The Heisman Trophy Has Forever Lost Its Luster

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The legacy of the Heisman Trophy was cemented as an offensive-only award on Saturday night.

December 8, 2012. The day the Heisman solidified itself a just another award.

I fully realize as I set out to write this piece that it will come off as sour grapes to many. That's fine. I can live with it.

I am not writing this because a "freshman" (note: Redshirt Freshman ≠ Freshman) QB won the award. I am not writing it because the most decorated college football player of all-time (who happens to play defense) didn't win it. I am writing it because the Heisman Trophy is flawed and has become just another award.

The Heisman Trust markets their award as "the most prestigious award in college football." Not in my book. At least, not any more.


If you want prestige, I think the Maxwell and Walter Camp Player of the Year Awards have surpassed the Heisman, thanks in large to a limited, qualified voting pool.

Perhaps the prestige comes from the Heisman being the oldest award, in existence since 1935, clearly older than the Maxwell (1937) or Walter Camp (1967). That kind of tradition would make the Big Ten proud.

I am not sure that anything says prestige quite like having 870 media members voting on your award. After all, 22% of the voters sent their ballot in before the season was even concluded.

It's funny to think an award that has never been given to an offensive lineman or a solely defensive player can be considered the pinnacle of a sport. Since every single winner has scored at least one touchdown the season they won the award, can we just call it an offensive player of the year award and get it over with? Defensive players have the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards, so why not just dub the Heisman the offensive equivalent?

I would wager that most of our loyal OFD readers watch more college football than 90% of those voters. I would also wager that the majority of those same voters had no idea who Johnny Manziel was before the season started and only watched one of Texas A&M's games-against Alabama.

Most voters probably couldn't tell you where Kevin Sumlin coached in 2011 without looking it up.

According to the Heisman Trust:

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.

Let's be honest here-the Heisman has been and always will be an award for an offensive player. Votes are gained for gaudy statistics and "Heisman Moments". Those things just don't exist for a solely defensive player.

Of the 78 Heisman Trophies awarded, here is a breakdown of positions played by the winner:


Number of Winners















A total of six winners-just 6 of 78-have played a position outside of the offensive backfield. There are three fullbacks to have won the award (Harrumph!), so at least that has to count for something.

The Heisman voting has been based on two things in its recent history: statistics and perception.

But here is the funny thing about statistics-you can make them look any way you want. After all, 90% of statistics are made up.

What I can't for the life of me understand is when did the Heisman become a stats-only award? This isn't baseball, and the voting should reflect that. Statistics transcend time and era in baseball and have a deeper meaning than any of the other major sports-and this is largely thanks to sample size.

Many will disagree with me, but baseball is an individual sport cleverly packaged as a team game. Give me an example of when an entire team is involved in a play. You can't.

Football is the opposite--it is the quintessential team game. It relies on all 11 players taking care of their assignments on every play. You can succeed personally during a play of a football game, but if the guy next to you doesn't the team suffers. Baseball isn't that way at all. And that is why stats are so meaningful in baseball (and transcend eras to a large extent) when it doesn't apply to football. Case in point, Tony Romo is now the all-time leader in passing TDs in Dallas Cowboys history. Is he better than Troy Aikman or Roger Staubauch? I doubt it. But the numbers say so (to an extent).

Here is an example, comparing the passing statistics for four players. Can you name them?




Comp %










































What comparisons can we conclude from these numbers? First, I would like to point out that Player A and Player C threw for about the same number of yards per game. Statistically, Player B had the best season of the four, leading the way in every category. Finally, Player D had a similar completion percentage to A and B, with better TD/INT numbers than Player A.

So who are those players?

Player A: Johnny Manziel (2012)

Player B: Case Keenum (2011)

Player C: Ryan Tannehill (2011)

Player D: Marcus Mariota (2012)

Why include Keenum and Tannehill? The answer is simple (and hopefully obvious)--Keenum played under Sumlin last year at Houston (same system), while Tannehill was the QB last year for Texas A&M (same players). Outside of the completion percentage and INTs, Tannehill and Manziel compare favorably. The better completion percentage and lower number of interceptions are largely due to the system that relies on the short passing game, whereas Tannehill threw the ball downfield with much more regularity in 2011.

Mariota's numbers were included because he is also a redshirt freshman QB with impressive numbers, though he plays in a run-oriented offense with two of the most electric RBs in the country. What makes Mariota's numbers even more impressive is that less than one third of his attempts came in the second half of games (compared to just over 40% for Manziel). When your team is up by 40 or 50 at the half, I guess you don't see the field much in the second half.

Statistics become even harder to measure the impact of defensive players. Perhaps that is because there aren't great metrics for individual defensive players. Perhaps it is because they team numbers are more heavily scrutinized. Here is one other statistics lesson, this time comparing two OLBs:






QB Hurries

Forced Fumbles















When you compare the pure numbers for two defenders, there really is no comparison. Who wouldn't want Player A on their team?

Speaking of team, I will give you two additional pieces of information to help confirm (or change) your mind. For the record, Player A is from Team A and Player B is from Team B.


Rushing Yards/Game

Passing Yards/Game







The second number to keep in mind is that Team A gave up 350 yards on the ground in their most important game this year.

So are you sticking with Player A?

Here are the players:

Player A: Jarvis Jones - Georgia

Player B: Prince Shembo - Notre Dame

Even after seeing their names and stats, I would guess that if you took a national poll, 8 or 9 out of 10 would take Jones.


His stats are flashier. But if you asked me (or any ND fan for that matter), they would say they would take Shembo every day of the week and twice on Saturdays. Why? He takes care of his assignment. He sets the edge, and takes pride in doing so. You see, you can't accurately measure the impact of a single player in football by looking at stats alone-especially a defensive player.

But what about the perception?

Perception can both help and harm candidates. The one thing that recent history has taught us is this-being perceived as the preseason Heisman leader will guarantee that you won't win the award. Why? Because it is just too hard for a player to have a season that lives up to the hype.

However, perception can be a huge ally-as clearly seen this year. Right now, the SEC is king of the college football world, thanks in large due to the recent run of national championships won by the conference. After the first week of the season, Alabama was crowned as the best team in football in 2012 and wasn't really challenged through the first two months of the season. They were dubbed "unbeatable" by the media.

Until the improbable happened.

The new kid on the SEC block came into Tuscaloosa and beat the defending champs on their home turf, led by a redshirt freshman phenom at QB. Never mind that the defense forced three turnovers (of the 15 Alabama had on the entire season)-clearly this game was won by the fearless play of the Aggie QB.

That is what the highlights told us, and the rest of the media jumped right on board. Perception became reality, and Manziel was elevated to the forefront of college football.

Like I said in the beginning, I am not here to make a case as to why Johnny Manziel shouldn't have won the Heisman Trophy or why Manti Te'o should have won the award. To me, that is irrelevant.

I am just saying that we should call a spade a spade. The Heisman isn't the most prestigious award in college football any longer, largely because of the bloated number of voters and their preference for running backs and quarter backs. It is just another award-an offensive award-and has become a poor caricature of its former self.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join One Foot Down

You must be a member of One Foot Down to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at One Foot Down. You should read them.

Join One Foot Down

You must be a member of One Foot Down to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at One Foot Down. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.