The 2011-12 college football season has been full of so many twists and turns that it hasn’t lent itself to a straightforward Heisman race.
With gigantic upsets almost every week, a player’s Heisman stock can rise or fall with great rapidity. So much of a voter’s decision has to do with overall team performance that even with only a handful of games left, the race is still too close to call. There are just too many questions yet to be answered.
Andrew Luck seemed to have the trophy well in hand, but a devastating loss at home to Oregon changed all that.
Brandon Weeden arguably took his pole position, but what if the Cowboys lose to rival Oklahoma?
Is David Wilson secretly the best back in college football?
And by the way, why aren’t we talking about Case Keenum as a serious contender?
These are pressing questions that need answering. What follows is not only an attempt to do so, but also to show why this year's Heisman race is still anyone's to win.
Stanford QB Andrew Luck had a miserable game against Oregon, suffering not only a 53-30 loss, but also a probable elimination from BCS title game consideration.
While he did throw three touchdowns to keep the game close for a while, his three turnovers ultimately did the Cardinal in. Despite completing 27-of-41 for 256 passing yards, Luck was largely contained by a fast, physical Duck defense that sacked him three times.
Despite the stunner against Oregon, Luck still is projected to be the top pick in next year's NFL draft as the best QB prospect in the nation. Luck still leads the Pac-12 in efficiency and has a strong argument for the conference's player of the year.
Still, with a bad game now tarnishing his credentials, Luck’s Heisman campaign took a hit. If the Cardinal now fail to make it to a BCS bowl game, his national exposure will continue to slide, costing him valuable east coast votes.
Luck was the front-runner, but now that he’s proven mortal, the race is now without a clear leader. Some put Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden ahead of him, but is that fair?
To say that Brandon Weeden has overtaken Andrew Luck in Heisman voting would be premature, as ESPN’s Expert’s Poll lists the Oklahoma State QB third behind Luck and Alabama’s Trent Richardson.
But if you look at the stats, it’s arguable that Weeden is having the better season.
Currently, Luck has passed for 2680 yards, 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions while completing 70.6 percent of his passes. On the other hand, Weeden has thrown for 3635 yards, 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions while completing 73.1 of his passes.
Surprisingly, Luck has the better QB rating, slightly edging Weeden 168.6 to 164.2. He’s also shown better legs than the Cowboys' starter, rushing for 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Weeden, by virtue of numerous sacks, currently sits at -95 rushing yards.
Still, Weeden beats Luck in the most important stat: wins.
Oklahoma State is undefeated and on track for the national title game if they win out. Their 66-6 blowout of Texas Tech, the same Red Raider side that humbled rival Oklahoma, was impressive to say the least.
While you could make a compelling case for wither Weeden or Luck, neither man has distinguished himself from the Heisman pack.
While he lost some Heisman momentum in a close 9-6 loss to top-ranked LSU, there’s no doubting Trent Richardson’s quality at running back for Alabama. He’s still very much in the race, and would likely be the candidate SEC voters would push for the award.
Through 10 games in 2011, Richardson has rushed for 1205 yards and 18 touchdowns while also proving to be a receiving threat. The Crimson Tide’s star man has caught 25 passes for 315 yards, scoring one touchdown.
That kind of versatility plays well with voters, but it’s Richardson’s rushing skill that has kept him in the race. To look just at his stat line does not do the kid justice. Only after watching him play with the physicality of a power back with the moves and agility of a speed back can you really understand how good he is.
With Alabama looking to win out, their only regular season loss will have then come against the probable national champions. They’re shoo-ins for an at-large bid to a BCS bowl, allowing Richardson the opportunity to still dream of a Heisman.
Flying under the radar is undefeated Houston’s Case Keenum, the Cougar quarterback who has put up massive numbers despite his team’s laughably weak schedule.
Keenum has already set national records this season, becoming the FBS’s all-time leader in total offense (18,434 yards), passing yards (17,537) and total touchdowns by a quarterback (166).
It’s hard to ignore historic numbers simply because Keenum plays in a lousy conference, but that’s exactly what the national media is doing.
Their argument discounts (correctly) Keenum’s overall achievements, as the Heisman trophy is awarded based on performance in the current season. When you look past his records, any QB facing Houston’s schedule could put up those type of numbers, right?
Well, maybe not. Keenum has thrown for 3951 yards and 37 touchdowns, including nine in one game. His passer rating of 193.3 far outstrips Andrew Luck and Brandon Weeden, and he’s completed a higher percentage of passes (74.2) than either of them.
Yes, he has done this against much weaker defenses, but throwing nine touchdowns against any opponent is hard to do, and few other QBs have come even close.
Houston will probably go undefeated, not play in the BCS title game, and rue the institutional unfairness of college football.
It shouldn’t stop Keenum from garnering Heisman votes, especially since he has a shot at passing for over 5,000 yards in a single season.
While most Pac-12 minds would name Andrew Luck the conference's best, don’t overlook Oregon star back LaMichael James. Should the Ducks make the Rose Bowl or even the national championship game, don’t be surprised if James not only sneaks away with the award, but some Heisman votes to boot.
James is putting up top national rushing numbers despite missing two games in 2011 due to injury. He missed time against Arizona State and Colorado, two teams not known for stopping the run, so it’s hard to imagine his 150.88 yards per game (first nationally) would have taken a hit.
Even after sitting out two game, James has just slightly outgained Trent Richardson on the ground, 1207 to 1205.
Unlike Stanford, Oregon is in the driver’s seat for a berth in the Pac-12 title game. Should they win and Oklahoma State loses to Oklahoma, the Ducks will have a credible case to play in the national championship game.
Doing so will give James the chance to show his quality against LSU, one of the top defenses in the nation. While I’d prefer not to see a rematch in the title game, it would still be intriguing to see how far the Ducks have come since their season opener.
As long as Oregon stays in the national discussion, James will have his Heisman stock continue to rise. Arguably a better back than Richardson, we’ll see if he’s able to take votes away from the Bama man as the season comes to a conclusion.
While his season hasn’t been as impressive as either LaMichael James’ or Trent Richardson’s, David Wilson should make off with Heisman votes, especially if his Virginia Tech team keeps winning.
Wilson leads the nation with 1360 rushing yards on 210 carries, but only has seven touchdowns to show for it.
He lacks the national exposure of Richardson, but look for that to change if the Hokies punch their ticket to the Orange Bowl.
It’s not that impossible of a dream. Although VT already lost to probable ACC title game opponent Clemson 23-3 this year at home, the Hokies should give the Tigers a better game this time around. Frank Beamer’s squad was abysmal in the red zone, and a lot of that falls on the shoulders of Wilson.
Wilson is probably the third-best running back in the Heisman race, and certainly merits consideration based solely on his standout numbers.
Unfortunately, like most hopefuls, his success is tied to his team. If Virginia Tech can’t give Clemson a good game, or even make the ACC championship bout, Wilson will continue to be on the outside looking in.
Much like Houston, Boise State has struggled to gain national respect due to their soft schedule. As a result, quarterback Kellen Moore has had a tough time convincing voters that he is worthy of college football’s most prestigious individual award.
The Broncos' recent 36-35 choke against TCU feels like it had been coming for week, putting Moore all but out of the race.
Still, while his 2549 yards and 31 touchdowns through the air aren’t quite Brandon Weeden-like numbers, they are right around Andrew Luck’s. If the national media considers Luck to be a serious contender for the Heisman, why give Moore a chance?
Well, they're biased, and not entirely incorrectly. Boise State has had an easier schedule than Stanford, despite both sides losing one game apiece. The Broncos should have run the table, but were yet again denied a perfect season by a field goal.
Since they’re not playing quality opposition and failing to blow them out like Houston does, Moore’s numbers get negatively qualified.
While he will get votes, Moore has only an outside chance at making the trip to New York.
Slowly tip-toeing into the race is Oklahoma State’s standout wide receiver Justin Blackmon, mostly be virtue of his team’s undefeated record.
While the Pac-12’s Robert Woods and Keenan Allen (not to mention Jordan White of Western Michigan) could give the Cowboy a run for his money, Blackmon has the national notoriety those players lack.
His numbers (93 receptions, 1142 yards, 14 TDs) rank among the best in the nation, and he’s one of the better receiving prospects out there.
With so many other quality candidates in this year’s race, Blackmon will have to astound in his final few games if he aims to get anywhere close to the final five. However, don’t be surprised if he leapfrogs a few slipping contenders should Oklahoma State keep winning.
In a Heisman race this wide open, consider Blackmon your dark horse for the trophy.
With all the talk about front runners and volatile award stock, there is still too much season left to honestly evaluate each Heisman contender. Big games loom on the schedule for almost every hopeful, and none of them will be easy.
Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State will pit Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon against a Sooner defense that does not want to see the Cowboys playing for a national title. Roll Tide vs. War Eagle will once again tear the state of Alabama apart, and Trent Richardson will need to have a stellar game.
Out west, Oregon vs. USC will be an offensive firefight, with the Ducks hoping to have the bigger gun in LaMichael James. Stanford hosts Cal in this year’s Big Game before playing feisty Notre Dame at the Farm, two contests sure to test Andrew Luck.
And we haven’t even gotten to the conference championships yet.
With all this great football still left to play, it’s hard to say whose Heisman credentials will emerge unscathed by season’s end.
Without end of the season results, we can’t separate the Heisman contenders from the pretenders yet.
Andrew Luck’s Cardinal faces the very real possibility of missing a BCS bowl. If Brandon Weeden’s Cowboys secure a berth in the title game, does that give him the edge over the Stanford’s vaunted QB?
Consider David Wilson, one of the best running backs in the nation that no one is talking about. Should Virgina Tech make the Orange Bowl, but Oregon and Alabama miss out on a BCS bowl, does that make him a better contender for the Heisman than LaMichael James or Trent Richardson?
If not probable, it’s certainly possible.
Or what about Houston, a team with a real shot at going undefeated but no shot at a national title. If they win out, finish 12-0 and miraculously get chosen as an at-large, wouldn’t a BCS bowl invitation seriously add credibility to Case Keenum’s Heisman campaign?
Bowl selections play a huge role in the minds of Heisman voters when they evaluate players in the chase. Without definite bowl invites, we do not yet know who our top five contenders will be.
It’s only a matter of time.