As I sat on my couch last night, waiting to hear Eddie George stammer through the announcement of the Heisman finalists on SportsCenter, I was anxious and eager to see which five names he would ultimately reel off.
There were four players who I thought were guaranteed a spot in New York City—Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, Alabama RB Trent Richardson, Stanford QB Andrew Luck and USC QB Matt Barkley, with the fifth spot coming down to three players—Wisconsin RB Montee Ball, Houston QB Case Keenum and Boise State QB Kellen Moore.
So, obviously, I was pretty surprised when the highlight of LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu came flashing across the screen, and I was even more shocked when Matt Barkley’s name never appeared.
Barkley has had a terrific campaign this season, completing 69 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,528 yards and hitting 39 touchdown strikes, as he guided the Trojans to a 10-2 season and a No. 5 national ranking.
The junior signal-caller gave us all a glimpse of the traits and the skills that will make him a future NFL franchise quarterback, and this year, he did everything you want a Heisman candidate to do—play well on the big stage, beat a top-ranked team, put up great numbers and make a few big, highlight-reel plays in the process.
Still, the fact that he did it for a team that’s still dealing with the fallout of the Reggie Bush scandal, and the fact that he did it out on the west coast away from the eyes of the very biased east coast media is probably what ultimately doomed his Heisman chances.
Barkley knew he was going to have to overcome a lot this season, as he came into the year as a Pac-12 afterthought behind conference golden boy Andrew Luck. Even though he outplayed Luck when the two met back in late October, and even though he had the better and more impressive overall season, he still couldn’t do enough to change the minds of the many media members who had already been struck by Luck’s golden arrow.
Sadly, it’s some of those same media members who are sometimes guilty of getting caught up in shtick, and that’s exactly what happened this season with the love fest for LSU CB Tyrann Mathieu, or the “The Honey Badger” as people now affectionately refer to him as.
Mathieu has been one of the hottest names in college football this year, as he's demonstrated a knack for making key momentum-swinging plays at crucial times. As the season wore on, the budding star sophomore even started gaining some traction as a legitimate Heisman candidate.
His Heisman campaign seemed to come to a screeching halt, though, after he reportedly tested positive for synthetic marijuana and earned himself a suspension for the Auburn game back in Week 8. However, the Mathieu movement never died, and the young sophomore defensive back was able to get his year back on track in the final few weeks of the season, when he brought back a crucial punt return for a touchdown in a critical game against Arkansas and then repeated the feat in this past weekend’s SEC championship bout with Georgia.
There’s surely no disputing that Mathieu is a heck of a player, and that he’s truly had an All-American type of year this season, but was it really a Heisman worthy campaign?
No, there’s no reason that Mathieu deserves to be in New York City this year, other than the fact that the media seems to have gotten swept up in Honey Badger fever.
It takes a special type of defensive player to be considered a true candidate for the Heisman trophy. The last defensive player who made it to New York was Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh back in 2009, but that was a rare occurrence, and the only primarily defensive player to ever win the award was of course Michigan CB Charles Woodson, who took home the trophy back in 1997.
What’s helped Mathieu the most this season is that he’s been the most recognizable face on the No. 1 team in the country, a balanced squad that just so happens to lack a true national star name.
Once the Honey Badger thing caught on, Mathieu’s name really started to take off and his national popularity began to skyrocket.
Still, if you look at how talented and deep this LSU defense is, you can make the case that if Mathieu doesn’t play at all this year, there’s probably a good chance that the Tigers are still sitting in the No. 1 position right now, with reservations for New Orleans still intact. And that alone should knock Mathieu out of the Heisman discussion.
If you took Matt Barkley off of USC, if you took Andrew Luck off of Stanford, if you took Trent Richardson off of Alabama and if you took Robert Griffin III off of Baylor, all of those teams would have been dramatically affected in a negative way, and none of them would have had the type of great seasons that they did.
If you had taken Mathieu off of LSU, would it have really even mattered all that much?
The fact is, he’s not even the best player on his own defense, let alone the entire country. That title belongs to fellow corner Mo Claiborne, who leads the team with six interceptions and is destined to be a Top-10 pick in next year’s NFL draft.
Sure, the punt returns for touchdowns against Arkansas and Georgia were exciting, but let’s not forget the DeSean Jackson-esque toss that Mathieu pulled on the run back against the Bulldogs.
If the official had made the obvious correct call at the time, we’re probably sitting here right now, talking about what a dope Tyrann Mathieu is, instead of praising him as a Heisman candidate.
That didn’t happen, though, which meant that the lore of the Honey Badger only continued to grow.
So now, instead of seeing a deserving candidate like Matt Barkley get the recognition and attention he deserves as a Heisman finalist on Saturday night, we'll get to hear the ESPN crew fawn over the second best player on LSU's defense.
It just goes to show that some Heisman voters now simply favor gimmicks and obscure animal comparisons over on-the-field results.
I guess that means we'll all have to get prepared for Sammy Watkins' Sumatran Tiger and Denard Robinson's Skunk Bear Heisman campaigns in 2012.