I've never been a big fan of the college football award season. While awards in all sports are generally voted on by the media, a baseball writers has generally seen all the teams in the league that he covers. A basketball writer has generally seen all the teams in the NBA. In college football, however, the sheer number of teams makes it difficult for writers to see large numbers of games from all around the country. As a result, SportsCenter clips take the place of seeing a guy for an extended period of time, and inherent biases tend to guide decisions as much as results on the field (hey, this sounds a lot like the polls!)
That said, despite these inherent problems, the voters seem to get the awards right the vast majority of the time. This is true of the Heisman as well, and most winners tend to fall into two categories. The first is the no-brainer, clear cut most outstanding player in the country. The last two winners fall into this category. Cam Newton was clearly head and shoulders above everybody else, and there really wasn't much of a debate about Robert Griffin III, either, even amongst Andrew Luck fans. The other common type of Heisman winner is one where no player outshines anyone else as truly outstanding. This is how an Andre Ware or a Gino Torretta gets the nod despite seasons that aren't what we traditionally think of as Heisman-worthy.
Then there is a third kind of Heisman ceremony--the one where an inherent flaw in the system is responsible for the wrong winner being chosen. Since I started following college football nationally in 2000, there have been two such instances of this. One of those was the 2001 Heisman ceremony, where Eric Crouch won with the lowest vote percentage of all-time. Joey Harrington finished fourth--his superior statistical profile and numerous fourth quarter comebacks disguised by the misfortunes of the terrible Pac-10 TV contract that provides conference schools with little exposure, and of the ceremony taking place before the bowl season, where Harrington's dominance over a Colorado defense that had completely shut down Crouch made the distinction apparent. However, being an Oregon blog, I am not without my own biases in Harrington's favor, and thus wanted to write about the 2009 Heisman, which was both more egregious, and indicative of the most damaging problem with the award: that it is practically impossible for a defensive player to win.
The 2009 Heisman Trophy was won by RB Mark Ingram of Alabama. Ingram had a nice season that year--118 ypg and 17 touchdowns. This was a nice season, but not the transcendent season you expect from a Heisman winner, especially as it was marred by numerous mediocre performances--56 yards against Florida International, 50 against Arkansas, 30 yards on 16 carries in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Ingram wasn't the best RB in the country that year (Stanford's Toby Gerhart had 144 ypg and 28 touchdowns), and even many Alabama fans debated whether Ingram was the best running back on his own team (Trent Richardson was in the same backfield), but in a season that lacked transcendent offensive dominance from a single player.
The problem with this, of course, was that there was transcendent dominance, it just wasn't on the offensive side of the football. Nebraska wasn't a great team in 2009. They finished the regular season at 9-4 and possibly the most inept offense in the Big 12. However, the defense was outstanding. Only twice did a team score more than 17 points on the Cornhuskers, and Suh was the lynchpin of that unit at defensive tackle. His numbers were otherworldly--85 total tackles (at defensive tackle! in the pass happy Big 12!). 21 TFL. 12 sacks. 19 hurries. 3 blocked kicks. Unlike Ingram, who put up a stinker in the Iron Bowl and an average performance in the SEC Championship game, the final image of Suh was completely wrecking undefeated Texas and their nation leading scoring offense. Holding them to 13 points, and seemingly winning the game until some questionable officiating gave Texas an opportunity at a last minute field goal.
I know Charles Woodson won a Heisman at cornerback, but he won that award mainly because he moonlighted on offense and special teams. Ndamukong Suh wasn't just the best player in college football in 2009, he is the best defensive lineman I have ever seen. His snubs was proof that, regardless of the rules, you are only eligible for the Heisman if you play on the offensive side of the ball.
And its too bad I can't have Suh anchoring my defensive line in NCAA 13.
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