This rule goes to the very essence of the bias in Heisman voting. It says that if you are a candidate on a traditional power–currently a group of 10 teams–you have a built-in advantage over your competitors.
Those 10 teams are: Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, Miami, Florida State and the most recent addition, Florida.These schools have won 13 of the last 16 Heismans and 41 out of the 77 awarded in the trophy’s history.
There are some criteria, though. You can’t just suit up and be a candidate if you play for these teams. Your team must have at least 8 or 9 wins and you have to put up respectable numbers.
There is also a definite hierarchy in the list of powers. Notre Dame trumps all. A Notre Dame quarterback who puts up a good statistical season would be very hard to beat. A USC tailback who had a great season would also be formidable, but maybe a notch below the Notre Dame QB.
Some might wonder why traditional powers Penn State or Alabama aren’t on this list. Well, Penn State hasn’t won a Heisman since 1973 and Alabama until recently had NEVER won the award (and when it did win, it was by the narrowest margin in history over a player from an 8-4 team). While the Tide may be turning (so to speak) in Alabama’s favor in the coming seasons in this regard, for now I think history provides some reason to disqualify them when it comes to gauging their institutional power in the Heisman voting (obviously, this does not mean they aren’t a traditional power on the team side of things).
Then there is also the question of the next tier of teams. This list would include teams like Colorado, Georgia, Auburn, Wisconsin, UCLA, Penn State, Tennessee, Stanford, etc. This group carries some power and can win a Heisman, but a player from one of these teams is almost always trumped by a player from a major power, everything else being equal.
A perfect example of this is the 1997 vote. Charles Woodson of Michigan beat out Peyton Manning of Tennessee. Does anyone doubt that if the two players swapped teams that Manning would have won the Heisman under the same statistical circumstances?
Or that if Carson Palmer played for Penn State and Larry Johnson for USC that Johnson would have won in 2002 in that same scenario?