Neither Montee Ball or Tyrann Mathieu are going to win the Heisman, but both will play a part in how this race is shaped.
For a second on Saturday night, it looked like Ball might really blow things out of the water. After one quarter against Michigan State, he had over 100 yards and had already scored two touchdowns. There’s no telling what this race would look like if he had rushed for, say, 250 yards and broken Barry Sanders’ single-season touchdown mark in the process.
But he didn’t. Although he did get into the end zone two more times, he was pretty much bottled up on the ground the rest of the way. It was a very good effort overall, but not enough to flip the momentum in this race.
Down in Atlanta, Mathieu was also working his magic. The Honey Badger returned a punt for a touchdown to get the Tigers back into the game against the Dawgs, then recovered a fumble before breaking off another amazing return that was thisclose to being the greatest highlight you’ve ever seen.
But LSU rolled over Georgia in a game that would’ve sent the Tigers to New Orleans win or lose. Lots of voters still remember that Mathieu was suspended for drug issues earlier in the year. And, let’s not forget, he plays defense.
The relevant question, then, is how much will these two affect this year’s Heisman outcome?
I think the primary effect of Ball’s emergence and the late mini-boomlet for Mathieu will be the effective killing of Trent Richardson’s Heisman chances.
It looks to me like the Alabama running back is headed for a third-place finish. Why? Well, a few weeks ago, the Heisman race featured one running back (Richardson) and a lot of quarterbacks. Now there are two running backs in contention, and only two quarterbacks left with a real shot at winning. One of the running backs has the most rushing yards in the country and has scored a ridiculous 38 touchdowns. Cry all you want about level of competition, but 38 touchdowns is 38 touchdowns. More than a few voters will be taken in by that number and it is Richardson who is most likely to get knocked off some ballots as a result.
Whatever support Mathieu gets will mostly come from Richardson’s home region. That doesn’t hurt Richardson as much as one would think, since Mathieu is as likely to knock a candidate like Griffin or Luck from a 2nd or 3rd spot on the ballot as he is Richardson from the top. But where he will hurt Richardson is in regions like the Northeast, Southwest and Midwest, where voters might want to put one SEC player on their ballots, but not two. With Mathieu’s performance fresh in their minds, he might be that SEC pick on some of those ballots instead of Richardson. Thus, Mathieu’s candidacy helps prevent Richardson from broadening his strength outside his home region, which is what you have to do to win the Heisman.
So, the Heisman decision…what of it?
My final straw poll comes out tomorrow. My final call on the race comes out on Tuesday, when the Heisman finalists are announced.
I’m expecting Luck, Griffin III, Richardson and Ball to get to New York.
Let’s just say I have a pretty good idea who’s going to win right now.