Applying the 10 Heismandments to this year’s race

Back in 2004, I created the 10 Heismandments here at Heismanpundit.com. Their purpose was to serve as a guideline for determining the winner of the Heisman Trophy in a given year.

The Heismandments came about through my study of Heisman history and the voting characteristics of the Heisman electorate over time, not to mention the hands-on experience I gained by running a couple Heisman campaigns while working in USC’s media relations department.

The idea I had was that the candidate with the most applicable Heismandments would be the one most likely to actuallywin the Heisman. The Heismandments also served a practical purpose by eliminating a wide swath of players from contention, thus allowing for a more precise and realistic analysis of the race.The Heismandments are not meant to be set in stone — they have required tweaking from time to time to keep up with the ever-changing Heisman landscape. For instance, Heismandment No. 2 used to posit that only juniors or seniors could win the Heisman. It wasn’t until 2007 that this theory was overturned. As a result, sophomores are no longer discounted as potential winners, though they are still at a structural disadvantage compared to juniors and seniors.

The statistical benchmarks of Heismandment No. 8 are also in constant flux. As with political pollsters trying to guess the makeup of a future electorate, it’s sometimes hard to determine what statistics Heisman voters will deem worthy in a given year and, on occasion, the picture can get muddied. It requires a bit more art than science to get a good read on the often fickle mood of the Heisman electorate and this is where having a good sense of what plays in Peoria comes to good use. It also helps to have data like the Heismanpundit/CBSSports.com Heisman Straw Poll at one’s disposal.

Since most of my Heisman analysis is based on the principles of the 10 Heismandments, I thought it would be worthwhile to reintroduce them and show how they apply to this year’s candidates.

The 10 Heismandments

1. The winner must be a quarterback, a running back or a multithreat athlete.

So far, so good for Collin Klein, Kenjon Barner, AJ McCarron, Braxton Miller and a host of other players, includingMarqise Lee. One candidacy immediately nixed: Manti Te’o.

2. Juniors and seniors have the overwhelming advantage in the Heisman race and, as a general rule, will win over an underclassman. But a sophomore from a traditional power who puts up extraordinary single-season numbers can’t be discounted.

Keep in mind that when Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford won the Heisman as sophomores, they produced two of the most impressive statistical seasons in history. Both also played for traditional powers and both had name recognition levels coming into their sophomore seasons that were already on a par with most upperclassmen. The one true anomaly in all of this was Mark Ingram winning the Heisman in 2009 as a sophomore, though he won in the closest race in Heisman history against a weak field. His win also served to correct one of the great contradictions in college football — the fact that Alabama had never won a Heisman up to that point. Despite the recent exceptions to this Heismandment, it still serves as a valid rule (especially when concerning freshmen), albeit one that can be downplayed depending on circumstances.

That all said, Klein and Barner are seniors and McCarron is a junior, so they are all in good shape here. Miller is a sophomore and is at a slight disadvantage, though his status as the quarterback for a very strong traditional power helps to make up for it. This Heismandment does, however, eliminate Johnny Manziel from contention.

3. The winner must put up good numbers in big games on TV.

Simply put, Heisman voters want to see a candidate come through when the chips are down. Advantage to Klein so far on this one, although McCarron’s late come-through against LSU helps him a lot, as does Barner’s monster performance against USC. This is an area where Miller is deficient as he has yet to play a game that is relevant to the national scene.

4. The winner must have some prior name recognition.

I’d say Klein and McCarron entered the season about equal in name recognition. Neither were household names, but they weren’t exactly unknowns either. Both were in the shadow of the major preseason candidates heading into the fall, but have emerged as key protagonists in the season’s storyline. Since Barner is a first-year starter who toiled behind LaMichael James for most of his career, he has some ground to make up in this category.

5. The winner must be one or more of the following three: (a) The top player on a national title contender. (b) A player who puts up good numbers for a traditional power that has a good record. (c) A player who puts up superlative single-season or career numbers on a good team, or has numbers that are way out ahead of his Heisman competitors.

The first subset of this Heismandment best applies to Klein, McCarron and Barner. None of the three play for a traditional Heisman power, nor will any of the three produce crazy statistical seasons. In this area, they seem fairly equal.

However, I’d have to give a slight advantage to Klein here since his team was not expected to compete for a national title and he is seen as the person most responsible for making it happen.

6. The winner cannot be considered an obvious product of his team’s system.

Of the three top candidates, Barner is the most likely to suffer from this, as Oregon’s system is seen as very running back friendly. He is basically on track to do what James did statistically in 2010 and 2011. However, I don’t think Oregon’s system has yet entered the phase where it is perceived as artificially inflating numbers to a crazy extent, certainly not in the manner of Texas Tech or Hawaii.

McCarron also gets dinged slightly in this area. He has yet to fully escape the idea that he is merely another competent game manager in Nick Saban’s system. Alabama had remarkably successful seasons with John Parker Wilson and Greg McElroy, too, so how is he so different? While this is not the dominant view of McCarron by voters, it is definitely a factor.

Klein, conversely, is seen as the indispensable element of Kansas State’s attack. Take away Barner from Oregon and you’re still likely to see a 1,500 yard rusher emerge. Remove McCarron from Bama and some other game manager will step in. Without Klein, Kansas State is irrelevant.

7. If you are a quarterback, running back or multipurpose athlete at one of the following schools — Notre Dame, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Florida and Florida State — you have a good chance to win if you have a very good statistical season, are an upperclassmen and your team wins at least nine games.

None of the top three contenders come from traditional Heisman powers, so none have an advantage to work with here. If Miller or Te’o make it to New York, however, it will be on the strength of this Heismandment.

8. Statistical benchmarks exist for each position to help voters gauge a player’s ”Heisman worthiness.”

(Keep in mind that the numbers below are what I believe are the current minimum statistical thresholds for what voters consider to be Heisman worthy)

a. A running back who is NOT on a traditional power or a national championship contender usually must gain at least 2,000 yards. This hefty yardage requirement for such backs has risen a bit over the years as the longer regular season has made it more commonplace. A back on a traditional power or national title contender, must gain at least 1,600 yards. In either case, the back must score at least 15 touchdowns.

This puts Barner squarely into contention since he his on pace to rush for at least 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns by the time the Heisman votes are due. The extent to which he overtakes this pace will help determine his ability to overcome his relative weaknesses with the some of the other Heismandments. Sometimes, a dominant season can make up for lack of name recognition, or for not playing in enough marquee matchups.

b. A passing quarterback on a traditional power or national title contender needs to throw for at least 3,000 yards and have a 3-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio or better, with minimum 25 TD passes and an efficiency rating of 140.0 or more. In some cases, the yardage total can be somewhat less than 3,000 if the quarterback also possesses a particularly impressive touchdown-to-interception ratio or a very high passer rating to make up for it. A passing quarterback who is NOT on a traditional power or national title contender, must produce a season that is considered to be statistically above-and-beyond that of his competitors, preferably breaking both single-season and/or career NCAA records.

I came up with these numbers by averaging out past performances of quarterback Heisman contenders and then adjusting upward for the changing offensive styles of recent years. This is a tricky metric as sometimes voters latch onto things like passing efficiency or completion percentage as their preferred gauge of worthiness.

Here is where McCarron is in good shape. While he will probably not meet the yardage requirement, he will compensate for that with a high efficiency rating and an incredible touchdown-to-interception ratio.

c. A running quarterback on a traditional power or a national title contender must reach the 1,000-yard mark rushing in spectacular fashion and also be a decent passer.

Klein falls somewhere between B. and C. on this chart and I suspect the combined qualities he exhibits from both areas will serve him well. He currently leads the nation in passing efficiency, but he will not meet the usual yardage requirements in the air. However, he has a chance at 1,000 rushing yards and his 17 rushing touchdowns is near the top of the national charts. He’s in good shape here.

Miller of Ohio State performs very well in this category and he does it for an undefeated traditional power, which is why he’s still in contention to make it to New York as a finalist.

d. A multipurpose athlete can only win by producing spectacular plays on special teams, specifically kick and punt returns.

Marqise Lee has made an impact in this fashion and it complements his very impressive receiving totals. A kick return or two against UCLA and Notre Dame combined with a couple of huge receiving days could send him to New York.

9. There will never be another two-time Heisman winner.

It’s Archie Griffin, folks. That’s it. If Tim Tebow or Herschel Walker couldn’t win two Heismans, no one can.

So, on those occasions when a Heisman winner returns for another season, take him off the list immediately because he’s not going to win it.

10. The winner must be likeable.

This is an addendum to the earlier ”name recognition” Heismandment. It’s not so much that a player has to be the media’s favorite person. It’s just that he can’t be seen as an obvious jerk. It helps if the player is willing to go the extra mile to answer questions and be honest and forthright in his interviews. A player who is universally liked by the media often gets the benefit of the doubt when everything else is equal.

Klein, McCarron and Barner are all in good shape here, although Klein’s public persona is probably the most well-developed of the three.

Scoring the race

Adding everything up, Klein comes out solidly ahead of the others with regards to Heismandments No. 3, No. 5 and No. 6 and no worse than tied in every other category.

That’s why he’s the leader in the clubhouse right now. Unless his recent injury limits his effectiveness going forward, it’s going to take a lot for either McCarron or Barner to overtake him.

About Heismanpundit

Chris Huston, A.K.A. ‘The Heisman Pundit‘, is a Heisman voter and the creator and publisher of Heismanpundit.com, a site dedicated to analysis of the Heisman Trophy and college football. Dubbed “the foremost authority on the Heisman” by Sports Illustrated, HP is regularly quoted or cited during football season in newspapers across the country. He is also a regular contributor on sports talk radio and television.

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One Response to Applying the 10 Heismandments to this year’s race

  1. ChrisRo November 9, 2012 at 12:57 am #

    I know Geno Smith won the September Heisman, and that is typically grounds for not winning the real thing. (Only Troy Smith 06 accomplished it) How does Geno’s collapse in 2012 compare to past contenders. Better? worse?