NCAA Football: Does the Heisman Trophy Really Honor the Best Player?

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NCAA Football: Does the Heisman Trophy Really Honor the Best Player?
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In 2009 Ndamukong Suh won the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, and Bednarik awards; was AP Player of the Year, was voted a unanimous All-American...and finished fourth in the Heisman voting.

With the 2012 college football year wrapping up and the awards season starting off, the Heisman Trophy debate should be kicking into high gear. That is, if there were any such thing as a Heisman debate.

Unfortunately for football fans like myself, the luster and mystique of the award long ago faded away.

Despite the Heisman Trust’s claim that the trophy is awarded to the "outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity,” we all know that the award is basically reserved for the best quarterback, running back or wide receiver on one of the best teams…and with an outstanding Sports Information Director, to boot!

I stopped really caring about the Heisman around 1996, when everyone on the planet knew that Orlando Pace of the Ohio State Buckeyes was the most dominant player in the game. This is a man who was a three-time winner of the Outland and Lombardi awards and a consensus All-American, and who was named to Sports Illustrated’s NCAA Football All-Century team as a starting tackle.

For two entire seasons (1995 and 1996), Pace gave up a grand total of zero sacks. That’s right, zero sacks surrendered in two seasons.

His reward? A fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting, with Danny Weurffel of the Florida Gators winning the award.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
For two entire seasons Orlando Pace did not relinquish a single sack, and in 1996 won his third Outland and Lombardi awards, and was a consensus All-American. He finished fourth in the Heisman balloting.

The Heisman voters re-confirmed the meaninglessness of the award a little over a decade later, when the 2009 award was given to Mark Ingram, tailback for the Alabama Crimson Tide. That is not to say that Ingram did not deserve to be recognized for the season that he had. But he was not the best player in college football that season: Ndamukong Suh was.

Period. End of story.

If you don’t believe me, take gander at the season Suh put up: 85 tackles (52 solo), 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 10 passes defended, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble and 3 blocked kicks!

He also ran amok on the post-season awards circuit, winning the AP Player of the Year, Nagurski, Bednarik and Lombardi awards and the Outland Trophy, as well as being unanimously named an All-American.

All of that, only to finish fourth in the Heisman ballots.

One of the major problems with the Heisman Trophy, as it stands today, is that it too often does not take into honest consideration who the best player is and is seemingly awarded to whomever puts up the most stats…witness the Heisman Trophies of Andre Ware, Ty Detmer and Gino Torretta.

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
Charles Woodson remains the only defensive player to ever capture the Heisman Trophy.

Defensive players and offensive linemen are basically excluded because of the reliance on statistics by the voters to measure the worth of the candidates—tackles for loss simply don’t carry the cachet or “sexiness” that 2,000 yards rushing, 3,000 yards passing or 30 touchdowns do.

And, since a lot of the voters don’t seem to actually watch a lot of football, they rely on what the sports media and the fantasy football culture tell them.

Take this year’s Heisman race, for example: The season started with all the major sports media in the country telling us that USC Trojan Matt Barkley was the “front-runner” for the award…before a single snap had been played.

When the Trojans struggled, Barkley was out and the hot quarterback (Colin Klein) for the hot team (Kansas State Wildcats) was suddenly the new “front-runner.”

When K-State went down to the Baylor Bears, suddenly Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel became the favorite for the award.

The front-runner status went from one quarterback, to the next.

Meanwhile, in South Bend, Indiana Manti T’eo has been putting together a stellar season for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. This player, who has emerged as the acknowledged leader of the No. 1 team in the nation, has been the cornerstone of arguably the best defense in college football. T’eo has an unofficial tally of 101 tackles this season, 46 solo tackles, 2 sacks and 4 passes defended, and he is tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions.

But because he plays defense, he has about the same chance that a snowball has of surviving in a greenhouse in winning the Heisman.

As a matter of fact, in the entire history of the award, only one non-offensive player has ever won the award. That was in 1997, when Michigan Wolverines cornerback/punt returner/wide receiver Charles Woodson won, and a strong argument can be made that it was his ability to play as a return man and wide out that garnered him enough votes to win.

It is well past time that the Heisman Trust and its media partners ended the charade that is awarding the Heisman Trophy to the best player in college football and acknowledge what we all know to be true: The award is for the outstanding college football offensive player.

When linemen or defenders need not apply, the award, as currently advertised, is simply a fraud.

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