Heisman Futility Shows Pac-12 Still Has a Perception Problem

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Heisman Futility Shows Pac-12 Still Has a Perception Problem
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Despite six finalists receiving invitations to Saturday's Heisman Trophy presentation, the most since 1994, not one represents the Pac-12. This is the second time in as many years the conference has been without a Heisman finalist and guarantees its streak of seasons without a winner will reach eight. 

Once USC dominated the award, producing three winners over four years from 2002 through 2005. But since then, only four Pac-12 players have even been nominated as Heisman finalists.

Pac-12 teams are gaining respect from the national media. So why not more love for its top players? 

This year's Heisman presentation will do little to assuage THE feelings of slight west of the Rio Grande. To wit, the SEC has three finalists headed to New York in what was arguably a down year for the conference, and there are striking similarities between a few of their nominees and Pac-12 talents left at home. 

Take Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Oregon's Marcus Mariota. The two quarterbacks have a kind of cosmic tie in their football careers: Manziel was an Oregon recruit in the same class with which Mariota signed. Both had stellar debut seasons. Each started 2013 with a bang, were slowed down the stretch by injury but finished the campaign with impressive overall numbers. 

Auburn's Tre Mason barreled his way into the conversation with an outstanding performance in the SEC Championship Game, rushing for 304 yards and four touchdowns. Stanford senior Tyler Gaffney had his own impressive title-game showing with three scores, all of which came in a decisive first half. 

Both shined when their competition was stiffest. Mason was clutch against Alabama and set his previous season high at Texas A&M. Gaffney rolled up big yardage against UCLA, Oregon, USC and Notre Dame before helping sew up the Cardinal's Rose Bowl bid. 

Their numbers are also incredibly similar: Mason rushed for 1,621 yards on 283 carries with 22 touchdowns. Gaffney went for 1,618 yards on 306 carries, scored 20 rushing touchdowns and added another on a reception. 

Had Gaffney been invited, he would have been Stanford's third nominee since 2009. His former teammates, Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, went to New York, but both were denied in votes that broke down along territorial lines. 

Gerhart's snub in 2009 is one of the more confounding decisions in recent Heisman memory—not because he didn't win, per se, but because another running back did. Alabama's Mark Ingram had inferior numbers across the board, along with a legitimately bad game in the Iron Bowl. 

However, he gained enough support from East Coast and Southern voters to hold off Gerhart in the closest decision in Heisman history. 

Likewise, Luck lost the 2011 Heisman to Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, when the Stanford junior was crushed in ballots cast from the Southwest, which includes Texas, and Southeast. Luck won the Far West vote, but his margin there was less than 100 votes, hardly enough to bridge the gap built from Big 12 and SEC regional voters. 

There may be some provincialism stiff-arming OF the Pac-12's Heisman hopefuls, but it's not so simple as that. The ACC has not exactly been the epicenter of the college football media's attention in the past decade, and Chestnut Hill, Mass., in particular is hardly comparable to SEC country. 

Nevertheless, running back Andre Williams is making a pit stop in New York before his Boston College Eagles head to Shreveport, La., to meet Ka'Deem Carey and Arizona in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. Williams rushed for nearly 400 more yards than Carey and as many touchdowns with just seven more touches, which on its face, seems like more than enough reason to justify giving Williams the Heisman nod instead. 

And yet, Carey was the more consistent ball-carrier, surpassing 100 yards in all 11 of his appearances. Williams put up huge numbers against Army, New Mexico State, North Carolina State and Maryland—defenses ranked No. 100, 125 and 79 against the rush, respectively. Maryland was a more respectable No. 47. 

In their one common opponent, USC, Williams accrued 38 yards. Carey had 138. But then Carey's game at USC wrapped up just before 2 a.m. ET on a Friday. 

Consider the Pac-12's lack of Heisman love less anti-West Coast bias and more time-zone bias. Not every consequential Pac-12 performance concluded after the witching hour on the East Coast but enough have to affect national attention. 

A performance like Gaffney's in the Pac-12 Championship Game, for example, overlapped with the end of Mason's amazing day in Atlanta. While the conference's TV revenues are fueling facility upgrades, thereby aiding recruiting and the on-field product, the Pac-12 still has work to do on gaining ideal exposure. 

Jon Wilner of The San Jose Mercury News tackled the subject

In a nutshell: The Pac-12 teams and their fans are getting a raw deal with the TV assignments and the kickoff times for Fox Sports-owned broadcasts. The decision to show Baylor-Kansas State on Big FOX and move Oregon-Washington to FS1 was entirely about ratings and buzz. (We know which was the better game because Fox Sports sent its No. 1 announcing team, Gus Johnson and Charles Davis, to Seattle.)

 

The Pac-12 is making up ground. The conference has its most bowl teams ever, and additions to the coaching ranks like Chris Petersen at Washington promise for an even more competitive league.

Still, the Pac-12 continues to battle a perception problem on the national stage. Nowhere is that more evident than in its lack of finalists at this year's Heisman ceremony in New York.

 

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