Montee Ball at Top of This Writer's Ballot for the 2011 Heisman Trophy
No, I did not actually hold a ballot for the 2011 Heisman Trophy voting.
If I did have a ballot, this is how mine would look.
Although the actual ballot only holds three spots, I have expanded my ballot to six spots, not only highlighting who the winners should be and who the next two best candidates are but also the next three best after that—including one who is not even invited to New York tonight.
6. Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)
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While Andrew Luck is among the best quarterbacks I have seen since I have been scouting college football players, his talent alone seems to have created an over-hyped juggernaut. Luck has already received the other two major awards given to the national player of the year, the Walter Camp Award and Maxwell Award.
While making NFL scouts salivate, Luck has had a very good season, leading Stanford to an 11-1 record. He also has the fifth-best passer rating in college football (167.5).
However, Luck never had that Heisman moment this season, his numbers are not as good as the two quarterbacks ahead of him on this ballot and in Stanford’s lone loss to Oregon, Luck had a bad performance, throwing two interceptions.
Luck is a worthy Heisman Trophy finalist, but if I had to choose five finalists, he would not be among them.
5. Matt Barkley, QB (USC)
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Matt Barkley did not get the invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation,—meaning he is outside of the top five in final voting—but Barkley arguably deserves the invite more than Andrew Luck does.
One likely factor in Barkley being outside of the top five is that some voters who would have otherwise voted for him in their top three may have left him off due to USC’s postseason ban this year. That is unfair to Barkley, who continues to be the victim of punishments handed down to a football team for events that happened long before these players were at the university.
Admittedly, Barkley’s year was not quite Heisman-caliber, especially considering his subpar performance in the Trojans’ early loss to Arizona State in which he threw two interceptions and only one touchdown.
Overall though, Barkley had a terrific season, highlighted by a tremendous 39-7 TD-INT ratio.
Barkley showed he is just as great, if not better than Andrew Luck as a quarterback talent this season, and Barkley's valiant performance in leading USC to a 10-2 record—even with the looming postseason ban over the team’s head—earns him a spot in my top five.
4. Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)
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Trent Richardson is considered one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy with good reason.
Richardson’s team, the Alabama Crimson Tide, is playing in the BCS National Championship Game, and as the team’s best player, he has played a major role in their getting to that game.
Richardson has been one of the nation’s most productive running backs. He is sixth in the nation with 1,583 rushing yards and fifth nationally with 20 touchdowns. Furthermore, he has put up these numbers in the SEC, a conference where the best defensive football in the nation is played. Richardson has 341 more rushing yards than the next-best back from the SEC and double the number of touchdowns of the next leading back (in both instances, Auburn’s Michael Dyer).
Richardson’s productivity in the SEC goes a long way in his Heisman candidacy, but he has not been the nation’s best running back this year, which keeps him out of the top three.
3. Tyrann Mathieu, CB (LSU)
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Heisman Trophy winners must be players who can take over a game and turn the momentum of a game to their team’s favor with one player.
There is not a single player in all of college football who is more of a game-changer than LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu.
Critics of Tyrann Mathieu would argue that he is not even the best cornerback on his team, which is a valid argument; Mathieu is the best cornerback in the nation, but Morris Claiborne is certainly the second-best.
However, no defensive player in the nation has made more big plays this season than Mathieu. He has forced six fumbles, two of which he has returned for touchdowns. He also had two interceptions and led the Tigers with 70 tackles.
Mathieu’s biggest plays came in his second position as the team’s punt returner. He was absolutely the nation’s best punt returner this season; his 12.7 yards per return average was the best among returners with 11 or more punt returns this season, and Mathieu had 33 returns. Mathieu had two punt returns for touchdowns this season, including one for 92 yards, and many more electrifying punt returns in which his elusiveness made would-be tacklers look out of place.
The Honey Badger may not win the Heisman Trophy when compared to two offensive players who have put up astounding numbers in big conferences this season. He certainly deserves to be on the ballot, though.
2. Robert Griffin III, QB (Baylor)
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Since bursting on the scene as a true freshman, Robert Griffin III (known to most as simply RG3), has been one of the nation’s most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks.
But RG3’s game underwent a complete evolution this season.
Griffin remains one of the nation’s most dangerous running quarterbacks, but this season he did his damage through the air. Griffin has the nation’s best passer rating this year, with a 6-to-1 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio (36 touchdowns, six interceptions). The Baylor QB also has the best yards per pass attempt average at 10.8, and has completed 72.4 percent of his passes for fifth-best in the nation.
Griffin has evolved from being a dangerous dual-threat quarterback into an elite pocket passer. As a result, he led the Baylor Bears to a 9-3 record for one of their best seasons in school history. His Heisman moment came against Oklahoma when Griffin engineered a game-winning drive, completing a 34-yard touchdown pass to Terrence Williams with eight seconds remaining in the game.
While it is unusual for a player from a three-loss team to be a Heisman favorite, Griffin has emerged in that position following a tremendous season. He is certainly deserving, with only one record-setting player keeping him out of the top spot.
1. Montee Ball, RB (Wisconsin)
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Considering all the history associated with the Heisman Trophy, the award should go to a player who makes history.
This year, that player would be Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who is on the verge of a record-breaking season.
Ball has scored 38 touchdowns this season, just one shy of the single-season record held by Barry Sanders in 1988. Granted, Sanders scored his 39 touchdowns in only 11 games, while Ball has already played 13 games and still has a bowl game to play in.
That said, Ball’s numbers remain astounding.
Considering that Ball has averaged nearly three touchdowns per game, it is very reasonable to expect that he could score two in the Rose Bowl and break Sanders' record.
Records aside, Ball has been the best player in college football this season; his 38 touchdowns are 12 more than any other player in college football.
Ball’s numbers are not simply a beneficiary of finishing off drives for a good offense. He also leads the nation with 1,759 rushing yards, and among running backs with at least 200 carries, only Oregon’s LaMichael James has a better yards per carry average.
Ball may not be among the favorites to take home the Heisman Trophy tonight, most likely due to the facts that his team lost two games this season and he does not have the explosive highlights on his resume that Trent Richardson does.
That said, though, if the trophy truly goes to the best player in college football, the award should go to the player who is making history: Montee Ball.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on Twitter @Dan_Hope for live analysis following tonight's Heisman Trophy presentation, and much more throughout the college football bowl season!