It’s time to break down where we are in the Heisman race after week 13.
At this point, you can’t analyze the Heisman race without having an understanding of the makeup of the voting regions.
When you see commentators claim that so-and-so has wrapped up the Heisman at this point, it’s mostly poppycock. They aren’t thinking about who is voting, where the voters are located and what the voters are looking for. That is all that matters when it comes to the Heisman.
Remember, there are 145 voters in each of the six regions, plus 55 former Heisman winners. First place votes get 3 points, second place gets 2 points and third place gets 1 point. It could well be that this year’s winner does not get the most first-place votes, but is carried to the trophy by virtue of being placed on the most ballots.
We are one week into the Heisman voting process. Last year, there were 17 ballots cast in the first week, 164 in week two and 705 in week three. That race was a blowout, so I expect that a close race like this year’s will result in a greater percentage of votes in the final week (in 2009, 90% of ballots were returned at the end).
This Heisman race is still very much up in the air, but there are definitely some distinct advantages for a couple of candidates.
Let’s look at the regions and how it breaks down now:
Far West: Luck remains the strong favorite in this region. If I had to guess, he’ll get upwards of 350 points here (he had 198 last year to Cam Newton’s 347). The emergence of Matt Barkley will eat into some of his first place votes, but Barkley will also serve to bump Robert Griffin III and Trent Richardson off of some ballots, which will benefit Luck by hurting their point totals. (1) Luck (2) Barkley (3) Griffin III
SouthWest: It appears to me that this once crowded region is starting to coalesce around Griffin III, but his win here won’t be as dominant as Luck’s will be out West due to the presence of Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden, Justin Blackmon, Landry Jones, etc., who will all pick up varying levels of support. I would expect Trent Richardson to do okay here due to the presence of Arkansas (and hence, SEC) voters in this region, but that could be offset by the Colorado voters who are now more in touch with the Pac-12. The battle for third in this region could be an underrated factor in the final outcome of this race. (1) Griffin III (2) Keenum (3) Luck/Richardson
South: Just as Luck will dominate out West, Richardson will dominate the South. He should get a good 350 points here. What’s more there’s not a whole lot of other competition to drain votes away. I expect Griffin III to take second, with Luck a distant third. A few scattered votes for Tyrann Mathieu might be a factor, but it won’t hurt Richardson, only his competition. (1) Richardson (2) Griffin III (3) Luck
Mid-Atlantic: I see Richardson as being the slight favorite in this region since portions of it share a cultural affinity with the South and SEC football. Plus, Richardson performed well against Penn State, whose media are in this region. However, this was Luck’s third best region last year and that was before Stanford beat up on Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl (thus giving ACC voters a close up look at the Cardinal QB). Stanford’s game against Duke could also play a factor. I give Richardson the nod here, but not a strong one. There will also be some votes for David Wilson of Virginia Tech and Sammy Watkins of Clemson scattered around, which could help decide the point totals. (1) Richardson (2) Luck (3) Griffin III
MidWest: This is one of the two key regions to deciding the Heisman vote. Right now, its status is in flux due to the continuing emergence of Montee Ball. Can he win the region? I think he can and should if he plays well this coming week against Michigan State. So that leaves a battle down the ballot. This was Luck’s second-best region last year and, surprisingly, he was almost as strong here as he was out West. Beating Notre Dame is definitely a boon and I think it bodes well for some strong Luck support yet again. How will Richardson do? I think the rise of Ball is what, in the end, could kill Richardson’s Heisman hopes, as I think having two running backs to choose from in the race dilutes his support a bit. Will Midwest voters choose an SEC running back over a Big Ten back? I doubt it. Should be tough going for Bama’s back here. (1) Ball (2) Luck (3) Griffin III
Northeast: This is the only region without a dog in the hunt and, therefore, it is the most perplexing to predict. This region has a lot of nationally-minded journalists and TV voters (it is the home to ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, etc.), while the other regions are comprised mostly of beat writers and editors with more parochial interests. There are no college football powers around to command strong loyalties or to dominate local media reports and the NFL presence is very strong. Historically, it is a region that has tended to go for the hot candidate at the end of the season. There are arguments for why Luck, Griffin III and Richardson could all win this region, and why Barkley and Ball could pick up significant support. My gut tells me that the emergence of Ball could hurt Richardson’s chances of winning here (though I could be wrong, or Ball may lay an egg next Saturday, too). This leads me to believe that Griffin III has the best chance of winning here, although how he does against Texas will obviously affect things–he is no lock. (1) Griffin III (2) Luck (3) Richardson
The Heisman Winners: There are 55 Heisman winners who have a vote and it’s actually somewhat easy to make an educated guess as to which way they will choose (I will have a more detailed post on this later this week). For instance, you know that USC’s six Heismans are going to vote for Barkley. The various SEC Heisman winners are likely to go Richardson’s way. Unaligned running back winners will prefer Richardson or Ball, while unaligned quarterbacks will probably go for Luck or Griffin III. Since this is a voting block that does not keep up with the intricacies of the race that much, so I believe that Luck holds the advantage by virtue of having the most name recognition. This group of voters may well decide the race, though it’s going to be impossible to quantify. (1) Luck (2) Richardson (3) Griffin III
It all adds up to a very close race with three candidates all potentially topping 1,000 total points (keeping in mind that one more weekend could further shake things up).
Griffin III’s and Richardson’s support is more intense, while Luck’s is more broad. However, I believe Griffin III’s support is broader than Richardson’s. Which leads me to believe that:
Luck leads one region strongly, is second in three others (strongly in two). He also leads among Heisman winners.
Griffin III leads two regions (one comfortably, the other narrowly), is a strong second in one other.
Richardson leads two regions (one strongly, the other moderately), no other seconds.
So here’s how I think the vote would go if it were held today (with approximate vote totals)
1. Luck (1,250 points)
2. Griffin (1,100 points)
3. Richardson (1,000 points)
4. Ball (500 points)
5. Keenum (400 points)
6. Barkley (250 points)
7. Russell Wilson (100 points)
8. Brandon Weeden (100 points)
9. Tyrann Mathieu (80 points)
10. Kellen Moore (40 points)
Obviously, this race is close enough to where any of the top three could win this. If this estimation is accurate, this would mean that Luck, Griffin III, Richardson, Ball and Keenum are headed to New York.
There’s one week to go, so this isn’t gospel, but I think it’s where the race stands right now.