Who can win the Heisman?
If you care about who wins the most prestigious trophy in sports, that’s the only question that matters at this point in the season. And the best way to figure out who can win the Heisman is to first figure out who can’t win the Heisman.
Here is a list of players who, no matter what happens the rest of the way, will not win:
I wanted to make this list because over the next month, you’re likely to hear someone say that one of these players “should be in the Heisman conversation” after they play really well in a game. Since this Watch deals with reality and not what should be, I wanted to head such sentiment off at the pass.
But that list is only the most obvious players to be eliminated from consideration this season. After this past Saturday’s games, there are a couple more to add:
It was a good run for Smith to start the season and I stated at the end of September that the Heisman was his to lose. Well, that’s exactly what happened as the Mountaineers have dropped three in a row and, even worse, the West Virginia offensive attack has been downright mediocre. As a result, Smith’s rationale for winning — that his numbers were going to be head-and-shoulders above those of his competitors — has collapsed. While his current pace points to him having 4,008 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and five interceptions by the time the Heisman vote is due, his performances the past three weeks — a passer rating of 104, five touchdowns, three picks — suggests his trajectory is headed into the weeds. To overcome the flaws of his team, Smith’s numbers needed to be amazing. They won’t be.
As for Miller, he was always a dark horse in this campaign. However, he’s performed quite well and is on the bubble as far as a possible visit to New York goes. It’s just he can’t win — not this time, not with his numbers and not in the context of this race. However, he is set up well to be the Heisman front runner in 2013 and everything he does the rest of this season will serve to bolster that.
That brings us to two other players who are being talked about a lot but who can’t win the Heisman because of structural issues with their candidacies:
Simply put, Te’o can’t win because he is a pure defender. While you’ll hear a lot of talk otherwise, don’t fall for it. This is not to say he does or doesn’t deserve to win. That is for others to decide. But my understanding of 77 years of Heisman campaigns tells me that there just won’t be enough voters willing to pull the trigger in that direction.
As for Manziel, he’ll fall prey to the freshman curse. No frosh has ever won the Heisman, including such luminaries as Herschel Walker, Adrian Peterson and Michael Vick. While Manziel is on pace to have 3,372 passing yards, 1,224 rushing yards and 41 total touchdowns in his first year playing in the SEC, voters will be reluctant to hand him the trophy.
Still, both Te’o and Manziel can get to New York as finalists. There are precedents for a defensive player (Hugh Green, ’80) and a freshman (Peterson, ’04) finishing as runner ups and that will be their ceiling.
With all these players taken out of consideration, who is left?
Here they are:
1. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State – Klein is coming off another solid game, passing for 245 yards and rushing for 64 in a win over Oklahoma State. He did leave that game early with an undisclosed injury, but it doesn’t appear to be serious. He currently leads the nation in passing efficiency and he is sixth in scoring. His status as the unquestioned leader and catalyst for a team making an unexpected run at the national title, combined with his statistical prowess, makes him a solid Heisman favorite.
2. Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon – Barner’s 321-yard, 5-touchdown effort against USC this past Saturday has the potential to be a game changer in this race. Barner is an intriguing candidate because the question lingers: How would his numbers look had he played in more fourth quarters this season? As it stands, he has just 22 carries in nine fourth quarters so far. He currently has 1,295 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns and if he had carried the ball as much in the fourth quarter this year as he did in, say, the third quarter, he’d probably have in the neighborhood of 1,450 yards (based on his current yards per carry average) and another couple touchdowns. That would’ve put him within relatively easy striking range of the magical 2,000 yard rushing mark that usually ensures a Heisman for a running back on an elite team. As it stands, Barner is on pace to have 1,872 yards and 29 touchdowns when the Heisman vote is due. These are very strong numbers but probably not enough to win unless Klein messes up. Keep in mind that Heisman voters love it when a player comes up big against a ranked opponent, but Oregon just hasn’t had many big games this year to showcase his talent. If Chip Kelly wants Barner to win the Heisman, he’ll need to feed him the ball the rest of the way.
3. AJ McCarron, QB, Alabama – While McCarron didn’t have great numbers in Alabama’s win against LSU — he was just 14 of 27 for 165 yards — he did lead the Tide on a clutch drive that culminated in his throwing the game-winning touchdown to TJ Yeldon. This was the best possible scenario for McCarron, who will be able to point to a ‘Heisman moment’ to bolster his case. While his overall numbers are somewhat pedestrian by past Heisman-winning standards, he does have a sterling 19-to-0 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If he can finish up the season without a pick, he’ll have a rather interesting statistic for Heisman voters to consider. At this point, his only chance to win the Heisman is for both Klein and Barner to fall by the wayside and for him to continue to play at his current level.