Saturday, August 27, 2011

The new Heisman criteria

About once a week, I come across an article on ESPN or or wherever with a headline along the lines of "Justin Blackmon has Heisman hopes" or "Making the Heisman case for Keenum" (how witty).

If it were 1992, those would be reasonable and not-totally-pointless stories. It isn't 1992.

I'm not sure exactly what changed when I was 10, but the past 20 years have established a clear and exclusive set of criteria for Heisman winners, and they've become even more pronounced recently. There are only two:
  1. Be a quarterback or running back
  2. Be on a BCS-conference team that either (a) plays for the national championship or (b) wins at least eight games primarily because the Heisman candidate posts historically impressive statistics
Pretty straightforward, right? Be a quarterback or running back and play for a really good major-conference team, preferably one with a spot in the BCS championship game.

Upshot: Justin Blackmon isn't winning the Heisman, Case Keenum isn't winning the Heisman, Alshon Jeffery isn't winning the Heisman, Jared Crick isn't winning the Heisman and Vontaze Burfict isn't winning the Heisman. Those guys have a cumulative chance of zero percent.

This is where we talk about Charles Woodson and why his case isn't replicable: Woodson was by far the best player on the best team* in the country in '97. He dominated on defense, offense and special teams (when it mattered, anyway); whenever he was on the field, he was the best player out there. And in the biggest game of the '97 season, he made the biggest play -- one I could re-enact in my head with frightening accuracy -- while Peyton Manning was busy blowing the Florida game for the 17th time in a row. So if you're the best player on the best team and you play both sides of the ball and make a couple huge, legendary plays while no obvious (quarterback or running back) candidate jumps out, you can win. That happens a lot, obviously.

Ndamukong Suh should have won easily two years ago but instead finished a distant fourth behind Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart and Colt McCoy (who had probably his worst season as a starter). If anything, the voting has gotten less open-minded since Woodson won.

So yeah ... it's all about the backfield dudes. Here's the list of winners since 2000:

2000: Chris Weinke, Florida State
2001: Eric Crouch, Nebraska
2002: Carson Palmer, USC
2003: Jason White, Oklahoma
2004: Matt Leinart, USC
2005: Reggie Bush, USC (never happened, of course)
2006: Troy Smith, Ohio State
2007: Tim Tebow, Florida
2008: Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2009: Mark Ingram Jr., Alabama
2010: Cam Newton, Auburn

All but two of those guys -- Palmer and Tebow -- played in the national championship game the year they won the Heisman. USC went 11-2 in '02 and finished No. 4, while Florida went 9-3 in '07 (this was the year in between their two national titles) as Tebow became the first 20/20 player in college football history.

The Heisman has become the Best Back on the Best Team Award (or occasionally the Most Dominant Player on a Very Good Team Award),

Now that we've got that out of the way, here are the old and outdated criteria that most people think still matter but really don't:
  1. Huge, mind-blowing stats (only necessary if playing on a good-but-not-great BCS team)
  2. Being a household name at the start of the season
Like I said before, this isn't 1992, and nobody will care if Case Keenum throws for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns while Andrew Luck throws for 2,500 and 30 touchdowns. We're not in the Ty Detmer/Andre Ware era anymore.

As for No. 2, neither of the past two winners was even on the radar at the start of the season -- Cam Newton wasn't even on the freakin' Davey O'Brien watch list, which is comprised of pretty much every quarterback anybody thinks might be capable of being good. If your team is elite and you're the star quarterback/running back, you can win the Heisman.

None of the things mentioned above are shocking revelations, but here's where I'm going with this post: There are quite a few guys who could conceivably win the Heisman but are getting no Heisman-related hype because people are busy writing about whether Justin Blackmon can win an award that he really can't. A brief, off-the-top-of-my-head list:
  • E.J. Manuel (if Florida State is as good as everybody thinks, he'll get a lot of the credit)
  • David Wilson (running for 1,700 yards for a team with a good shot at going 12-0 might be enough)
  • Logan Thomas (see David Wilson, except subtract about 1,000 rushing yards and add a whole bunch of passing yards)
  • Garrett Gilbert (he might not even start but could win the Heisman if Texas has a massive bounceback and he has a McCoy-as-a-sophomore-type season)
  • John Brantley (see Garrett Gilbert)
  • Michael Dyer (what if Auburn's offense is still really good and, not coincidentally, Auburn is still really good?)
  • Cyrus Gray (this might not even be a sleeper pick -- he's one of the best running backs in the country on a top-10 team with a good shot at a BCS bowl)
  • Spencer Ware (if LSU survives the Jordan Jefferson situation and goes something like 11-1, he could be this year's Mark Ingram)
  • Dayne Crist (playing quarterback for Notre Dame is like Heisman gold, especially if ND is actually good)
  • Aaron Murray (a big-name QB on a high-profile SEC team with a ridiculously favorable schedule)
I'm probably missing/forgetting some guys, but that's kinda the point: Again, there are a lot of players -- some of whom aren't even established starters -- who could win the Heisman ... as long as they fulfill the two criteria mentioned at the top of this post. If the team sucks or the guy is anything other than a quarterback or running back for a major-conference team*, forget about it.

For the record, my pick isn't on that list. Official predictions are coming Wednesday.

*I'm undecided about where Kellen Moore stands in relation to these rules. He doesn't technically play in a BCS conference, but Boise State has established itself as such a regular top-10 team and BCS candidate that its big-name players can easily become household names, which isn't the case for most mid-major-type schools. I think Boise should basically be considered a major-conference program when we're talking about national recognition.


Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.