Twenty-five. That’s the weight (in pounds) of the Heisman Trophy, the stiff-armin’ statue that is presented at the conclusion of each college football season.
Holding the award is easy; raising all 25 pounds upward can be a bit more of a challenge, but a welcomed one that the nation’s finest athletes would gladly take on. Winning it, well, that’s a whole different story.
The past 10 years have taught us much about this award and what it takes to stand at the podium in the BCS era. The formula is simple, but it’s never that simple. Throws don’t always end up in their intended directions, injuries surface that could derail campaigns in an instant, and losses seem to creep into the picture.
Here's what we've learned.
It’s All About the Quarterback
Over the past 10 years, a quarterback has acquired Heisman hardware eight times, and running backs have taken home the award on just two occasions.
Those two ball carriers were Reggie Bush—whose Heisman now serves as Mark Emmert’s sauna towel rack thanks to NCAA sanctions (at least that’s what we’re assuming)—and Mark Ingram, a worthy recipient on a national championship team in 2009.
In the decade prior, five quarterbacks heard their names called, while four punt returners and one defensive player (Charles Woodson) walked away with the trophy.
As for the finalists, a.k.a. the individuals that trek to New York, dress up in their finest attire and wait for their names to be called after 54 or so minutes of softball-ish interviews, there have been 41 since 2002.
Total invites for a given season in this time frame have ranged between three and five, with the average being right around four. Twenty five (61 percent) have been quarterbacks, 13 (32 percent) were running backs, two have been defensive players (5 percent) and one—the one and only Larry Fitzgerald—was a wide receiver (2 percent). It doesn’t hurt to touch the ball on every play.
To Win, You Can’t Lose (Well, Most of the Time)
The award itself is a strange one, and it takes on a different interpretation depending on the year or to whom you talk. The bronze armful is supposed to be handed over to the nation’s “best player,” but that’s not always the case. “Best player” on a team that doesn’t lose seems more appropriate, at least according to recent outcomes.
The teams of Heisman winners have accumulated an overall record of 113 wins and only 10 losses in the past 10 years. Six of those eight losses came in two seasons, as Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III each won the award despite losing three times and being left out of the title game.
Having a spot in the championship spotlight has also loomed large. Seven out of the 10 Heisman winners have played in BCS National Championships those seasons. Carson Palmer, who won the award in 2002, played in the Orange Bowl. Once again RG3 and Tim Tebow were the only two winners not to play in BCS bowl games.
Win lots of games, get lots of attention. Got it.
The RG3 Effect and Identifying the “Heisman Moment”
The 2011 season was one that veered off the “typical” Heisman path. The two best teams, Alabama and LSU, didn’t have any real offensive players with gaudy box scores, which is unique given recent trends. Tyrann Mathieu did have a spot in NYC as a defender for the Tigers, but that was the closest thing.
Robert Griffin III was electric. He opened up on a national spotlight and put up video game numbers out of the gate in a thrilling victory against TCU. He had more touchdowns than incompletions through the early part of the season, which is still absurd and difficult to comprehend.
He played in a system that was strongly geared towards throwing the ball—a knock that has plagued potential candidates in the past—but he got up for the big moments late. Throwing for 779 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception in wins against Oklahoma and Texas gave voters plenty to think about.
He deserved the award, without question, but this was atypical of typical seasons. The path to the award is simple; the necessary resume items are clear.
As for 2012…
Put up numbers; win games (lots and lots of games); don’t lose at all, if possible; and come up with those necessary “Heisman moments” late in the season to solidify your candidacy. It also doesn’t hurt to be a quarterback on a team with some college football history.
Here are a few names based on these trends that set up well to win the award on paper. No major surprises, but centering in on a few known names.
Oh, it always looks good on paper.
Matt Barkley (QB, USC)
Duh. The Heisman chalk on perhaps the preseason favorite also has the luxury of going against soft Pac-12 defenses each week. They will be a favorite in every game, and he also has a handful of tremendous targets (assuming Robert Woods gets healthy) to throw toward. Heisman voters are also mighty familiar with USC quarterbacks, and this one is tough to bet against.
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma)
He has not shown the consistency that he’ll need without Ryan Broyles in the lineup, but he certainly has the arm talent required to win the award. Jones plays in an offense that will throw the ball frequently and will also face a fair amount of teams that struggle defensively. He has to cut down on the “oh, no” moments but is very capable if he puts it altogether.
Aaron Murray (QB, Georgia)
Murray somewhat quietly threw 35 touchdowns last season while playing against some of the best defenses in the country on a weekly basis. He also threw 14 interceptions, however, which has to improve for a realistic shot at the award. The biggest reason I like Murray’s chances a lot heading into 2012: the schedule. UGA misses Alabama, LSU and Arkansas and has the easiest trip to the SEC Championship of any team.
Montee Ball (RB, Wisconsin)
The lone running back included in our top five and a stat sheet machine. Here’s the problem, however. Do you believe Ball is capable of repeating his 39-touchdown performance? Unlikely, and that’s no knock on him. Just a realization of what an uphill climb it will be and what kind of season he and his team will have to execute. Wisconsin’s B1G schedule can be conquered, and that might be his only hope.
Geno Smith (QB, West Virginia)
A boom-or-bust inclusion that will have incredible numbers if he stays healthy. His favorite targets are all back, and he’ll also have another year under Dana Holgorsen, which should help a great deal. This team is going to be a lot of fun to watch, but can they avoid the losses that could derail his campaign? Beating Texas in Texas in early October would be a fantastic start, and it’s certainly within reason to carry momentum over the long haul after that.