Thursday, December 10, 2009

Heisman Garbage

On ESPN radio’s Mike & Mike this morning Mark Schlereth referred to the Heisman Trophy as a “garbage award”.

I totally agree. In fact, I’d call it a “bullshit beauty award”.

The Heisman Trophy is supposedly given to the “best” football player in college each season. Yet, as is widely known, it seems to be almost exclusively awarded to offensive players, specifically quarterbacks and running backs. Since 1990 the Heisman has been given to –

12 Quarterbacks
5 Running Backs
1 Wide Receiver
1 Cornerback

Recent awards seem to be increasingly influenced by two primary factors –

1. Media exposure
2. Voter laziness

While the first factor has been a part of the Heisman for as long as anyone can recall, the advent of the ESPN era has increased the media influence. There are several “experts” who give preseason and weekly updates on their Heisman opinions, and those so fortunately named usually figure largely in the eventual outcome. For this season, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford were the preseason anointed, and two of those players will be at the award ceremony this Saturday.

Both are totally undeserving of the award. But more on that later.

As for the second factor, voters have given the award largely to players from a select group of teams. People have been (rightly) critical of the exclusive nature of the BCS bowls and championship, but the BCS has nothing on the Heisman for exclusivity. Since 1990, 13 of the total 19 Heisman’s have gone to 5 schools –

USC - 3
Florida, FSU, Michigan, Oklahoma and Ohio State - 2 each

The other 6 awards have gone to Nebraska, Texas, Wisconsin, Miami, Colorado and BYU.

The BYU award, given in 1990, is the only one in that time period given to a non-BCS school (albeit before the BCS). Non-BCS school players aren’t even invited anymore.

Current voters don’t look beyond what the media serves them up, nor do they bother to look much beyond the few top ranked teams that year. Sure representatives of Stanford and Nebraska will be in New York this weekend, but a win by either is highly unlikely.

The Current Finalists

If there has ever been a less deserving group of finalists than this year I can’t recall it (with perhaps the exception of the lone defensive player). They are –

Toby Gerhart – Stanford
Mark Ingram – Alabama
Colt McCoy – Texas
Tim Tebow – Florida
Ndamukong Suh – Nebraska

First let’s deal with the two quarterbacks.

Take a look at the top 18 quarterbacks by passer rating in the NCAA this year –

1 Kellen Moore, QB BSU 167.3
2 Jimmy Clausen, QB ND 161.4
3 Max Hall, QB BYU 160.9
4 Andy Dalton, QB TCU 159.6
5 Case Keenum, QB HOU 159.3
6 Ryan Mallett, QB ARK 157.9
7 Nathan Enderle, QB IDHO 155.8
8 Tim Tebow, QB FLA 155.6
9 Tony Pike, QB CIN 155.4
10 Dan LeFevour, QB CMU 154
11 Bill Stull, QB PITT 152.4
12 Joe Webb, QB UAB 150.7
13 Levi Brown, QB TROY 149.4
14 Tyrod Taylor, QB VT 149.3
15 Sean Canfield, QB ORST 148.3
16 Russell Wilson, QB NCST 147.8
17 Christian Ponder, QB FSU 147.7
18 Colt McCoy, QB TEX 147.5

You can see the reason I chose the top 18! How in the world can Colt McCoy be a serious candidate?

Or even Tebow. When he won the award in 2007, his QB rating was 172.5.

There has been virtually no mention of the 7 quarterbacks at the top of this list for the Heisman. Sorry BYU, the days of you rating a Heisman mention are so 1990.

On quarterback rating, the past 4 quarterback winners of the Heisman have been as follows –

2008 Sam Bradford – 180.9
2007 Tim Tebow – 172.5
2006 Troy Smith – 161.2
2004 Matt Leinart – 156.5

Tebow is close to Leinart, but McCoy isn’t even in the ballpark. No one this year is as good as Tebow or Bradford were when they won.

Maybe this is a year the Heisman shouldn’t go to a quarterback.

Well, here are your two running backs by yardage, yards per carry and touchdowns –

Toby Gerhart – 1736 yards, 5.6 ypc, 26
Mark Ingram – 1542 yards, 6.2 ypc, 15

To his credit, Gerhart is the leading rushing in the NCAA, while Ingram is 5th. But on a traditional Heisman basis, their numbers simply don’t hold up.

The last 5 running back winners of the Heisman were, with rushing yards and TD’s –

Reggie Bush – 1740-16
Ron Dayne – 1834-19
Ricky Williams – 2397-29
Eddie George – 1927-24
Rashaan Salaam – 2055-24

Ingram doesn’t even rate in the same universe of modern Heisman winning running backs. Gerhart’s total yards are close to Bush’s, but Bush rushed for an incredible 8.7 yards per carry in 2005.

If the Heisman is going to go to a running back, shouldn’t it be someone with historic numbers? And if it is a season, like this one, where the leading rusher doesn’t approach the yardage of past winners, maybe it should go to another position.

So neither of the quarterback nominees deserves the award based on this year’s numbers compared to their peers, and Gerhart doesn’t deserve it based on historic comparisons. Ingram doesn’t deserve it when compared either to this year’s RB’s or historically. If a case had to be made for any of the 4 offensive players, Gerhart wins out, but I don’t think he will win.

So what about Suh?

It is simply hard to qualify what, statistically, a defensive player should do to win the Heisman. Like most college fans I only saw him play a single game in the Big 12 championship, and he gave one of the all time great defensive performances. But is that enough?

Maybe in a year when no offensive player should qualify, it is.

As for the Heisman overall, I continue to agree with Schlereth.


Floridan said...

This is a rather shallow post characterized by cherry-picking stats.

Who says that the premier criteria should be QB ratings and RB total yards? There are plenty of other factors, not all of the quantifiable, that should go into the decision as to who is, in the words of the Heisman Trust, ". . . the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."

As for the argument that some finalists are underqualified by historical standards, that makes no sense. The players are being judged in comparison to others competing in the same season. Should we go back and take away John Cappelletti's 1973 Heisman? He "only" gained a little over 1500 yards and scored a "mere" 17 touchdowns.

Finally, as to your complaint that a majority of Heisman awards went to players from a handful of "name" schools. In point of fact, the schools you highlight that accounted for 13 Heisman Trophy winner, also accounted for 10 National Championships during that period. It's not surprising that there would be a high correlation between excellent players and team success.

Resonable people may disagree on who should win the Heisman this year, but none of the finalists are "garbage."

Mergz said...

I guess I wasn't clear in what I was trying to say, but it boils down to this -

1. There seems to be a (conscious or unconscious) effort to exclude the players from the vast majority of NCAA schools. It is ridiculous that the Heisman winners are limited to so few schools, BCS contenders or not. If it is an award for only BCS contenders, say so.

2. Yes, it is an award for the "best" player this year. But as I said, the best players seem suspiciously limited to about 2 positions, which is absurd. If in any given year those 2 positions are not historically good, why not go somewhere else? Once again if it is a QB/RB award, just say so.

Mergz said...

Finally I would add this - neither Tebow, McCoy or Ingram were remotely the best player even at their position this season. How can they be the best player in CFB? Gerhart probably is the best at RB, but his historic stats aren't that great.

Now if it was an award for the best QB/RB this year, then give it to Gerhart. But that is not what it purports to be.

As for your old comparison to '73, the reason I chose candidates from the recent past for exactly that reason.

Floridan said...

So, without "maybe," who do you think should win the Heisman?


OK, but among defensive players, he ranked 146th in tackles and 310th in interceptions. He did have 12 sacks, which was good enough for him to tie for 3rd place, along with five other players, although he ranked 13th in yards lost on sacks.

Mergz said...

I hate, hate, HATE to say this, but if the Heisman should go to a offensive player, it should be Jimmy Clausen.

I feel I need a bath now.

Boise State had the best QB by rating, but their competition level was meh.

Clausen played good competition with the following stats -

161.4 QB rating (2nd in nation)
3722 yards passing (3rd)
28 TDs and only 4 interceptions.

The 4 interception stat is amazing.

I guess I wouldn't have a problem with Suh. As a DE he gets far less tackles than other positions (he is near the lead for tackles for a lineman I believe). And you can't really expect that position to have any interceptions.

TxGator15 said...

. the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work

certainy explains why Tebow was there. Normally I agree with you. You generally give straightforward and unbiased opinions. And while every year people will be arguing the merits of who should be invited,nominated and who should win. You do a great misservice to these players and yourself by "explaining" why they should be called garbage.

Michael said...

Regarding the preponderance of quarterbacks among the contenders and winners, I don't think many wold argue that the QB is the single most important position on the team. As I heard one person ask one time, "If he's so good, why isn't he the quarterback?"