Five topics from columnist Ben Frederickson that St. Louis sports fans should be discussing . . .
1) STL native will be in Heisman mix next season
The winner of this year's Heisman Trophy will be announced tonight.
As a voter, I won't reveal my pick just yet, but I'll tell you who I'm expecting to be in the mix at this time next year.
St. Louis native and Notre Dame star running back Kyren Williams.
The redshirt freshman from Vianney will likely be the focal point of Notre Dame's offense moving forward after his breakout season. He's flying up NFL mock drafts as we speak. He's popping up in the top-10 names sportsbooks are assigning odds to for the 2021 Heisman.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound ACC rookie of the year averaged 5.3 yards per carry this season, totaling 1,125 rushing yards. On top of that he added 313 receiving yards and one receiving touchdown. And while there's not a stat for blocking, he did a lot of that too, with enthusiasm and effectiveness.
The biggest games of Notre Dame's season was its double-overtime win against Clemson and its defeat of a top-25 North Carolina team. Williams scored three touchdowns in each of those games.
In Notre Dame's final game of the season, a 31-14 loss to No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff, it was Williams' one-yard dive on a fourth-and-goal that gave Notre Dame its first points and pulled the Irish within a touchdown of the mighty Crimson Tide. Notre Dame was in it, briefly, until Alabama punched back with 17 unanswered points. Williams' dive through a thicket of Alabama defensive players was the highlight of the game for Notre Dame.
"I think the maturation of anybody has to do with relationships, right?" Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said about Williams during the playoffs. "And also knowing when their time has come. And both of those things are what we're talking about with Kyren. Kyren knew that it was his time. We had the graduation at that position. And it was his time."
Williams might get another shot at Alabama before his time at Notre Dame is done.
He will certainly get a shot at a Heisman run.
(Speaking of St. Louis athletes who are doing the damn thing, Jayson Tatum dropped 40 against the Raptors on Monday night. That brings his season average through eight games up to a career-high 26.3 points. That's Xth highest in the league at the moment. He's scored fewer than 20 points in a game just once this season. He's 22 years old.)
2) Hoffman's impact shouldn't be underestimated
Mike Hoffman is going to help the Blues as long as his past of dressing-room issues remains in the past. P-D teammate Jim Thomas has a great story on Hoffman's skill set here. But what about what Hoffman's addition did for the team already, before he even stepped on the ice? If you think a team hoping to win it all does not catch a jolt of energy from a move like Doug Armstrong made to bring in Hoffman, well, you're not thinking very hard.
Here's the Blues' captain on the Hoffman bump the Blues felt before training camp began.
“Right when we heard that, you could tell there was just excitement from everyone," O'Reilly told me on the post-practice Zoom that followed Monday's training camp opener. "Just looking on paper, you see the lines that we have, and I’d put it against any other team. We get an amazing player, a guy that can put the puck in the back of the net, and yeah, it’s exciting not only for fans but as guys in the room, it gives us more belief that, ‘Hey, we’re going to have another great chance.'”
3) Revisiting 1994
Mizzou, SLU and Illinois men's basketball are all ranked in the same AP Top-25 men's basketball poll for the first time since the 1994 season. No, that is not the last time all three played in the same NCAA Tournament. That came in 2012-13, when none of the three teams won more than one game. But what about that 1994 edition of March Madness? SLU and Illinois dropped their first games, but Mizzou won three, reaching the Elite Eight before it lost by 20 to Arizona. Only one team from any of the three programs has been past that point since then. Mizzou got back to the Elite Eight twice, in 2002 and 2009, but has never been to a Final Four. Illinois reached the Elite Eight in 2001 and returned in 2005 during the memorable run that ended in a national championship loss to North Carolina. Three teams in the mix means more chance for something memorable. Our region is overdue for a deep run.
4) What's up with Walters and Illinois?
If this report about Ryan Walters being a finalist for the Illinois defensive coordinator job is accurate, my first reaction is that Walters would have to think his time with Mizzou head coach Eli Drinkwitz was nearing its end. Again, that's if this report has legs. The Tigers' defense looked strong at times this season, from the goal-line stand to win the LSU game, to the great showing against Kentucky. The Tigers held Alabama to its lowest point total this season. Injuries, opt-outs and COVID cases and contact tracing diluted the depth chart a ton toward the end, and the bottom dropped out. If Walters is simply hunting for a raise, he should be careful. He just got a $100,000 before this season started. It's never a smart idea for coordinators or coaches to flirt with worse jobs, unless you are willing to make the jump. Maybe Walters is, but that would be a step back for his career, even if the pay is higher.
5) The new December
Remember when Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said January will be the new December for baseball teams making moves to improve their teams?
Well, it's January 5.
Just a reminder.