Commentary: Discussing the Heisman
by Jonathan Hodges
With Northwestern's 2007 season all but done and the usual holiday lull coming
on for non-bowl bound teams, I thought I would take a chance and talk about some
other issues concerning the rest of the college football nation this time of
year. First off, the Heisman Trophy.
All over the TV, radio, and
internet are discussions concerning the Heisman: who should be considered, who
shouldn't be considered, and who should win. It's a topic that comes up
annually at this time of year, but particularly when there is no front runner
(like Troy Smith from OSU was at this time last season). There are so many
aspects to the award and opinions as to the criteria, but the fact is that
precedence has already set the criteria for the voters, who like most people of
influence in college football, love to stick with tradition and their
predecessors, rarely going outside of the mold. Given that, here are the
"unofficial" criteria for the Heisman trophy:
1. He must be an
upperclassman, preferably a senior.
2. He must have been starting
prior to the year in which he wins the trophy and garner some significant
stats coming into the year.
3. He must play for a winning football
team, preferably a team near the top of the rankings at the end of the
4. He must play for a BCS conference school.
5. He must put
up gaudy statistics that season and for his career.
6. He must play
running back or quarterback.
Obviously there are some notable
exceptions to these rules, but those exceptions are very rare:
underclassman has NEVER won.
2. It's been very rare for a relative newcomer
to the scene ( e.g. a junior or senior starting for the first time) to win the
award; typically it is someone who put up solid numbers the previous year and
has been on everyone's radar screen.
3. If the team isn't winning, you are
basically erased from contention. The most notorious exception was Joe
Theismann (Notre Dame, 1970) who reportedly changed the pronunciation of his
name to sound like the trophy. Obviously, Notre Dame is a huge exception in the
world of college football and is treated in a unique way in almost everything.
note: for further evidence of Jonathan's point, also note Mr. Hornung,
who won the little metal man while playing on a 2-8 Notre Dame team
(2-8. 2-8?!?) in 1956.]
4. The last non-BCS school winner was Ty Detmer (BYU, 1990) who overcame his
school's status by putting up insane numbers over the course of his carrer,
especially that season. Of course it didn't hurt that BYU won the national
title in 1984 and was probably the best recognized "lower conference" school at
the time. Before him, the next "lower conference" winner was Roger Staubach
(Navy, 1963), and at the time both Navy and Army were solid nationally renowned
programs (although that is about the time that their standing in college
football started to slide). Note that I include schools like Houston and SMU in
the "major conferences" as they were both in the SWC (predecessor to the Big XII
for some schools) at the time that they had winners of the trophy.
Outside of the BCS conferences (or their predecessors), Notre Dame,
Army, and Navy, the only other winners have been from the following
Detmer (BYU, 1990)
Kazmaier (Princeton, 1951)
Kelley (Yale, 1936)
A lot of this is obviously because the
teams from the big conferences get more press coverage, get on TV more, and are
usually more successful and have more talented teammates (thus taking some
pressure off of the individual - if an amazing OL is blocking for you then
suddenly running with the ball becomes much easier).
everyone who has won as of late has put up huge numbers, or at least numbers
that are easily noticed in the box scores. Obviously big numbers get your name
in the papers, get you weekly awards, and get you on TV. And if you have big
numbers coming into the season for your career, all the more likely you'll get
the press as you break career marks and can put up stats like 10,000+ passing
yards and the like. And, guess what, RBs and QBs are the ones who always put up
the biggest numbers and that's the next point.
6. There have been 70
Heisman trophy winners, with 63 of them being a QB or RB. Only ONE primarily
defensive player has ever won - and, of course, that was Charles Woodson of
Michigan back in 1997 who also played some WR on offense and returned kicks and
punts as well (he also had the luxury of playing on a team that would later win
a share of the national title). Only 2 WRs have ever won; despite their ability
to put up big numbers if they are not thrown to or are constantly double or
triple teamed they won't get the ball to put up stats.
And, of course,
there is the effect of the trophy being chosen following the regular season but
BEFORE the bowl games. This means that guys who played head to head (think
Young vs. Bush in 2005) may not get decided by results on the field (which
undoubtedly would have an impact on the results). This is actually very similar
to many pro sports which select their MVPs and other award winners at the
conclusion of the regular season but before the playoffs - therefore lending
itself to getting guys on winning/playoff or bowl bound teams the award but not
necessarily a guy from the champion. This can probably be a good thing, as
there is a better chance of someone getting selected from a team other than the
national champion (who obviously gets all the attention after they win).
So, for those who are calling for the system to be more "fair" or to
reward someone from a lower tier conference or even division or to reward
defensive players, while it may be fun to argue there is almost no chance the
system will change any time soon. You may as well write down the requirements
above as official "rules" because barring strange circumstances, things will
probably follow the same mold for some time to come. Also, in this age of TV
(particularly the highlight shows courtesy of ESPN) getting publicity on the
tube really matters as many of these voters know about the guys that they are
writing about or can see on a quick blurb after the games on Saturday night.
Do I think that this is the right way for choosing the "most outstanding
college football player" in the nation? Not really; the award is what it is -
it is given to a QB or RB who is an upperclassman who plays for a winning big
program and puts up big numbers. There are definitely guys with better numbers,
although possibly on lower tier teams; there are guys with more pro potential
and/or talent; there are guys who may have much more of an impact on the game
but play a position that doesn't lend itself to big stats.
The fact is
that in the game of football the other 10 guys on the field matter a lot, and
the positions that lend themselves to doing the most on your own are QB and RB:
a QB can have great speed or throwing accuracy and can get around a lack of good
players around them (of course having better players around them makes them look
even better) PLUS they touch the ball on virtually every offensive down.
Running backs can get the ball on up to 50% or more of offensive plays and if
they have great speed and moves they can overcome deficiencies on the rest of
the offense. Meanwhile, guys on the OL or DL will never put up any kind of
notable numbers, WRs can see their numbers swing wildly as QBs don't get the
ball to them or can be covered to basically remove them from the game,
linebackers and secondary players can be eliminated with an effective blocking
scheme and play calling by the opponent, and special teams players just don't
get enough playing time (and people like TDs much more than kicks and definitely
more than punts, so kickers and punters never have a shot no matter how far they
can kick the ball).
Given all of that, here are the contenders in
Tim Tebow, QB (Florida): If anyone is going to break the
upperclassman only rule, he's it. He has 20+ TDs both running and passing,
ranks 2nd nationally in QB passer rating, and leads a really solid offensive
attack. The negatives, though, are that he's an underclassmen, his team has
lost 3 games and isn't even playing for its conference title. If one of those
were not the case, he may be a runaway winner.
Chase Daniel, QB
(Missouri): He has put up huge passing numbers and is on the team currently
ranked #1 (although they are the underdog in their final game of the season) and
is a big reason that his team is in contention for the national title. He is a
junior and on a relatively smaller school from a big conference, and hasn't
particularly stood out from a pack of big passers this year.
Brennan, QB (Hawaii): He puts up gaudy passing stats - partially due to
Hawaii's pass-only offense, and partially due to his QB skills. His team is the
only major college teams that remains unbeaten and he is likely to head to a BCS
bowl. He has been injured on a couple of occasions, though, and his opponents
have been cupcakes (including 2 I-AA/FCS teams) - the injuries probably hurt
more than anything.
Dennis Dixon, QB (Oregon): It's unfortunate that
an injury has basically ruined his chances. Looking at Oregon's offense with
and without him, though, and his numbers prior to that injury - it's obvious
that he made a huge difference and would have had a great chance to take the
trophy if he had stayed healthy and led Oregon to the title game.
White, QB (West Virginia): He has led West Virginia to national title
contention, but was injured during their one loss of the year and have generally
played a weaker schedule. Plus, his numbers don't shoot off the page like some
others although he does it with both his passing and his feet which gives him a
more even distribution than some of the exclusive runners/passers in the group.
Darren McFadden, RB (Arkansas): He put on a one man show against the
then #1 LSU Tigers on the day after Thanksgiving while in the spotlight. And it
doesn't hurt that he's put up big numbers over a couple years and is a great
talent. While he doesn't have as big of numbers as others on the list, he is
actually helped by the fact that the Arkansas passing game was horrible this
year and it turned into a running-only attack.
This year figures to be a
very close race to the finish, and I'm not going to make any prediction here,
but I think that any of the top 3 QBs listed above has a solid chance to win the
award (2 of them would break "rules" - Tebow being a sophomore and Brennan being
from a non-BCS school). In any case the fact is that this year none of the
"traditional powers" of college football has a candidate that stands out over
the rest - plus it doesn't help that the top 2 teams going into the final week
of the season don't have a lot of national following. It's also unfortunate
that the top guys statistically are typically looked over - there are 2 RBs over
2,000 yards for the year and neither are garnering much national recognition:
Smith from UCF and Forte from Tulane. The nation's top rated passer, Bradford
from Oklahoma, is a freshman and is basically written off (their 2 losses came
when he was injured). Another guy who puts up huge passing numbers, Harrell
from Texas Tech, is basically written off as a "system" QB despite completing
almost 73% of his passes. And Crabtree, a freshman WR from Texas Tech, has over
1,800 receiving yards but is still a freshman.
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