Defense Wins Championships, Offense Wins the Heisman
Though there appear to be quite a few adages that speak to the importance of defense (and on last count there were the same number of defensive as offensive players on the field), the opportunities for a defensive player are not equal in Heisman Trophy voting.
To date (there may be several hybrids from the '40s and '50s who played both ways) there has only been one man, Charles Woodson, who has won college football's most prestigious award playing primarily on the defensive side of the ball.
The Michigan cornerback, however, also returned punts and occasionally played wide receiver. Since Woodson's 1997 season, only Ndamukong Suh has seriously challenged for the Heisman as a defender.
This year, LSU's Patrick Peterson may be the best player in college football, but he won't win the Heisman Trophy.
Like Woodson, Peterson's stars on the defensive side of the football. A dominating and physical corner, the 6'1'' 222 lb Peterson is also one of the most dynamic return men in the country. Additionally, Petersen has already blocked a field goal this season.
Despite his proven ability to shut down the SEC's top receiving threats, his willingness to come up and make tackles (second on the team last year), and his skill in the return game, Peterson will not win the Heisman Trophy.
His greater visibility because of his influence on the kicking game, will certainly give him a better shot than previous defensive candidates. Still, expect an offensive star to take the trophy home once more.
Fans Love Points
Serious football fanatics, coaches, and former players all love a defensive struggle. The more casual fan does not.
Though these fans do not necessarily have a vote, the media prefers to cover players that fans admire. Naturally, then, those players that put up big numbers on the offensive side of the football receive a disproportionate amount of media attention.
Unless Peterson is able to consistently return kicks for scores, he is unlikely to generate the same sort of media attention as an offensive star.
Very few people really appreciate how difficult the job of an interior defensive lineman is. While everyone recognizes the importance of a sack, few have an appreciation for disciplined, gap-filling, run-stopping interior line play. On that same note, very few recognize the difficulty of covering a receiver in open space.
It's much easier to appreciate the spin-moves, acrobatic catches, or thread-the-needle passes of runningbacks, receivers and quarterbacks. While Peterson does get a chance to show off his shimmy on kick returns, these opportunities are limited and smart teams will look to kick away from him.
Easy To Avoid
Opposing teams and coaches do certainly recognize dominant defensive players and consciously gameplan to avoid them. Coaches will look for mismatches elsewhere or try different alignments to minimize the ability of a defensive player to disrupt an offense.
In the case of the LSU star, coaches will look to put their best receiver in motion to keep Peterson from blanketing them. The spread offense makes this even easier. The wide open formations and quick passes minimize the impact of an individual defensive player.
To win the Heisman, a player must generally be a member of an elite team—the last five Heisman Trophy winners have all played in the BCS National Championship.
Though LSU is a strong team, it is hamstrung by poor offensive output. Peterson's Heisman hopes will be severely compromised if LSU does not win the SEC.
I'm not necessarily suggesting that Peterson is the best player in college football. Even if he is, he will not bring home the hardware this season. While defense wins championships, it won't win Patrick Peterson the Heisman Trophy.