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.