Monday, October 23, 2006

How to win the Heisman

The days of the Heisman trophy going to the greatest player in college football are long gone. It has now become a trifling trophy that goes to the star of the #1 team in the country as it stands in November. It has nothing to do with statistics, impressive feats, and heroics (unless said heroics occur against Notre Dame - see Carson Palmer). It is about being the least mistake-prone offensive star on the #1 team long before the championship is being decided.

In 2005, did Reggie Bush deserve the trophy? Absolutely. He happened to be the greatest player, and also be on the #1 team. He also had a huge day against Notre Dame. As a result of this confluence of events, he received the highest percentage of the vote in history.

However, can you really say that Matt Leinart, Jason White, Carson Palmer, and Eric Crouch were the best players (at any position) in the country?

In 2004, Adrian Peterson was the best player in the country, followed by Alex Smith. However, underclassmen and players from non-BCS conferences are not going to win the Heisman. Then, Jason White was probably the third best player, and although he didn't deserve the trophy the year before, he earned it this year with the best statistical performance of any quarterback. He split the vote with Peterson, and Leinart beat up on a Willingham-coached Notre Dame team on national TV and was the QB for the #1 team, and so he got the Heisman.

In 2003, Jason White took the trophy home, despite a miserable showing in the final game of the season. You see, Heisman voters had already handed in their ballots, and the best player in the country, Larry Fitzgerald, won convincingly if you only count the ballots that came in after the Kansas-Oklahoma game. But, because Heisman voters vote so early, the best player lost out.

In 2002, the QB bias was at its most glaring, as Carson Palmer catapulted himself into the lead by beating the Irish. However, that almost wasn't enough to pass Brad Banks of Iowa, the best QB in the nation that year. However, the best player at any position that year was clearly Larry Johnson, but because he didn't play defense for the underperforming Nittany Lions, he wasn't given any shot at the Heisman trophy.

In 2001, only quarterbacks were in the running for the award, but again the best player did not win. Rex Grossman stood head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks. Again, a quarterback won despite an embarasssing performance at the end of the season, with Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch winning over the sophomore Grossman.

So why am I giving this little history lesson on the Heisman? Because the fraud that has become the Heisman trophy will again choose someone other than the best player this year.

Now, Brady Quinn has a long way to go to prove that he is the best player in the nation. However, his performance against Michigan State in the driving rain, willing his team to the win, and the last minute win-at-all-costs drive against one of the best defenses in the country this week would have made him the prohibitive favorite to win the award in the pre-ESPN era. Instead, Troy Smith, who has done absolutely nothing note-worthy this year, besides being on the #1 team in the country, has been prematurely crowned the Heisman winner.

Against common opponents, the numbers are clearly in favor of Quinn for both games:
Quinn: 25/36 (69.4% comp.) 287 yds, 3 TDs, 0 INTs
Smith: 12/22 (54.5% comp.) 115 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Quinn: 20/36 (55.6% comp.) 319 yds, 5 TD, 1 INT
Smith: 15/22 (68.2% comp.) 234 yds, 2 TD, 0 INTs

What is really telling is that while many people will say that comparing numbers isn't fair because of Smith's athleticism and ability to run. However, Quinn has 1 rushing TD this year, Smith has none. As a matter of fact, I'm looking forward to the NFL combine this year, as I expect Quinn to impress NFL scouts with his mobility - I've watched him easily outrun some of the best linebackers in the country the past two years. Quinn doesn't get recognized for his mobility because he is so confident in his arm, and I would argue that he is on equal footing in terms of pure athleticism with Troy Smith.

Am I biased? Absolutely. I bleed Blue and Gold. But I never waxed poetic about Ron Powlus or Jarious Jackson. However I believe that, as a total package (accuracy, strength, toughness, agility, intangibles) Brady Quinn is the best prototypical NFL quarterback to come out of college since Peyton Manning. And he might even be better.

And even with all of that, he'll not win the Heisman. And that is horse$#(%.

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