Why Can't You Find a Heisman Favorite Among the Top BCS Contenders?

Lisa HornePac-12 and Big 12 Lead WriterOctober 18, 2012

Robert Griffin III, 2011 Heisman winner
Robert Griffin III, 2011 Heisman winnerJerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE

It was a little less than two years ago when Auburn quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy. Like most of his predecessors, his team also made it to the 2010 BCS Championship game. Unlike most of his predecessors, he played for the winning team. 

Since the 2000 football season, almost every Heisman winner's team has played in the BCS Championship. There have been some notable exceptions, however.

USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush won back-to-back Heisman trophies in 2004 and 2005, but USC's two BCS Championship appearances were vacated and Bush's trophy was shipped back to the Heisman Trust.  

USC quarterback Carson Palmer won the Heisman in 2002, but the Trojans played in the Orange Bowl that season. Tim Tebow's Gators appeared in the BCS Championship the season after he won the Heisman in 2007, and last year's winner, Robert Griffin III, saw his Baylor Bears play in the Alamo Bowl.

This year's Heisman race has a fairly solid Top Five with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel as the front-runners. Two others—Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o—are also in the Top Five, but Ohio State is serving out a one-year postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA.

Collin Klein is a legit contender, but how high will the No. 4 Wildcats go in the BCS standings? The Wildcats are a solid team on both sides of the ball, but the team doesn't move the dial for some reason. If Klein were playing in the SEC, would his team be ranked higher?

Probably, but part of the reason why pollsters may not vote Kansas State up is that the Big 12's defenses have been exposed in the last few weeks. The Wildcats play good defense, but that stigma of playing in the Big 12 may lead voters to think Klein's numbers are slightly inflated. 


Te'o's Fighting Irish have a great shot of making a BCS Championship game appearance if they run the tables, but the last time a defensive player (Charles Woodson) won the Heisman was in 1997. The difference between Te'o and Woodson is that Woodson also was a punt returner, so he had a lot more opportunities to get touches on the ball versus most defensive players.

Touches matter to Heisman voters.  

The Heisman is awarded to the most outstanding player in college football and the proverbial spotlight tends to shine on those players who make those unbelievable passes or video game-like moves. Those players who scores points.

He who touches the ball the most gets the most attention by fans, voters and that network cameraman whose sole job is to keep his camera focused on the ball in play.   

Quarterbacks touch the ball more than any player on a team. Running backs also get a lot of touches; a starting back should get at least 25 carries per game if his team has a good running game. Receivers, on the other hand, don't get nearly the touches and that's generally why they don't win the Heisman. Michigan's Desmond Howard (1991) was the last receiver to win the award. 

Touches explain why offensive players usually win the Heisman, but why don't any of the BCS Top Dogs have a Heisman contender?



The SEC has made it to the BCS Championship game six consecutive years and won all six games. But the SEC, for the most part, touts its defenses as the reason for its superiority, not its offenses. And since the Heisman is almost always awarded to an offensive player, the pickings are slim in the SEC.

It's not that there aren't great offensive players in the SEC, because there are plenty. But SEC teams generally run more balanced offenses and thus, it's hard for a quarterback to stand out among the rest when he's only throwing 15 passes a game. Moreover, if the quarterback is playing in a high-profile game, he may not perform as well against a nasty SEC defense.

No. 7 South Carolina's quarterback Connor Shaw had an opportunity to shine in his game against LSU last week, but Shaw went 19-of-34 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in that 23-21 loss. Gamecock running back Marcus Lattimore was a preseason Heisman watch-lister, but his production has been low and this week his status is questionable, according to the Tampa Bay Times. 

No. 2 Florida's Jeff Driskel is a future-great quarterback, but his passing-attempts-per-game average is too low (18.5) to garner Heisman talk. Same goes for Gator running back Mike Gillislee, who is averaging 20 carries per game. 

There are currently three SEC quarterbacks that are among the 20 most productive in the FBS: Tyler Wilson (Arkansas), Tyler Bray (Tennessee) and Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M). Only Texas A&M has a Top 20-ranked passing and rushing offense and that's all due to Manziel.

But the No. 18 Aggies have only played one currently-ranked BCS team (Florida), and they lost the game. Voters need to see how Manziel does against an Alabama or LSU defense before they move him and A&M up. If Manziel has a great day against Alabama, his stock will skyrocket. 


And that's the problem for potential Heisman candidates playing in the SEC. The SEC's strong defenses tend to diminish a player's performance. Moreover, since ESPN and CBS broadcast SEC games, the exposure level is very high every week. One week you look like a Heisman candidate, the next week you don't.

Georgia has a fantastic quarterback in Aaron Murray, but his rise in the Heisman race was due to stats against Buffalo, Missouri, Florida Atlantic, Vanderbilt and Tennessee. When the Bulldogs played South Carolina and its No. 12-ranked total defense, Murray went 11-of-31 for 109 yards and one interception in a 35-7 loss. His Heisman hopes went up in flames during ESPN's College Gameday Game of the Week. 

Exposure, like playing against tough defenses, is critical for a Heisman candidate's rise and responsible for his fall. With each conference making big deals with networks, the availability of more games for the voter to watch gives more "unknowns" bigger exposure, which in turn, can take away votes from a more widely-known Heisman contender.

Collin Klein has the best chance of winning the Heisman and leading his team to the BCS Championship game since he's a top Heisman contender and his Wildcats are ranked No. 4. This Saturday, Kansas State (6-0) plays at No. 13 West Virginia (5-1). The two leading Heisman contenders, according to a straw poll by heismanpundit.com and yours truly, will be battling for the Big 12 crown and a possible BCS Championship game invite.

They'll also be battling for the Heisman. Head-to-head competition. With a national network audience watching.


If Smith has a solid day and a wins, he will retain his lead in the Heisman race, but the Mountaineers can't control their own destiny in playing for the BCS title—they'll need some help.

If Klein has a good day and gets the win, he will overtake Smith in the Heisman race and the Wildcats can control their destiny to a point—the fact that the Big 12 doesn't have a championship game may cost them some valuable points in early December.

Right now, the top three teams (Alabama, Florida and Oregon) don't have a Heisman contender because not one player on any team has done enough to keep the spotlight on just him.

Alabama and Florida both play in a defensive-oriented conference and Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas just hasn't had enough touches to be in the Heisman conversation. The Ducks also haven't had much national exposure, but that may change tonight when Oregon plays at Arizona State. 

As long as an SEC team plays in the BCS Championship game—and that seems very likely again this year—the chances of seeing a Heisman favorite coming from an SEC team appear slim. 

Defense, in the SEC, is usually just too good to let an offensive player shine.

But when he does shine—as in the cases of Tim Tebow, Mark Ingram and Cam Newton—you can count on him being in New York every December.