It’s been a while since I’ve gotten into a good old-fashioned blog back-and-forth, but I thought I’d mix it up today with the nice fellows over at Georgia blog Get The Picture.
Naturally, they took offense at my reasoning for why the SEC’s Heisman success is not keeping pace with its national title success in the last 30 years or so, a debate that all started with this story in the Wall Street Journal.
My main point:
What no one will talk about is that for most of the last 30 years, the SEC’s Heisman chances have been hampered by conservative, unimaginative, grind-it-out offenses. Defense may win championships, but offense wins Heismans. While other leagues were opening it up and putting up fancy passing numbers, the SEC (until recently) was content to run off tackle and play defense. Players from the SEC may have had NFL-level talent, but they didn’t have the college production that players from other leagues had.
This explains why Florida State and Miami have had no trouble producing Heisman Trophy winners despite being located in the South, while the SEC as a whole has had just two–both from Florida teams with advanced offenses–since Bo Jackson won in 1985.
So, my point is that the SEC is not known as an offensive league.
The title of their reply post was: ‘If only the SEC were as flashy as Eddie George’. And then they add:
How many of those guys had resumes that were the result of cutting edge offensive schemes? Five? Fer Chrissakes, Ron Dayne won a Trophy. In the last fifteen years, Ohio State’s had as many Trophy winners as Florida.
But, of course, I never wrote that Heisman winners have to come from cutting-edge offensive schemes, I merely pointed out that the players from the SEC who did win came from some pretty unconventional offenses. But I do think I rightly implied in my post that the quarterback position has been ascendant over the past 30 years, as opposed to the previous 20 or so (which was tailback dominated) and that having a top quarterback with a wide-open offense naturally increases a team’s chances of winning a Heisman. It’s just common sense in this era.
If you look at the last 20 Heisman winners, you will see that 13 of them were quarterbacks and five were running backs. And of those five running backs, two won the Heisman because they broke the NCAA’s all-time rushing record. The quarterbacks who won came mostly from wide-open offenses that liked to throw the ball a lot (the only exception being Eric Crouch in 2001). Here’s the list: Andre Ware, Ty Detmer, Gino Torretta, Charlie Ward, Danny Wuerffel, Chris Weinke, Carson Palmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.
Now, have SEC offenses as a whole been as passing oriented in the last 20 years as the schools that produced these guys? No! Sorry, but outside of Florida, them’s the facts.
Furthermore, let’s look at Eddie George, shall we? He rushed for 1,927 yards in 1995 on his way to winning the Heisman. The Buckeye quarterback that year was Bobby Hoying, who threw for 3,269 yards as part of a rather explosive Ohio State offense. So, yes, if only the SEC were as flashy as Ohio State was in 1995, then it might have more Heismans under its belt.
Also, only one SEC back has topped 1,700 yards since Bo Jackson did so in his Heisman season of 1985. Who was it? It was Darren McFadden in 2007, running at times in an unconventional ‘wildcat’ scheme. And McFadden finished second that year to another SEC player, Tim Tebow.
The point isn’t so much that the offenses need to be cutting edge, but if you are going to produce Heismans in a quarterback-dominated era, you’d better have guys who can throw the ball and put up numbers. And if you have a great running back, he’d better get a lot of yards. The SEC hasn’t been doing enough of that in the last 20 years and that’s why its Heisman production has not kept up with its prominence in the team rankings.
Of course, the other option is to think that there is just a bias against the SEC in the college football media. And last I checked, the opposite was the case.
Update: GTP now mocks this rationale as ‘inane’, but if it’s not bias and it’s not lack of offensive production, what is it?
If you don’t gain a lot of yards, you won’t win the Heisman. If a league has only one back in 20 years go over 1,700 yards and relatively few 3,000-yard passers compared to other conferences, what do you expect?
My favorite reaction is when SEC fans–who are tradition-oriented in almost every other respect–claim they don’t care about the Heisman, or that it’s a joke. It’s a convenient position to have when your school doesn’t usually produce Heisman candidates, but it often goes right out the window when one emerges as a real contender.
Update #2: To go even further, there’s this completely worthless rebuttal over at Braves and Birds. I guess it’s easy to make point out flaws in an argument based on the last 20 years when you go back to the 1960s to counter it. But, we’ll see if it even is that easy.
Here’s what I wrote:
Let’s look at the last 20 years as guidance, since this is the era when the SEC has been doing so well.
Here’s the counter:
I doubt that Notre Dame was “opening it up and putting up fancy passing numbers” when Paul Hornung beat Johnny Majors for the award. I’d love to see HP defend the notion that Woody Hayes was doing so when Archie Griffin won two Heismans.
I’d also be intrigued to hear HP’s argument that Bear Bryant’s offenses at Alabama were unsophisticated for their times. In the 60s, Bryant produced Joe Namath and Ken Stabler. One might surmise that his offenses at that time were a little more than “run[ning] off tackle and play[ing] defense.” In the 70s, Alabama went 103-16-1running the wishbone, which was certainly not a vanilla offense in its day.
Of course, all this stuff is completely unrelated to my post, which focused on the last 20 years of SEC dominance nationally.
But, if you really want to play this game, let’s LOOK at Alabama, shall we? Crow all you want about the advanced ‘Bama wishbone of the 1970s, but it only produced one back–Johnny Musso–who was able to crack the 1,000-yard barrier. Please tell me which ‘Bama back was screwed out of the Heisman. Major Ogilvie?
What about Joe Namath? Sure. Let’s look at him. He threw for all of 756 yards and five touchdowns in his senior year of 1964. Do you really think he deserved the Heisman over John Huarte, who helped turn 2-7 Notre Dame into a 9-1 team while throwing for an unheard-of (for the time) 2,062 yards and 16 touchdowns?
As for Stabler, you have to give him credit as he was able to actually crack the 1,000-yard mark in 1967, to go with 9 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Voters thought so much of him that year that Bob Johnson, a center from Tennessee, finished sixth in the Heisman voting while Stabler was nowhere to be found.
Hope that didn’t hurt too much. In the meantime, I eagerly await B & B’s case for a past player from Alabama that he thinks should’ve won the Heisman. I won’t hold my breath.