There’s a healthy debate going on in the comments section of this blog between supporters of the various Heisman candidates.
For the most part, the focus is on statistics.
Sigh. They are a slippery slope. Rely on them too much and they become almost meaningless.
Voters do not care about about statistics past a certain point. You are not going to convince someone that Player X is better than Player Y because X played in five games against top 23 opponents while Y played in only four.
Voters look for players to meet a minimum threshold of statistical prowess. Once they pass that point, they are deemed statistically worthy and their numbers do not become a real issue again unless they are chasing major records.
Do a few voters find it meaningful that Matt Barkley has 39 touchdown passes while Andrew Luck only has 35? Possibly. Are they sophisticated enough to understand that such stats don’t always tell the whole story? Absolutely (note, Heismandment No. 6, the Andre Ware Rule). If numbers really did tell us everything, Texas Tech would have won five of the last 10 Heismans and Kliff Kingsbury would be a college football legend.
We mostly use stats to confirm our preexisting biases. Those who consider a player’s status as an NFL-ready product to be prima facie proof that he is the best player in college will tend to gravitate toward Luck. Those who believe Luck plays in an effete conference that doesn’t play defense will see every interception of his as proof of his fraudulence. Those who think that SEC defenses are automatically the best in the country will view Trent Richardson’s 203 rushing yards against Auburn as proof that he is an incredible back. Those who see SEC defenses as being overrated will downplay his accomplishment by noting that Auburn’s 99th-in-the-country run defense gave up more yards to Utah State than they did Alabama.
And what do we do when we can’t find stats to support our opinions? Why, we just create a new stat. Parse away!
But all these numbers and comparisons can be overwhelming. That’s why, in the end, voters also rely on things like imagery, reputation, biography and even stereotype to determine the most worthy player. Actually watching the games helps them assess how a player does something as opposed to just what he does. Desmond Howard scoring a touchdown on a punt return is nice. Howard returning the punt and then striking the Heisman pose while Keith Jackson says ‘Hello Heisman!’ is sublime. If this constant search for meaning and understanding in college football didn’t exist, all we’d have to do is look at the box scores to pick the Heisman winner and be through with it.
Consequently, the player who wins the Heisman usually isn’t the season’s stat king, but the player who best exemplifies the spirit of that particular college football season. That’s what the voters are looking for, even if most don’t really know it deep down.
So if you want to know who’s going to win the Heisman, just consider which player has captured the zeitgeist of 2011 college football. You can’t go wrong.
Maybe it’s not a perfect way to pick the most outstanding player, but it works for me.