The race for the 2009 Heisman took an unpredictable turn on Saturday.
The injury to Tim Tebow could jumble the race in a variety of ways.
Obviously, it will depend on how much game time Tebow misses, if any.
Should Tebow’s season be significantly curtailed, you can pretty much count him out of the Heisman race. The injuries that have struck Tebow and 2008 winner Sam Bradford illustrate why I’ve always felt that winning two Heismans is a practical impossibility in the current college football environment.
The collapse of support for Tebow as a result of his injury will significantly affect the other candidates. The most obvious effect in the short term is that the pool of Heisman-worthy players will shrink and voters will gravitate toward the safest choice, which at this point is Colt McCoy.
However, if McCoy struggles statistically–he already has five interceptions on the season–then the result will be that the threshhold for 2009 Heisman-worthiness will to be dumbed down a bit, which will have the effect of helping some of the ‘lesser’ candidates in the long run.
As crazy as it sounds, the Heisman candidacies of Jahvid Best and Jacory Harris are not dead yet, though they did take a hit on Saturday. However, the possible statistical declines (in a relative sense) of the three top names in college football (Tebow, McCoy, Bradford) means that challengers like Best and Harris (and others) may not need to produce amazing individual seasons or play for undefeated teams in order to overcome the advantages these three players possessed.
Because of the dearth of overwhelming statistical impressiveness, voters may look for other factors in addition to reasonably healthy production, such as:
—Whether a player is the catalyst for a program’s revival, preferably a traditional Heisman power
—Whether he carried his team at crucial junctures
—Whether he got his team over a perceived hump
—Whether he helped his team get to a conference title and/or a BCS bowl
—Whether his team gets on a ‘roll’ to close the season and is considered a top team regardless of overall record.
Of course, if McCoy finishes out the season strong and keeps his interceptions below a reasonable point, then he will win the Heisman handily. Our preseason frontrunner will merely have done what he was supposed to do and the vote will not be close. Also, it could well be that Tebow does not miss enough significant time to substantially affect the race (I think he could miss one game and his candidacy will survive, but not two).
However, if McCoy does not get it done, then the door opens up for Best, Harris, Case Keenum or others (Greg McElroy? Jimmy Clausen?) to make a serious run under the aforementioned scenario.
This is the context in which I think the race needs to be analyzed. I’ll have more thoughts on this as more information comes to light.
In the meantime, I think Heisman sentiment is extremely fluid and will remain so until the outcome of the October schedule.