among the latest changes is no doubt been Maryland leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, which it helped to found 60 years ago. They're going to move to the Big 10. This is simply and purely a money grab and then abandon history, geographic logic and the toll on students who are now going to be forced to travel thousands of miles to play games. None other than Duke basketball coach, Mike Krzyzewski who's in that ACC Conference, yesterday blasted this kind of realignment saying it's bad for college sports.

CORNISH: Thank you, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. You can hear more of him on Slate.com's sports podcast, "Hang Up And Listen."

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