ESPN.com released its first Heisman Watch of the season Thursday, a straw poll of 16 experts deciding who should be favored to win the sport's most famous trophy. And the results were...well, interesting.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney led the field of preseason candidates, and he did so by a considerable margin. Here are the top six vote-getters (and the only six players to receive first-place votes):
Reigning winner Johnny Manziel placed third, which a couple of weeks ago might have been shockingly low. But now, given the tower of evidence that has piled up against him in Memorabilia-gate, it seems shockingly high. And his questionable eligibility was enough to put Clowney on top of the list.
Which is ridiculous.
Clowney might be (and probably is) the best player in college football, but Heisman voting has never been a direct meritocracy. Defensive players who impact the game like Clowney might go higher in the NFL draft, and they might be more important to their team, but they never win this award.
The last defender to win the Heisman was Charles Woodson in 1997—16 years ago! And Woodson's case was bolstered (decisively) by his contribution on offense, where he had 238 receiving yards and two touchdowns; and special teams, where he had 301 punt return yards and took one to the house.
Clowney has no such impact on the offensive and return games. He's a strict three-down defensive lineman. Is he great at his job? Yeah. But that's the only one he has. And since the Heisman's debut in 1935, no true defender—repeat: No. True. Defender.—has ever won the trophy.
Making Clowney the "favorite" is a slap in the face of probability. Historical precedent exists for a reason. Its advice should be heeded, not blithely ignored.
Clowney could, potentially, make history and win the Heisman this year; he's more than talented enough to do so. But if he does it would be an aberration—a one-in-78 occurrence—and not a preseason likelihood.
Quarterbacks have won the last three, six of the last seven and 11 of the last 13 years. Given that figure, how could Clowney—regardless of how good he is—possibly be listed above Braxton Miller, AJ McCarron, Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd and (yes, even) Manziel?
It just doesn't make any sense.