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College Football Thursday: Heisman Landscape
By Matt Horkman

Three ongoing factors may prevent Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston from winning the Heisman trophy.

The first and most troublesome is a sexual assault allegation against Winston. First, it’s important to recognize that there’s a potential victim involved here with their side of the story. Football is the secondary issue. Secondly, the case is still ongoing, so there are still many unanswered questions.

For instance, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times, a state detective told the accuser’s attorney that “Tallahassee is a big football town” and her client’s life could “be made miserable” if she pursued a sexual assault case against Winston. Context matters, but that sounds a bit like intimidation. It’s also important to note that the alleged incident occurred nearly a year ago. This is well before Winston became a national figure within college football. Why is the story being made public right now?
Jameis Winston
This is a very, very serious issue. You’re innocent until proven guilty in this country, but that doesn’t mean Heisman voters won’t make their own presumptions. Every vote counts in a close race, and I imagine it’ll be difficult for some Heisman voters to vote for Winston if the truth remains unknown. 

The second aspect to this Heisman race is the consistency of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. The reigning Heisman trophy winner had his own off-field problems, but they’ve quietly subsided, as Manziel’s put forth a worthy sequel to last year’s Heisman-winning season.

Earlier this week, I wrote that Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron didn’t deserve to win the Heisman over Manziel because the latter is more valuable to this team’s success. He’s also better player. The same standards should apply to Winston.

Manziel is the most exciting player in college football, but Winston’s talent does rival the reigning Heisman trophy winner. Based on value, though, it’s clear Winston plays on a better team than Manziel does. I’m not implying that Florida State wouldn’t be where they are without Winston. They have a very good defense, however, and a steady running game that compliments him. Like McCarron, Winston doesn’t need to go for 300-400 yards for Florida State to win. That’s in stark contrast with Texas A&M, who needs Manziel to go for 300-400 yards just to remain competitive in the SEC.

Finally, a year ago, Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman trophy. Many believe his victory shattered a barrier, but he did it against an incredibly weak field of candidates. Winston, meanwhile, faces one of the strongest fields in recent memory. Even casual fans know about Manziel and McCarron, but Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty remain in the hunt. Petty actually plays in a primetime game this week.

Did the bias against freshman really end with Manziel’s 2012 victory? We simply don’t know the answer to that question.

What we do know is that Winston’s the frontrunner. He’s been the frontrunner ever since Mariota played poorly in Oregon’s 26-20 loss to the Stanford Cardinal. A potential off-field matter and the strength of the contenders have clouded this race, though.

As a result, Winston’s inevitability is gone. In return, it’s been replaced with an environment ripe for an upset.

Draft Watch
Melvin Gordon III, RB, Wisconsin
Outlook: As a sophomore redshirt, it seems unlikely Gordon would declare for the NFL Draft. Given the position he plays, though, it may not be a bad idea. Gordon is a patient runner, who does a nice job of waiting for a hole to develop. When it does, he plants off his back foot, and explodes through the hole. He can make defenders miss in space, bounce to the outside, and run between the tackles. Overall, there’s not much more Gordon can accomplish in college football. If he were to enter the NFL draft, he’d be a terrific fit for a team that runs a similar system as Wisconsin does. Perhaps San Francisco could use an heir apparent to Frank Gore.

Stock: Up

Couch Potato Lineup
Last Week: 1-2
Season Record: 20-13

No. 12 Texas A&M at No. 22 LSU
Time/TV: 3:30 PM EST, CBS
Prediction: This is a matchup featuring two quarterbacks on NFL radar, though LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger has cooled off since his fast start. Regardless, the Tigers are going to have to follow the blueprint Alabama and Auburn set in their victories over Texas A&M earlier this year. Both Alabama and Auburn possessed the ball for 30-plus minutes and totaled 600-plus yards. The Tigers have the firepower to accomplish that with Mettenberger throwing to wide receivers Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry. However, in order to possess the ball for 30-plus minutes, they’ll need running back Jeremy Hill to have a big game. Still, even if they were to succeed with that game plan, they could still lose because Manziel is that good. As you saw in last week’s game between Auburn and Georgia, you can expect many points. This time, the road tem will prevail with Manziel leaving a lasting-impression for Heisman voters. 

Texas A&M 48 LSU 38

No. 17 Arizona State at No. 14 UCLA
Time/TV: 7:00 PM EST, FOX
Prediction: After an impressive victory over Washington, UCLA sets its sights on Arizona State this week. The winner of this game could very well play Oregon or Stanford for the Pac-12 championship next month. The Bruins have two major NFL prospects in quarterback Brett Hundley and outside linebacker Anthony Barr. However, Myles White is the heart and soul of this team. White plays both running back and linebacker for the Bruins. This week, he should make an impact running the ball, as a good running game takes pressure off Hundley and it keeps UCLA’s defense well rested. Arizona State relies on one of the country’s best passing attacks. It could get even better with wide receiver Jaelen Strong fully recovered from an ankle injury that’s plagued him for the last three games. These teams both scored in the 40s in last year‘s meeting, which went UCLA’s way, but I suspect both defenses will play better on Saturday. In the end, UCLA’s pass rush will make the difference.

UCLA 34 Arizona State 27

No. 4 Baylor at No. 10 Oklahoma State
Time/TV: 8:00 PM EST, ABC
Prediction: When you think of the Big 12, you immediately think of offense. There’s not a lot of quality defensive play that goes around in the conference. However, Oklahoma State is the exception. They have an outstanding defense, which was on display last week as they held Texas to 13 points in Austin. Baylor’s defense is also pretty good, though. They’ve allowed 20-plus points in just three of their games, and they were particularly impressive against Oklahoma. Still, it’s one thing to blowout the descending Oklahoma Sooners at home, but it’s quite the other to defeat the ascending Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater. In fact, the Bears haven’t won in Stillwater since 1939. It’s been fun Baylor, but your perfect season ends at the hand of Oklahoma State.

Oklahoma State 37 Baylor 30

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