The Heisman Trophy fascinated me because it is the most prestigious individual honor in major American sports. Yet, it is handed out to a player in college football, which is the ultimate team game. Because of this irony, I never got offended when the guy I felt deserved the Heisman never got it.
This changed in 2003, my Freshman year at Pitt. After watching Larry Fitzgerald do everything shy of parting the Monongahela River, surely he deserved the Heisman. I, like most Pitt fans, took this personally.
Nobody could give us a decent reason for picking against Fitzgerald. All we heard was that he’s a wide receiver, he’s a sophomore and his team is 8-4. None of these three things were Larry’s fault.
When John Heisman retired in 1927, he became president of the Downtown Athletic Club and Touchdown Club of New York and made it his mission to recognize the most outstanding college football player in America.
The first Heisman Trophy was handed out in 1935 to University of Chicago’s Jay Berwanger. Ever since then the award has been handed out on an annual basis.
The award has basically become an annual recognition of the best back on an elite team. The award has mirrored the MVP award in professional sports even though the award is supposed to recognize the most outstanding player in America.
Why shouldn’t an offensive lineman or a defensive player get the award? Is a football player deemed inferior if he doesn’t play a skill position?
Also, much is made of “the Heisman curse” when it comes to projecting a college player’s prospects in the NFL. In some cases like, Reggie Bush and Rickie Williams, the player was projected to be a star on the next level.
In other cases, like Chris Weinke and Eric Crouch, the player just wasn’t very good. They only achieved because they had a ton of talent around them. It’s not a curse when a player with out a lot of god given talent doesn’t make it.
The NFL draft doesn’t take the best football players, they take the players with the most potential. It does stand to reason however, that the best college football player would at the very least have first-round talent.
I decided to have a little fun with this, so I dove into the past decade of Heisman winners and tried to figure out who I would have picked as the best player in the nation that year, including this year.
The Actual Winner: Ron Dayne RB Wisconsin
My Winner: LaVar Arrington LB Penn State
Dayne was undoubtedly a great player and was certainly a deserving winner of the award. However, Arrington was otherworldly. He was a one-man wrecking crew and the biggest reason that Penn State was able to hang in the national title race as long as they did.
Honorable Mention: Peter Warrick WR/KR Florida State
The Winner: Chris Weinke QB Florida State
My Winner: Michael Vick QB Virginia Tech
Imagine Virginia Tech without Michael Vick. Do they ever end up with players like DeAngelo Hall, Kevin Jones, and Jimmy Williams? I don’t think so. Michael Vick never exactly had superstar talent around him when he was a Hokie, he almost single handedly had that team in the top 10 that year. He had as much to do with the rise of that program as Frank Beamer.
Honorable Mention: Dan Morgan LB Miami
The Winner: Eric Crouch QB Nebraska
My Winner: Ed Reed FS Miami
I don’t think an option quarterback who can’t pass to save his life should ever be considered as the nation’s most outstanding player. Especially when Antwaan Randle-El could have gotten the team just as far as Crouch if the two players were traded for each other.
If you really wanted to select a quarterback that season, Joey Harrington was every bit as important to his team as Crouch was and Oregon was at the very least as qualified to make the national title game as Nebraska.
Looking back on it there were at least five different Hurricanes that could be considered the most outstanding player of that season. I am going with Ed Reed just because in addition to his immense talent he was the one directing traffic on that star studded defense.
Honorable Mention: Bryant McKinnie OT Miami
The Winner: Carson Palmer QB USC
My Winner: Carson Palmer QB USC
I am OK with Palmer here. His top receiver was a freshman (although Mike Williams was an immensely talented freshman) and he still put up monster numbers. USC was not nearly as deep and talented in 2002 as they are now. Palmer was sensational that season.
When I arrived at Pitt eight months later people in Pennsylvania were still crying about Larry Johnson not winning but every time Penn State faced a good defense that season , Johnson disappeared.
Honorable Mentions: None, this was a rough year
The Winner: Jason White QB Oklahoma
My Winner: Larry Fitzgerald WR Pitt
OK, I already admitted my bias here as a Pitt alum but I think a good rule of thumb is nobody who gets passed over in the NFL draft probably isn’t that great a player and should never be considered the games most outstanding player. Jason White was on a stacked team and, much like Sam Bradford this season, had all day to make throws to superior athletes.
Larry Fitzgerald is the best athlete I have ever seen on any level of sports. I wish I would have kept track of how many times Pitt declined pass interference penalties because Larry made the catch anyway. This seemed to happen every game. The man was never single covered and he still was able to dominate.
Honorable Mention: Sean Taylor S Miami
The Winner: Matt Leinart QB USC
My Winner: Reggie Bush RB USC
Bush was the most dynamic athlete to play college football this decade. Leinart was an acceptable pick here, but Bush was the game breaker on a team of game breakers. Leinart never gets into the Heisman talk if he is on a team other than USC. Bush would probably be a candidate no matter who he played for.
Honorable Mention: Carlos Rodgers DB Auburn
The Winner: Reggie Bush RB USC
My Winner: Reggie Bush RB USC
Honorable Mention: Vince Young QB Texas
The Winner: Troy Smith QB Ohio State
My Winner: Calvin Johnson WR Georgia Tech
I don’t think Troy Smith was a bad football player and should get a shot to lead a team at the next level. I really wanted to take Reggie Nelson here but I have to go with Calvin Johnson for all of the same reasons I went with Larry Fitzgerald. The two of them are cut from the same cloth so it is only fair.
Sub note: I found it interesting how many good wide receivers there have been this decade. I have two winning and very easily could throw Peter Warrick or Michael Crabtree in there as well.
Honorable Mention: Reggie Nelson S Florida, Darren McFadden RB Arkansas
The Winner: Tim Tebow QB Florida
My Winner: Glen Dorsey DT LSU
I wasn’t outraged with Tebow here, he was great in 2007, but Glen Dorsey was the most the most dominant player at his position in America as well as the anchor for a defense that eventually won the national title. Oh yeah, he did this all with a nagging shin injury that compromised his effectiveness.
Honorable Mention: Darren McFadden RB Arkansas
The Winner: ?
My Winner: Ray Maualuga LB USC
Basically, I am making the same argument here that I made for Ed Reed. Just a freakishly good football player on a frightening defense.
Honorable Mentions: Tim Tebow QB Florida, Michael Crabtree WR Texas Tech
I understand that the huge obstacle with my idea is the quantitative aspect of it all. Voters can’t watch every game, it is easier to just measure the stats of all the good backs in America.
My counter argument is that with satellite TV and DVRs, we can’t watch them all but we can certainly watch a good number of them. Why not have a group of voters committed to watching as much football as possible in order to figure this thing out.
Obviously hindsight is 20/20 and my opinion was probably affected by the outcome of the bowl games or how these players went on to perform at the next level. That is why your opinions are encouraged. Let me know what you think. I encourage anybody to opine on any of these as long as you keep it civil.