Questions and Answers on the Heisman Race

Now for a quick look at where we are in the race after this weekend.  Let me remind everyone that I am not trying to shill for any candidate, or make the case for why any of the candidates should win. I think if you saw my current ballot, you’d all be quite surprised.

My overriding objective is to sift through the evidence and come up with an accurate depiction of where the race currently stands. Too much of what passes for Heisman analysis out there is hampered by a misunderstanding of what does and doesn’t drive the voters. Nothing else matters.

So, let’s ask some questions and give some answers.

Who’s winning right now?

If the vote was held today, Andrew Luck would still win the Heisman. Why? Because he is the most well-known player in the race across all regions and he would most likely appear on the most ballots. Remember, there are only three spots available on a Heisman ballot and some good players are going to have to be left off. It is unlikely at this point that Luck will be the odd man out on too many of them. When you combine his presence on the most ballots with those who are set on voting for him anyway despite what happened Saturday, he comes out ahead. What the loss to Oregon did was cause those voters who were looking for a reason not to vote for Luck to move in a different direction. But those voters who want to stick with Luck are more numerous than this group right now.

How can Luck still be winning if his team lost on Saturday?

The Heisman race should not be viewed in such a reductionist manner. Simply put, some players can better afford to lose games than other players because there are other factors at play (besides just wins and losses) built up over the course of a season that makes them strong candidates. Remember, Luck was last year’s Heisman runner up and has been the clear front runner for the entire season. His image with voters has pretty much calcified. While his team losing certainly didn’t help his cause, it did not derail it either. I’m not sure voters were expecting Stanford to go undefeated anyway.

Who has the best chance to beat Luck?

This is easy. Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State. But he’s got a narrow window to work with.

Before we begin, let’s stipulate that–with the possible exception of Case Keenum–no one in this race is putting up the kind of numbers that can by themselves win the Heisman. In other words, there is no Tim Tebow of 2007 or Barry Sanders of 1988 bending the race indelibly in his direction. We are dealing with some good-to-very good seasons. Luck and Weeden’s numbers are essentially the same, with Weeden having a slightly better completion percentage and more yards and touchdown passes (due primarily to more attempts) and Luck having a slightly better efficiency rating and fewer interceptions.

With both players putting up the same numbers (at this point), what is left to separate them?

Luck has, by far, the superior name recognition and reputation, while Weeden trumps Luck slightly on team record.

That leaves the final two games to sort it all out. But even then, it may not be so easy.

Weeden plays Iowa State this Friday on ESPN, which will give him a chance to give a Heisman audition to the nation without having other games to distract attention away from him. Luck hosts Cal on Saturday. Both should put up big numbers, but give the advantage to Weeden because the spotlight will be squarely on him.

Luck plays Notre Dame the following week in prime time on ABC while Oklahoma State is off. Beating the Irish is always helpful when it comes to the Heisman race and it will be Luck’s final regular season game as a collegian. Advantage to Luck.

Weeden then closes things out the next week with a huge game against Oklahoma that could give the Cowboys a berth in the BCS title game. Luck, by virtue of Stanford being (most likely) eliminated from Pac-12 title game contention, will have no game to counter. Advantage Weeden.

So the question is, would Weeden beat Luck if his only trump in the race is that his team is better by one win? I’m not yet convinced, but I do concede that it is possible.

Certainly, the manner and style in which these two quarterbacks conduct themselves in the next two games will be key.

Note: It’s possible that a lot of pressure is off of Luck now that his team is no longer a national title contender. It could well be that the Heisman is the one major item his team can salvage out of this season. I’m curious to see if Stanford makes any special effort to facilitate this.

Hey, what about Trent Richardson?

There is still quite a bit of support out there for the Alabama running back. But the issue I have with the legitimacy of his candidacy is that his rushing yardage just isn’t on par with what has been required, historically, to win the Heisman. He currently has 1,205 yards and is on pace to have 1,445 yards at the time of the Heisman vote. To put those numbers in context, they would be the lowest by a Heisman-winning back since Mike Garrett rushed for 1,440 yards in 1965. And Garrett did that in 10 games, not 12. This is why I was only slightly joking when I tweeted in response to a Bama fan on Saturday night that Richardson needed to rush for 400 yards against Auburn to have a chance to win.

If Luck, Weeden and Richardson all close out their seasons to form, there is no way Richardson beats out the other two with those kind of numbers.

Who’s going to New York?

Right now, I’ll say Luck, Weeden, Richardson and Keenum.

Can you give us some odds on each candidate?


Luck — 60%

Weeden — 30%

Richardson — 10%

What if you’re wrong about all this?  Any candidates out there who can throw a wrench in all this?

I could be wrong. If I had to pick any player who can make my whole analysis look stupid while throwing this race into a tizzy, it’s LaMichael James of Oregon. James has missed two games due to injury and I’d basically written him off in this race, but he’s got 1,207 yards with three games to go, which puts him on pace to have 1,657 rushing yards when the Heisman votes are due. If he can go off on Saturday against USC, he could be back in this. If the Ducks sneak back into the BCS title game, he might pull off a crazy upset. But I really, really doubt it’s going to happen.

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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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20 Responses to Questions and Answers on the Heisman Race

  1. CM November 14, 2011 at 6:21 am #

    (yawn)…so now Weeden is the flavor of the week? Is he also the “greatest QB to come out of college since John Elway?” LOL And like I’ve said the past several weeks about Luck…Weeden hasn’t played against any defense worth anything. The best def Ok St has faced is ranked in the 60s I think. The Stanfords and Ok States of the world go all season and face one, MAYBE two, decent defensive teams. These super QBs with all their gaudy numbers and high powered offenses then go into the fetal position once they meet a SEC defense in the NC game. It happens time after time. I know stats have to be a major factor in any award, but so should the competition one faced to rack up those stats. Trent Richardson could have rushed for 2,000 yards this season if he played in the 4th quarters of most of Bama’s games. He’s still the best player I’ve seen all season. Weeden will need a big game, and win, when they face Oklahoma (who at least has a halfway decent defense)…if he does, he’ll make a strong push for the award. If not, then I think Richardson has a good shot to overtake Luck. Of course, Luck will put up big numbers against Notre Dame and the media will act like that’s some great achievement. Let’s all remember, the Notre Dame defense was basically the reason Jamarcus Russell got the #1 pick in the NFL draft. Putting up big numbers against Notre Dame isn’t exactly a barometer of greatness. Auburn is in the BCS Top 25…so Richardson has a ranked team that Bama will play on national tv to close out the season…he obviously needs a big game…around 200 rushing yards, a couple of TDs, and a big Bama win. Obviously, this week Bama plays a much weaker team…if TR just wanted to pad his stat totals, he could certainly do so…but I doubt they will. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper than just stats, X yards over Y games, etc. So right now I’d go:

    1. Weeden
    2. Luck
    3. Richardson

    But I give Richardson a lot better chance than 10% of being at the top at the end.

  2. CM November 14, 2011 at 6:37 am #

    Weeden’s numbers were put up against:

    Louisiana Lafayette: 61st ranked D; 78th ranked pass D
    Arizona: 109th ranked D; Arizona 113 ranked pass D
    Tulsa: 79th ranked D; 105 ranked pass D
    Texas A&M: 90th ranked D; 119th ranked pass D
    Kansas: 120th ranked D; 113 ranked pass D
    Texas: 14th ranked D; 48th ranked pass D
    Missouri: 73 ranked D; Missouri 95th ranked pass D
    Baylor: 110 ranked D; 81st ranked pass D
    Kansas St: 82 ranked D; 117 ranked pass D
    Texas Tech: 113 ranked D; 66th ranked pass D

    The Texas defense, while not great by any measure, was the best defense (by far) the Cowboys and Weeden have faced. In that game, Weeden only passed for 218 yards and 1 Td despite the Longhorns turning the ball over 3 times.

    The SEC has 4-5 defenses better than Texas. Weeden wouldn’t even be in the discussion if he played in the SEC instead of the flag football big 12 league. Looking at these stats, it’s kinda embarrassing for someone like Weeden to be leading for an award like the Heisman.

    • Marty November 15, 2011 at 7:55 am #

      If you put either of the two quarterbacks in the SEC they would not be putting up the numbers they are but if you put RIchardson in any conference in the country his numbers would be 30%-40% better than what they are. To penalize Richardson because he is in the SEC is a shame! He is the best back playing on the best team in the best conference in the country.

    • Jeff November 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm #

      If the Big 12 had any sense, they would create a 24 team super conference plus those Basketball teams from the Big East to boot. teams from the East, the West and in between.
      You East/west types write RG III out and in doing so you pervert the process and show your colors.
      Wake up Big 12 and be creative.

  3. Pat Acree Ga Tech 1976 November 14, 2011 at 8:18 am #

    The Heisman is about intangibles such as leadership, character and sportsmanship. There have been instances when it has been reduced to stats, but only when there is no candidate that displays superiority in the intangibles. If the Heisman were strictly about performance on the field, team record and so on, the leading candidate would be Mathieu of LSU. But he is not even being mentioned because of character issues.

    Luck has the intangibles. When a freshman receiver bobbled his pass and it went for a pick six, Luck went over to the sideline and encouraged the young receiver and told him not to worry about it. That’s leadership, character and sportsmanship.

    • Trickster November 14, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Dude. A girl scout can offer solace and comfort to a guy who just screwed up. That was nice of Luck to do that, but half the guys on the roster would’ve done the same. That’s not what Heismans are made out of.

    • tiger November 15, 2011 at 8:52 am #

      Are you for real!!! Mathieu!?!? The “Monkey Bastard” (Honey Badger) isn’t worth the ink to put his name down. He was a simple case of being in the right place at the right time in a couple of games. When he faced Alabama, he never came close to Richardson for fear of getting run over. He was simply put, “a non-eventful player” in that and other games.
      Give me a break!! With thoughts like this you must need someone to push your wheelchair around for you to keep from bumping into things.

  4. Trickster November 14, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    As I wrote last week, based on stats combined with strength of schedule Luck deserved to be 5th at best in the competition going into the Oregon game. He certainly did nothing to distinguish himself against his first live competition by committing 3 turnovers and taking 4 sacks.

    The ONLY rationale for him to be leading at this point is that he was pre-anointed by the media. He should still be a faint contender who could step up if he puts up a miraculous finish to his season and everybody falls by the wayside, but his name should basically be dropped from the conversation now.

    Weeden, Richardson, Moore, Wilson and Griffin are all legit contenders, probably in that order. Each of those guys has had a better season than Luck no matter how you slice it. Luck was hanging onto being a significant candidate before this week because he was the QB of an undefeated team, but now that his team finally met a major foe and got hosed down, there is simply no rationale for having him as a significant contender.

  5. Cowboy_KS November 14, 2011 at 11:53 am #

    Luck – SEVEN of his receivers are 6’4″ or better. THREE are 6’6″ or better. Question is how can he have less than an 80% completion percentage?”
    Moore – he’s toast. Cream puff schedule and couldn’t get it done against an unranked TCU squad – on the blue turf.
    Keenum – Quite possibly the easiest schedule of any Heisman candidate front runner, EVER.
    Weeden and Richardson – Both teams play have Top 15 SOS’s. They’re worthy of watching for the rest of the season.

    Let’s start watching game tape on Weeden, Richardson, and maybe LMJ.

  6. Travis November 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    Weeden is in control here, if he performs well against OU and his team wins he is the winner. QB with outstanding numbers, undefeated season and BCS championship game berth isn’t going to lose to another QB.

    Luck and the others need Weeden to slip up.

  7. DAVE MCCLURE November 15, 2011 at 8:22 am #

    La Michael James is handsdown best player in NCAA football Luck is NOT even top 5 Ryan Leif

    • tiger November 15, 2011 at 8:58 am #

      What are you smoking??? Remember LMJ against LSU?? He couldn’t get 40 yards in that game. Look at Richardson. He had 89 Yards against LSU and 80 yards in receiving in a 3 point game. You must be on crack or your parents let you skip classes in grade school. Any one can see that the best choice is Richardson!!!!!

      • TJ November 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

        Richardson had 89 rushing yards on 23 carries compared against LSU, to LMJ’s 59 yards on 18 carries. LMJ had over 60 yards receiving himself, and he scored a TD against LSU (zero TD’s for Richardson). Not a big difference in performances against LSU’s defense. LMJ will finish will more rushing yardage than Richardson (despite missing two games), and he averages 7.9 yards per carry compared to Richardson’s 5.9. LMJ leads the nation in rushing with over 150 per game, and averages over 190 all-purpose yards per game to Richardson’s 158. The fact that Richardson is in the top 3 on people’s lists and LMJ is not on the radar is ridiculous.

        Agree that Luck is being treated as the pre-ordained winner without reason.

        • Terry Tyler November 15, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

          Agree, LaMichael James should be receiving more consideration. More yards than Richardson in two less games. 2.0 ypc more than Richardson. Also, the SEC only has Alabama (Richardson’s) team and LSU. The rest of the SEC defenses are weak. Think top three should be James, Weeden and Luck, with James and Weeden the top two. My opinion. I’m an SEC fan, no loyalty owed to any of these three. Don’t think Richardson has earned it.

      • Terry Tyler November 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

        Tiger: James had 54 yards rushing and 60 receiving against Alabama, not the 40 you quoted. Nice try.

  8. Jeff Patterson November 15, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I have enjoyed reading many of the quotes posted here, sans “Tiger”, who strays away from civility. As a fan of SEC football (Alabama), I find many of the comments here quite astute. The “pundit” seems to be off the mark; perhaps he is totally engulfed by those media outlets who pre-ordained Andrew Luck.

    Before one thinks I am shaded wholly by Crimson, I have stated, and stand behind the premise that LSU was, and still is the better team. Much is made about Coach Saban, and I am a BIG fan of his, but I think Les Miles is as good a coach, yet, in a different way. I have said since the 4th quarter of that game that LSU would win that game and any other that would occur. It pains me to say that, but I truly believe it. Before the game, I told anyone who would listen that the TIDE would win by 10 or more. WOW, was I wrong!!!

    Thank you, commenters, for your insight. “Pundit”, you need to wake up and realize you’re being mislead…

  9. Semitide November 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm #

    Give me a breat Marty. Except for LSU and I guess Alabama, the SEC is kind of down this year and Trent couldn’t put up great yards against teams he should have ran over. Trent is kind of over rated. Talk about leadership, he has none, talk about character he has none, He has two kids from two different women and somebody is paying his child support. Oh ya, don’t forget he is driving around in a brand niew Yukon and doesn”t have a job. Alabama is nothing but a NFL voca., school.

  10. RICHARD DARDEN November 15, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    i like Richardson as a great back on a great team. Wilson at Va Tech has the most yardage in the country of any back. He has broken dozens of tackles and never gives up advancing the ball. i definitely think he is deserving of consideration as he also won the triple jump at the NCAA championships.

  11. Mike Lew November 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    You all are forgetting about Matt Barkley of USC! You know, the school that just whooped Oregon, the school that beat Stanford and their QB, Luck. Barkley deserves to be mentioned here; at the very lease, he should have an invitation to New York for the cereemony.

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