Heisman hype cuts both ways

South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney chases Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd at Memorial Stadium last season. (File Photo)

Suddenly, South Carolina fans must rush to defend much-maligned Jadeveon Clowney.

Clemson fans can bask in the glory, not just of a “GameDay” conquest of favored Georgia but of quarterback Tajh Boyd topping the freshly updated heismanpundit.com straw poll. For now.

Stakes in the college football expectation game rise with each advance in social media technology. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Heisman Trophy watch, where favorites fall and new stars come out of nowhere.

So this week Clowney — or his coaches and teammates — have had to explain his less than larger-than-life performance against North Carolina with almost every interview. The often dominant defensive end is cast as out-of-shape, or the underrated reason why the Gamecocks held fast-paced North Carolina to one touchdown and 293 yards. It's a raging debate on several cable TV outlets, Twitter and more radio shows than they have seats at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Alas, Clowney has fallen in all the weekly Heisman polls.

The top 2013 Heisman contenders, based strictly on 2013 accomplishments, are:

1. Vernon Adams, quarterback, Eastern Washington. That's right, a player from an FCS school. All the Eagles' sophomore did Saturday was throw for 411 yards and four touchdowns and run for 107 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-46 upset over No. 25 Oregon State.

2. Christion Jones, wide receiver, Alabama. Scored on a punt return, kick return and pass play against Virginia Tech.

3. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Florida State. The redshirt freshman completed 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns in a 41-13 rout at Pittsburgh.

Vernon who?

Jones didn't even make preseason All-SEC third team at SEC Media Days.

Winston wasn't among the top four quarterbacks receiving ACC Football Kickoff votes for the All-ACC team.

Of course, this will be recalibrated again across all media platforms. In a matter of hours.

Heisman hype wasn't such a hovering helicopter in 1966. The Heisman Trophy was well established, with previous winners including Doc Blanchard, Paul Hornung, Ernie Davis and Roger Staubach. But Heisman fanfare didn't gain momentum until leaves began turning colors.

The 1966 winner was an unlikely candidate.

His completion percentage dropped from .570 as a sophomore to .516 as a junior.

As a senior, Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier received more than twice as many first-place votes as Purdue quarterback Bob Griese.

“We didn't play on television back in those days,” Spurrier said. “There was one national game a week (on TV), usually that was Notre Dame or Michigan State, or somebody like that. Or Southern Cal. They didn't have many teams in the South playing TV games in the '60s. So it probably started because we were 7-0. That's probably why I won the thing, to tell you the truth.

“And they voted early. We lost a couple after that.”

Florida lost to Georgia and Miami in November, but Spurrier and his fellow Gators finished a strong 9-2 with an Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech.

The 1966 Heisman Trophy vote tally (first place votes in parenthesis):

Steve Spurrier, sr., QB, Florida – 1,679 (433)

Bob Griese, sr., QB, Purdue – 816 (184)

Nick Eddy, sr., RB, Notre Dame – 456 (39)

Gary Beban, jr., QB, UCLA – 318 (23)

Floyd Little, sr., RB, Syracuse – 296 (25)

SEC players make Heisman news more frequently these days. In a world featuring a buffet of college football games on TV every Saturday, redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel emerged out of Oblivion, Texas, to win the 2012 Heisman.

Auburn quarterback Cam Newton wasn't on the preseason Heisman radar in 2010.

Despite hype and hyperbole, underdogs still have a chance in the great meritocracy of college football.

Great players still have questionable games.

The most hyped defensive player in Heisman history was set up for a fall.

But some things don't change. Jadeveon Clowney won't get to go up against former Georgia All-American and current ESPN analyst David Pollack on Saturday. But he will get 60 or 70 chances to line up several inches across from various Bulldogs, set the record straight and re-start the global hype machine.

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff