A little over a month ago, I wrote an article lamenting the apparent direction in which the Heisman Trophy selection process has been heading. I worried that money and media exposure were insidiously corrupting an institution that, at its core, is supposed to represent the best in amateur athletics.
As I wrote in my Oct. 7 column, it had become apparent that in addition to posting great numbers, a serious Heisman candidate better have:
1. A university sports administration that will shell out thousands of dollars a month, using pointed mailings and “hype campaigns” to control the inevitable Heisman public relations war (just look at Washington State’s Jason Gesser);
2. His own bobble-head doll like Marshall’s Byron Leftwich;
3. His own state-of-the-art interactive Web site like Florida’s Rex Grossman;
4. His own obnoxiously large billboard in Times Square like Oregon’s Onterrio Smith, who follows in alumnus Joey Harrington’s footsteps.
There is no question that each of the players mentioned above have been very successful in their college careers and will likely be top draft-selections for the NFL. There is also no question that, to pad their performances, each, to some degree (whether by their own volition or that of their sponsoring university), has participated in the Heisman media blitz.
Unfortunately for each of these players, with only a few weeks remaining in the regular season, none has been able to capitalize on his campaign and control the race for the trophy — largely because as exceptional as their media campaigns might be, each potential candidate’s performance on the field has been less than stellar.
Injuries have all but ended the efforts of Marshall’s Byron Leftwich and Oregon’s Onterrio Smith.
Subpar play during key games against conference foes cost Florida’s Rex Grossman a chance to improve on last year’s second-place finish.
Though he has had a fine season, positioning his team for a Rose Bowl trip (and, as yet, an outside BCS title shot), Washington State’s Jason Gesser suffers from an ailment known as the “West Coast Bias.” Play most of your games in the Midwest or the East and the college football stage is yours; play in a podunk West Coast town like Pullman, Wash., at times when the better half of the nation is asleep, and you’ve already lost most of your audience.
This is not to say that there are not a slew of qualified candidates worthy of the trophy, rather forced media campaigns can only do so much for players who have not lived up to the establishment’s initial expectations. With the thwarting of such media campaigns, the Heisman might be won on the field instead of in the press room for the first time in a while. However, heading into the last weeks of the season, there is no clear favorite.
Here are my candidates:
Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey, and his 31-game winning streak as a starter, likely tops the current list of candidates. But his other statistics are nothing special — one loss might be enough to end the candidacy.
Because the Heisman is awarded in a particular year and is not designed to commemorate lifetime achievement there is no guarantee that Dorsey’s lifetime achievement will be enough to take the trophy. Unquestionably, he is the most valuable player on a great team, but he’s not the best. That mantle belongs to running back Willis McGahee.
On the verge of rewriting Miami rushing and total yardage records, McGahee has developed into a bona fide Heisman candidate, not hyped out of the gate and not even a starter in the first game of the season.
Down the stretch, look for the Miami guys to cancel each other out, Dorsey’s leadership in producing “W’s” against McGahee’s incomparable combination of speed and power in and out of the backfield.
Outside the state of Florida, running backs Chris Brown of Colorado, the nation’s leading rusher, and Larry Johnson of Penn State, hot on his heels, both have a chance to break the mythical 2,000-yard barrier. However, doing the majority of that work against weak run defenses (Brown ran on Kansas for 311 yards; Johnson on Indiana for 321) will likely hurt their chances. Further, both lack the necessary media exposure to boost their causes.
Three quarterbacks who are making a late charge include Iowa’s Brad Banks, USC’s Carson Palmer, and Texas Tech’s Kliff Kingsbury. Banks, the nation’s leader in passer-efficiency rating, has done nothing but lead Iowa to at least a share of the Big Ten title and its first 11 win season. However, with the conclusion of his season last Saturday, he will now have to sit in the clubhouse and watch what the others do in their final games.
Palmer, long thought of as an underachiever, has already been invited to play in the Senior Bowl and boasts a 63 percent completion rate to go with a stellar average of 305 yards per game.
Finally, all Kingsbury has done is lead the nation in passing yardage and touchdown passes and move his team to within one upset of Oklahoma for the Big XII Championship game.
Throw in Gesser and Leftwich and the list of prospective finalists is more than adequate.
In his own right, each is more than deserving and in other years could have been an easy selection. But, stacked against the rest, there is no clear favorite.
Asking voters to decide between Kingsbury’s 41 touchdowns and 4,455 yards, Banks’ 166.7 passer rating, Brown’s 1,744 yards and 18 touchdowns and Johnson’s 7.5 yards-per-carry average would drive any football pundit crazy.
Simply put, someone has to step up and assert himself in the season’s last few weeks to grab the voters’ attention. On Dec. 14, the Heisman Trophy will be awarded to someone at the Yale Club of New York City. We can only hope that something on the field in the next three weeks will make that decision an easier one for the 921 voting sports writers and former winners.