Breaking Down the Perfect Heisman Trophy Candidate

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor INovember 1, 2012

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 26:  Robert Griffin III #10 of the Baylor Bears at Cowboys Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There's no mathematical formula to predict who will win the Heisman trophy, but history paints us a clear picture of who will take home the storied award. 

In a year in which there are several logical candidates, this gives us another unique perspective at a debate that can swing in any number of directions. 

So, let's take a look at what common factors make up a Heisman winner and what it might mean for this year's hopefuls. 

Note: Following stats won't include Reggie Bush, who had his Heisman award from 2005 taken away.


More often than not, it's going to be a quarterback. In the entire history of the Heisman, 41 winners have actually been running backs while only 30 have been signal-callers, but we're living in the new age.

Since 2000, Mark Ingram is the only non-QB to win the award. But it's certainly not impossible for a different position to gain recognition, as five running backs, one wide receiver and two defensive studs have made the Final 5 in the last three years.

It's just not likely any of them will actually win

This is good news for Collin Klein, AJ McCarron, Geno Smith, Braxton Miller and others, while Kenjon Barner and Manti Te'o, especially, remain long shots. After two defensive ends were named Heisman before 1950, only one—cornerback Charles Woodson—has won the award since. Never has a linebacker won.

But hey, there's a first time for everything, right?

But What Kind of Quarterback?

We know a quarterback is more than likely to win the award, but not all QBs are created equal. Matt Barkley isn't Geno Smith. A.J. McCarron isn't Braxton Miller.

So who wins more? Scramblers or pocket passers? 

Since the "age of the running back" died with Ron Dayne's Heisman award in 1999, 10 quarterbacks have won the award. 

Five have been guys who beat teams with their arm (Sam Bradford, Matt Leinart, Jason White, Carson Palmer and Chris Weinke), four beat teams with their arm and their legs (Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Troy Smith) and one beat teams with pretty much just his legs (Eric Crouch).

Essentially, there's no real rhyme or reason to the type of quarterback selected, but it's worth noting that four of the past five QB Heisman winners have been guys who could run the ball. 

That's another good sign for guys like Collin Klein, Braxton Miller and even Johnny Manziel (although freshmen don't tend to win the award), but not such a good one for Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and AJ McCarron.

Team Success

This is always an interesting debate. 

The Heisman is technically an individual award, but the "best player on the best team" argument often comes into play. Of course, the best players in the nation tend to play on the best teams, so it usually tends to work itself out.

But what happens when Braxton Miller, a normally easy top-three candidate, dominates for a team that can't play in the postseason? Or when Matt Barkley puts up video-game numbers for a painfully inconsistent squad?

Let's take a look at the last 15 winners overall:

Heisman Winner Team Wins Final AP Ranking
Robert Griffin III 10 13
Cam Newton 14 1
Mark Ingram 14 1
Sam Bradford 12 5
Tim Tebow 9 13
Troy Smith 12 2
Matt Leinart 13 1
Jason White 12 3
Carson Palmer 11 4
Eric Crouch 11 8
Chris Weinke 11 5
Ron Dayne 10 4
Ricky Williams 9 15
Charles Woodson 12 1
Danny Wuerffel 12 1

Only three times has a Heisman winner's team finished outside the Top 10 and only twice has his team won less than 10 games. The most common final AP ranking, as expected, was No. 1, with five winners seeing their team finish atop the college football world. 

This doesn't necessarily eliminate the other top candidates, but it speaks well for AJ McCarron, who leads an Alabama squad that is expected to win the national championship. 


History, without a doubt, points to Collin Klein, as long as he and Kansas State keep up this magical 2012 season.

Still, I wouldn't count out A.J. McCarron or Braxton Miller. I also wouldn't be surprised to see Manti Te'o be named as a finalist, but he would be a long shot to take home the famous trophy.

Meanwhile, Geno Smith's numbers are drool-worthy, but the combination of a lack of run game and his team's recent struggles could hurt him. Same goes with Matt Barkley.

The dynamic Kenjon Barner is a sleeping giant.


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