Robert Griffin, Cam Newton, Mark Ingram: You Just Won the Heisman! (Or Did You?)
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The Heisman. In all of college football, there is no more honored and coveted an award.
Given annually to the nation's best college football player since 1935, it's a hotly contested subject by both the players on the field and the fans and sportswriters off it. Only one time has one player managed to win it twice: Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.
But does the Heisman equal NFL greatness? Hardly. For every Hall of Famer like Roger Staubach and Marcus Allen, there is a Gino Torretta or Archie Griffin. Or worse, a Charlie Ward or Ray Berwanger, both of whom won it and never played NFL football.
Is there a way to better narrow down the best players, in order to find those who will take the mantle of Heisman winner into the NFL and exit an All-Star?
Sadly, I would wager to say no. One point I constantly argue throughout is strength of schedule. More specifically, all those cupcake games top-25 schools play against bottom-25 schools, or even worse, FCS schools.
I decided to take those games away from the last three Heisman winners and their runner-ups and see what was left of their stats. No more six touchdown games against South Dakota Polytechnic to buff the stats. Will it make a difference? Will it change your mind as to who really should have won the trophy that year? Maybe, maybe not.
It's an experiment to see if it really matters, if there really is a correlation. It's too early to tell much of these players' careers, but there are already a few interesting revelations that shouldn't be ignored. I chose the last three years, but in part two of this series I'll go back another three years and see whose NFL careers have risen and whose has fallen.
The 2011 Heisman Trophy Winner: Robert Griffin III
Is RG3 really Superman in disguise?
Baylor has long been a doormat in the FBS until this man stepped up and made them relevant again.
While some call it a minor upset that he won the Heisman over Stanford's Andrew Luck, there were many who saw it coming. There is no doubt Griffin is special. So special in fact that the Washington Redskins mortgaged the farm to get the No. 2 pick in the draft to grab him.
But how good was he really?
In RG3's final season at Baylor, he was 291/402 for 4,293 yards, had 37 touchdowns and threw just six interceptions. He also rushed 179 times for 669 yards and 10 touchdowns. His yards per completion was 14.75 and his yards per rush was 3.73 yards. Very impressive numbers indeed.
However, Baylor played three games outside the FBS top 75 or not in the FBS at all: against Rice (No. 101), Kansas (No. 102) and Stephen F. Austin.
After you remove the stats from those games, he finished 221/319, with 3,378 yards, 31 touchdowns and five interceptions. His rushing totals drop to 155 carries for 437 yards and eight touchdowns. His yards per completion actually increase though, to 15.28 and his rushing yards per carry drop to 2.19.
The Baylor Bears finished the year 10-3. If you take out those games, it drops to 7-3. Still not a bad year. Do these new stats mean that Robert shouldn't have won the Heisman? Let's take a look at his runner-ups.
2011 Runner-Up: Andrew Luck
Luck: always a bridesmaid?
Andrew Luck has been a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy twice, but he came in first in the NFL draft when he was selected by the Colts to replace Peyton Manning. There's no doubting his ability, and Stanford has found success with Luck at the helm.
But let's dig a little deeper, shall we? Could Luck's stats have bettered RG3's with the fat trimmed?
First, Luck went 288/404 (almost identical to RG3), throwing for 3,517 yards, 37 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Luck didn't run as much in Stanford, rushing 47 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns. His yards per completion was 12.21, while his yards per carry was 3.19. A pretty comparable season to RG3, at least through the air.
Stanford also played three teams from outside the 75/FBS: San Jose State (89), Colorado (91) and Duke (92). After you remove those stats, Luck's numbers looked like this: 225/317 for 2,686 yards, with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions. His rushing numbers dropped to 41 carries for 137 yards and a single touchdown. His yards per completion dropped as well to 11.94, while his rushing yards per carry actually rose a little to 3.34.
Stanford finished the year 11-2, but if you remove those three games, they ended up 8-2. A very good year, but is it enough to overtake Robert Griffin and win the Heisman now? Let's wait and see how the second runner-up fared.
Trent Richardson had Alabama flying all the way to the top last year.
Alabama's Trent Richardson had a great year in 2011. His Crimson Tide won the National Championship. He was a runner-up for the Heisman and a top-10 NFL pick in the draft this spring. But did he do enough to actually have won the Heisman?
In his final year for the Tide, Richards ran 283 times for 1,679 yards and a stunning 21 touchdowns, with a 5.9 average. He added 29 receptions for 338 yards and three more scores.
His effort made him the only consensus everyman back, and no other running back was even selected in the top-30 picks, proving how far ahead he was from the rest of those around him.
Alabama was the undisputed king of college football last year, but over whom did they actually rule? They played four teams outside our criteria: Kent State (95), North Texas (97), Miss (103) and Georgia Southern. They do play in the toughest division in college football, but they made sure that one-third of their games were cushy. So, let's take out his stats and see how he did.
Richardson's new statline reads like this: 210 carries for 1,119 yards and only nine touchdowns. His yards per carry dropped to 5.3. His reception total dropped to 24 catches for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
While it would be fair to assume if you took a third of his games away, his yards would drop by a third as well, but his touchdowns actually dropped by almost 60 percent.
Alabama had a championship-worthy 12-1 season, but if you take out those games it drops to 8-1. Still awfully impressive, but is it enough?
The TRUE 2011 Heisman Trophy Winner Is:
Griffin's accomplishments resonated across the college football landscape.
Robert Griffin III had an amazing season last year, no two ways about it. He was ahead of Andrew Luck in every meaningful statistical category. Even when you took away their cupcake games, Griffin was responsible for seven more touchdowns and just under 1,000 yards passing and rushing yards combined.
Add to that, that his yards per completion actually went UP against the tough teams he faced, and it adds even more to the RG3 phenomenon.
So, now that he's won the Heisman again, does this mean he's going to make it in the NFL, or is he going to end up like Andre Ware or Eric Crouch? Believe in RG3. Don't expect an overnight miracle, but don't count him out.
The NFC East has some stiff competition, and you don't draft as high as the Redskins if you don't have some serious problems. The Redskins, however, seem all in with RG3 and worked hard to increase the talent around him. They signed a couple free-agent receivers and Tim Hightower, who is known for his receiving and third-down protection.
Everything about this kid seems to indicate he's mature and ready to make his mark in the NFL, but what about Luck and Richardson?
Luck is going to Indianapolis with the extra pressure of being the first-overall pick, as well as being the man to try to fill the void left by Peyton Manning.
Oftentimes, good quarterbacks crumble when they have to step in for a legend, often not getting the time to develop and learn the way they should, thrown to the wolves from day one...the NFL scrap heap is filled with the jerseys of players who were supposed to be the next Elway or Marino.
The Colts are terrible, make no mistake about it, and they have done little this year to restock the team. They have cut ties with many old, unproductive veterans; so it appears their plan is to free up the cap this year, so they can actually reload next year.
It should work to Luck's advantage, provided they don't get him killed with their patchwork offensive line like another Colts first rounder, Jeff George, another "can't miss" prospect years from years ago.
And Richardson? He'll go to Tampa Bay where he will form a dangerous duo with Blount and try to help Tampa Bay back to where they feel they belong. It was only two years ago the young nucleus in Tampa seemed ready to take NFL by storm, only to inexplicably collapse last year.
Now with more young defense help to go with Richardson and a new coach, ready to right the ship, Richardson should step right in and be a leading contributor in his first game.
The 2010 Heisman Trophy Winner: Cam Newton
Cam Newton led Auburn to the National Championship in 2010.
Cam Newton took the NFL by storm last year, proving nearly every critic wrong by setting numerous records. He generally seemed like a tiger among kittens.
While his Carolina Panthers were generally terrible, Newton gives the team hope that all they need is a few more players, and he will drive them right to the playoffs sooner than you know it. He was just that dominant. But what about his Heisman year?
Cam Newton threw for 2,894 yards his last year in school, on 185 completions vs. 280 attempts (15.42 yards per completion). He threw 30 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. On the ground, Cam was even more devastating: 264 carries for 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns, a 5.57 average that would be a good year for many tailbacks by itself.
But how did he do without the patsies? Cam played against four teams that fall outside this article's criteria: Chattanooga, Miss (79), ULM (95) and Arkansas State (98). His passing totals now read 129 out of 204, for 1,897 yards, with 18 touchdowns and six interceptions. (His yards per completion dipped to 14.7.)
Add to that his new rushing totals of 229 carries for 1,244 yards and 17 touchdowns, and there is no doubt Cam was dominant no matter who he played.
Cam Newton's team went a perfect 14-0, and minus the gimmes, he was still perfect at 10-0; but was it enough to keep Andrew Luck's hands off the trophy again?
2010 Runner-Up: Andrew Luck
Andrew Luck, Heisman hopeful.
This was Andrew's first year as a runner-up, and his stats were pretty similar to the next year. Luck continued to play at one of the highest levels of college quarterback but again was outdone by another quarterback. The Cam Newton phenomenon was not to be denied in 2010, but now that we've taken his non-qualifying games away, how does Luck compare?
In 2010, Luck went 263/372, for 3,338 yards and 32 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His yards per completion was similar to the next year at 12.69. Luck rushed more often than the next year, rushing 55 times for 453 yards and three touchdowns.
Stanford, however, was guilty of playing four real cream puffs too: Sacramento State, UCLA (76), Washington State (96) and Wake Forest (105). Take those four away, and Luck's numbers look like this: 198 completions out of 274 attempts, 2,474 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His yards per completion hardly budged, however, falling ever so slightly to 12.49 yards per carry.
The passing touchdown loss of over three touchdowns per game is fairly telling though. His rushing totals are 38 carries for 302 yards and three touchdowns.
Luck's Stanford team went 12-1, a mark that drops to 8-1 after the schedule change. Pretty impressive and slightly better than the next year...is it enough to change the voter's minds? Let's see what the second runner-up from 2010 can add to the discussion.
LaMichael James, a mighty Duck indeed.
In all the decades of Heisman Trophy history, no Oregon Duck has ever won. LaMichael James isn't the first Duck to get close. People will remember Dennis Dixon was in the conversation until he got injured late in the 2007 with the Ducks ranked No. 2 in the polls.
Controversy seems to go hand in hand with James, much like his teammate at Oregon and now Tampa Bay, LeGarrette Blount. James was charged with physical harassment of a former girlfriend, pleaded guilty and was suspended for the beginning of the 2010 season.
He still was dominant enough to get the Ducks to the Championship game. While they lost to Cam Newton's Auburn squad, LaMichael had a great game, recording two touchdown receptions.
For the season, LaMichael had 294 carries for 1,731 yards and 21 touchdowns—very similar stats to 2011's runner-up Trent Richardson. They even had the same 5.9 yards per carry. He caught 17 passes for 203 yards and three touchdowns (the same as Trent). But how does the schedule match up with the rest of the finalists?
Taking into account the suspension, LaMichael played one less game than did his teammates, and he was part of three games that didn't qualify for this list: Portland State, UCLA (76) and Washington State (96). Even so, he still loses four games that affect his stats.
With his remaining games, James rushed 235 times, for 1,245 yards. He had a 5.3 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns. He caught 12 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. It seems, on paper at least, that his four game reduction did less to hurt his numbers than it did Trent Richardson. The fact he still scored 15 rushing touchdowns in nine games is impressive.
With LaMichael, the Ducks went 11-1. 8-1 after the schedule change. If you add in the game he was suspended, it's exactly the same as Andrew Luck's 12-1/8-1.
LaMichael came out in the same draft as Richardson, Luck and RG3, and he was drafted in the second round by the San Francisco 49ers, where he will provide a change of pace behind Frank Gore.
His carries will be split even further by 1,000 yard tank back Brandon Jacobs and a crowded backfield that includes Oklahoma State's superstud Kendall Hunter. However, the 49ers saw something in LaMichael that made them have to have him. Is it what he needs to truly earn the Heisman Trophy? Let's see.
The TRUE 2010 Heisman Trophy Winner Is:
Without any doubts, Cam Newton is still the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. The Auburn quarterback was unstoppable and took his amazing game to the NFL, where he continues to awe. But what about his runner-ups?
Looking at their stats and their seasons now, I would give LaMichael James second place in the voting. Even with the suspension and the non-qualifying games, he was outstanding. He bettered the modified numbers of Trent Richardson and made Luck's new stats seem fairly ordinary.
So, in this case, it didn't produce a new Heisman winner, but it did swap the runner-ups. Will 2009 be any different? Let's step back in time a little further...
The 2009 Heisman Trophy Winner: Mark Ingram
Mark Ingram, Alabama's star back in 2009.
Longtime NFL fans will remember Mark Ingram, Sr. The receiver was drafted in No. 28 overall, like his son, and played for four teams from 1987-1996, winning a Super Bowl with the Giants in the process.
It is very rare that a father produces a son as productive as he was, and vice versa. Archie Manning was barely serviceable as an NFL quarterback, yet his sons have set numerous records and won three Super Bowls. Walter Payton and Tony Dorsett's sons barely made a ripple...the list goes on.
What about Mark Ingram, Jr? Well, in his Heisman season, Ingram rushed 271 times for 1,658 yards and 17 touchdowns. His yards per carry were an amazing 6.1, and he added 32 receptions for 334 yards and three scores.
How did his competition stack up? Well, Alabama played four teams on its way to a National Championship, including two teams that weren't even in the top 100 and one team that wasn't even in the FBS. Those schools were Mississippi State (76), FIU (105), North Texas (115) and Chattanooga, respectively. How did this impact his final stat line?
Once those games are removed, Ingram rushed 223 times for 1,260 yards and 11 touchdowns. His yards per carry dropped to 5.65, and his reception total was 24 catches, 228 yards and two touchdowns. A little better than Richardson, a little less than LaMichael. Still under Cam Newton's amazing season too.
Does he still earn the Heisman in your eyes? Alabama went 14-0, and without the cream-puff games, they were 10-0, like Cam and Auburn. Let's see what the runner-ups did before we pass judgement.
(And no, it wasn't Andrew Luck, though Andrew was his teammate that year.)
The 2009 Runner-Up: Toby Gerhart
This Cardinal was unstoppable in 2009.
Toby Gerhart was a powerful, productive back on a Stanford Cardinal team that also had future multiple runner-up and first-overall pick Andrew Luck. So, how productive could he be with a future franchise quarterback taking up the limelight? Let's take a look.
In 2009 Toby rushed 343 times for 1,871 yards (5.5 yards per carry) and a stunning 28 touchdowns. Not needed to catch much in Stanford's offense, he caught only 11 passes for 157 yards.
Gerhart's schedule, however, was just about as weak as Ingram's. His Stanford team played Washington State (81), Arizona State (91), San Jose State (114) and Washington State (118).
Now, like Ingram, let's take a look at his new numbers: 242 carries for 1,312 yards and 22 touchdowns. His yards per carry barely moved too, down to 5.42. His few receptions now were fewer: nine catches for 144 yards.
Gerhart's team wasn't very good, earning a record of 8-5, which drops to 4-5 vs. the meat of the schedule. One might wonder if this will overshadow his individual accomplishments and lessen his chances to steal the Heisman.
Before we decide, let's look at the other runner-up. This quarterback is in the unfamiliar territory at looking up the Heisman voting at two running backs.
In fact, the previous time a quarterback was third in the Heisman behind two running backs was when Steve McNair was behind Ki-Jana Carter and Rashaan Salaam, who won it in 1994.
Hindsight being 20/20, I'd say it was one instance when the Heisman trophy did not mean an All-Pro NFL career. In a way, it must have been satisfying for McNair to realize his career was 10 times better than the two men who were above him combined. What does this mean for our next quarterback? Let's see.
Colt McCoy, now the quarterback for the Browns, was third in the Heisman voting in 2009.
Colt McCoy traded in his Longhorn Jersey for a Browns one in 2010 and left college football as its all-time leader in wins until Boise State's Kellen Moore surpassed him this past year. The wins have been harder to come by for McCoy, but this is about 2009, not 2012. So, let's see how he did.
In 2009 Colt McCoy completed 332 out of 470 passes for 3,521 yards (10.6 yards per completion) with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also rushed 129 times for 348 yards and three scores.
But, like many top-tier programs, many of those victories came at the expense of sacrificial lambs. In 2009 Texas only had three lambs on its schedule: Baylor (92), UTEP (93) and Colorado (102).
Discounting LaMichael's suspension (because had he played, the game vs. the Lobos wouldn't have counted) only Robert Griffin III played against three non-qualifiers instead of four like the rest of the names in this article.
McCoy's new stats are 249 for 362, with 2,789 yards. He threw for 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His rushing totals were barely affected, becoming 116 carries for 323 yards, and he still had three touchdowns. Like RG3, his yards per completion went up—now at 11.2 yards per completion. But did he deserve the Heisman like RG3, or is this a coincidence?
Texas went 13-1 that season, which becomes 10-1 without the three games mentioned before. So, can McCoy take the Heisman from all the way down at third place?
The TRUE 2009 Heisman Trophy Winner Is:
Toby Gerhart truly deserved the Heisman in 2009.
Here we have the first instance of a Heisman switcheroo. Even taking into account Alabama's national championship that year, the individual stats by Toby Gerhart are far and away greater than Ingram's. The fact that he did them on a team that was worse than Alabama only adds to the accomplishment.
A closer comparison shows Gerhart had 19 more carries for 52 more yards—pretty even, but the number that can't be ignored is 22. Toby Gerhart scored twice as many touchdowns as Mark Ingram did. And that was on a team with Andrew Luck. His yards per carry didn't get nearly as affected against the tougher teams on his schedule either.
The 2009 Heisman voting was already the closest vote in history as Ingram, Jr. edged Gerhart—but if you take out the team accomplishment of the National Championship and add in the individual dominance that is at the heart of the Heisman, Gerhart wins it now handily.
Strike a pose
So, there you have it. One year where nothing changed, one where the runner-ups changed and one where the runner-up took the trophy for himself. What has all this taught us? For me, it does validate my stance that the cupcake games should be out of the equation when it comes to determining individual accomplishments.
This approach helps weed through the closest vote in Heisman history to prove who truly was the more dominant player. Meanwhile, the truly dominant, like Cam Newton and RG3, still get to keep their trophies. I look forward to seeing the three years before that to see if there are any new surprises. (Although the legwork is daunting!)
Four of the players above are just getting ready to start their NFL careers. The future is bright for all of them, and none have shown any indication that they'll fail in their new careers.
For Andrew Luck, the two-time runner-up has the greatest challenge ahead of him compared the rest of the list: The pressure of being the first-overall pick, inheriting the worst team in the league and confronting the ghost of No. 18. By all accounts, Andrew seems to be a man of unique character. Time will write the tale of Andrew Luck, be it comedy, tragedy or triumph.
For Mark Ingram, he played sparingly for one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. While he shared carries with other backs and didn't record a stat in six games, he did score five touchdowns on 122 carries and gained 474 yards.
It would appear that in his second year in the league, he'll be more of the feature back people know he can be. Injuries and surgeries ended his rookie year and threaten the offseason of the next one. Mark needs to get healthy and stay healthy fast because in today's NFL, you don't get many chances.
For Toby Gerhart, playing behind one of the NFL's best running backs, Adrian Peterson, doesn't allow for too many carries. In his rookie year, he rushed 81 times for 322 yards and one touchdown. He also caught 21 passes. In his second year, he had 109 carries for 531 yards and one touchdown, but added 23 more receptions for three scores.
When AP went down, Gerhart had a 109-yard game against the Redskins (including a nice 64-yarder), followed by a two touchdown reception game the next. Toby hurt his MCL in the season finale but seems to be fully healed going into the offseason.
For Cam Newton, he is poised to become the brightest star in all the NFL, individually at least, as his team races to catch up with him and the rest of the league. He set numerous rookie and NFL records and firsts. It seems like nothing can slow him down.
For Colt McCoy, 2012 is his make-or-break year. Thrust into the starting lineup in Week 6 of his rookie season, Colt struggled but by all accounts did a good job. He played in eight games and became the starting quarterback for 2011.
He played the first 13 games, but the Browns were 4-9. Not all the blame falls on McCoy's shoulders. Fans will no doubt remember an obviously concussed McCoy being allowed back into a game after taking a vicious hit from James Harrison (who was suspended one game for the action).
Nonetheless, the Browns selected Oklahoma State's Brandon Weedon in the first round of the 2012, providing a serious competitor for Colt's starting job. If Colt can't hold Weedon off, Colt's career seems very murky indeed.
The Heisman list of NFL players is full of Hall of Famers, All-Pros, Almost-Weres and Never-Wases. Who's going to make it and who's not? It's always difficult to predict. The most we can do is try to look at it from as many angles as we can and make an educated guess.
Who's going to be your guess for 2012?