More on the South and The Heisman

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.

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Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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4 Responses to More on the South and The Heisman

  1. Pumpdawg August 28, 2009 at 7:57 am #

    Ask any SEC player which they would rather win,a Heisman or a National Championship?It’ll be National Championship every time.Better yet,ask any former winner of the Heisman that never won a National Championship if they would trade their Heisman for a championship.I’d venture to say you would get yes’ across the board.The Heisman has been a joke since they gave it to Gino Torretta.It’s the Big 10’s National Championship trophy.

  2. Wash Hogwallop August 30, 2009 at 9:09 am #

    I posted this on the B&B website, thought it might lend some statistics to the argument:

    It seems like this argument has drifted away from its original claim – that SEC offenses are too conservative and don’t pass enough to win the Heisman.

    There is probably some truth in that statement, but HP ignores that it may be done out of necessity to winning games in the SEC (as you point out Michael).

    I thought it might be interesting to look at how Heisman winning QB’s have fared against the SEC in their campaign winning years. I just did the last 10 years…

    2008 – Sam Bradford
    26-41-2, 2 TD, 256 yd, loss 14-24 to UF

    2007 – Troy Smith
    4-14-1, 0 TD, 35 yd, Loss 14-41 to Florida

    2003 – Jason White
    21-35-0, 2 TD, 259 yd, win 21-14 v Alabama

    13-37-2, 0 TD, 102 yd, loss 14-21 v LSU

    2002 – Carson Palmer
    23-32-2, 0 TD (1 yd run TD), 302 yd, win 24-17 v Auburn

    2000 – Chris Weinke
    23-44-2, 3 TD, 353 yd, win 30-7 v Florida

    Combined, the five Heisman winners averaged 285 ypg, 64% completion, 2.76 td/g, and 0.64 int/g

    Vs. SEC defenses they averaged 217 ypg, 54% completion, 1.33 td/g, and 1.50 int/g.

    They finished these games 3-3 and include a substantial negative increase in every statistical category.

    It has to be admitted, those are some pretty pedestrian numbers versus SEC defenses for Heisman winning offenses.

    This lends some statistical credence to the argument that SEC defenses have a great impact in dictating SEC offensive passing figures – not just “conservative, unimaginative” offenses.

  3. HP August 30, 2009 at 8:56 pm #

    Good stuff, Wash Hogwallop.

    But I think those stats are beside the point.

    I am merely describing the root of the issue, not trying to place blame.

    It could well be that the reason SEC offensive stats aren’t very good is that the defenses tend to stuff things.

    But that still doesn’t take away from the FACT that the lack of SEC Heisman winners is due to the lack of offense.

    BTW, you forgot a few other stats: namely the regular season USC tilts against Auburn and Arkansas in 2003-2006 where Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush had their way, plus the overall excellence by Tebow against SEC defenses in the past two years.


  1. If only the SEC were as flashy as Eddie George. « Get The Picture - August 27, 2009

    […] #2: HP clarifies his initial post in response to this one.  Evidently when he wrote about “advanced offenses” he […]