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Hyperactive Heisman Campaigns Hype QBs

by on November 16, 2017 5:00 AM

Between the College Football Playoff rankings, the Heisman campaign and the rebirth of the Miami Hurricanes, this season’s hype may be more active than it has been in several seasons. For now let’s focus on the Heisman Trophy by reading the criteria stated right on the award itself:

“Awarded Annually To The Outstanding College Football Player In The United States by The Heisman Trophy Trust”

Unless something dramatic happens, Penn State fans hoping that Saquon Barkley will win the Heisman Trophy are seeing that dream fade. But is Barkley the “Outstanding Football Player in The United States” this year?

Let’s set that argument aside and talk about what makes for a successful Heisman campaign in 2017. First, it helps to be a quarterback. More on that later.

The Heisman is not an MVP trophy, nor is it given to the best pro prospect. Regardless of what it says on the trophy, the Heisman is usually given to the most impactful college football player and the season-long horse race changes weekly. 

Turn the clock back a few weeks ago when Barkley’s monster game against Iowa made him the Heisman favorite. Although his numbers have fallen off, he is still likely the most versatile player and best pro prospect.

But, right or wrong, in the Heisman campaign, the impact game stats count the most. After the Iowa game, Barkley’s opportunity to lap the field was during October in Penn State’s run of games against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State. In presidential politics those would be the electoral-vote rich swing states.

They are the dramatic opportunities when the most voters are watching your candidate. Win all three, throw up big numbers and you are in the driver’s seat.

Because voters are dependent on impact games, the Heisman bias tilts towards quarterbacks. Unlike running backs, quarterbacks get to the ball on almost every play. Quarterbacks can pass and run and lead last-minute drives to win games when their team is trailing. They get lots of credit when their team wins.

Running backs rely on other players, including the quarterback, to make things happen for them. Barkley also set the bar so high at Iowa that anything less than turning water into wine seemed disappointing.

Penn Staters have seen this movie before. No one closed a season stronger than Larry Johnson in 2002. In his last four games of the 2002 regular season, Johnson had 109 carries for 1073 yards and 10 touchdowns (an insane average of nearly 266 yards per game and 9.9 yards per carry). He compiled more than 2,580 all-purpose yards in the regular season. But the criticism, fairly or unfairly, was that he did less against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.

That same criticism is being thrown at Barkley by people focusing solely on his rushing numbers against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State (50 carries for 215 yards).

The current frontrunner, Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield, set the world on fire in his three impact games at Ohio State, at Oklahoma State and against TCU. Oklahoma won all three games and Mayfield completed 69 of 98 passes for 1,317 yards and 11 TDs. 

Does that make Mayfield the best college football player in the country? Maybe not, but he was “outstanding.” Impact is a factor for the scores of Heisman voters who can’t watch every game of every candidate. It has become a SportsCenter highlights and statistical campaign mixed in with a big splash of how you and your team perform when you are that week’s biggest game in the country.

Flashback to 2002: Before the last week of the season, Sports Illustrated was working on a Larry Johnson cover story essentially endorsing him for the Heisman Trophy. Then USC quarterback Carson Palmer lit up an average Notre Dame team on Thanksgiving weekend (impact game versus a “name” team). Sports Illustrated reversed course with a story about Palmer titled “Hand Him The Heisman.”

In the hyper-TV age, the QB-tilt has helped quarterbacks win 14 of the last 16 Heismans (14 of the last 17 if you count the 2005 vacated Heisman won by Reggie Bush). Contrast that with the run from 1968 through 1983 when running backs won 13 of 16 Heisman Trophies including 11 straight from 1973 through 1983. For much of that time only one or two games were on TV each week and there was no ESPN.

That exposure has allowed candidates to emerge from just about anywhere. But is has also given exposure to every flaw that a frontrunner may have as well. In a big game three or four plays can decide a close contest. Likewise in the Heisman campaign it often comes down to three or four games that decide the voting.

Whether that is how it should be is another argument for another day. One thing is for certain, years from now fans will still be debating who should’ve won the Heisman Trophy in 2017.







 

 



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JayPaterno
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