The changing Heisman landscape

It’s pretty clear now the changes going on in the college football world as a whole are also being reflected in the outcomes of recent Heisman races. To recap, the Heisman since 2007 has gone absolutely bonkers:

— 2007 saw the first sophomore win the Heisman (Tim Tebow).

— The 2008 and 2009 winners were also sophomores, with the 2009 winner (Mark Ingram) being the first winner from Alabama.

— The 2010 winner was a double-transfer from Florida and Blinn Junior College who had a brief stop at Auburn before going on to be picked No. 1 in the NFL Draft.

— The 2011 winner was the first from perennially downtrodden Baylor.

— The 2012 winner is about to become the first freshman to win the award.

— Defensive players have been finalists in 2009, 2011 and, most likely, 2012.

So why all the craziness? Why is the Heisman electorate suddenly shifting so far from the very conservative and predictable behavior it exhibited for years?

I think there are a few reasons:

A.) The dominance of the spread offense in college football. Five of the last six Heisman winners (if we include Manziel) were quarterbacks in some form of the spread. The numbers put up by these players have been downright phenomenal, with Tebow, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Manziel averaging about 4,500 combined yards and 48 total touchdowns in their Heisman-winning seasons. Tebow, Newton, Griffin III and Manziel also had significant production running the ball. These crazy, video gamelike numbers are overwhelming other factors in the race and causing more voters to place less emphasis on things like class status, or team record, or program tradition.

B.) Social media now often prevents dominant media narratives from taking hold. It doesn’t matter as much if ESPN’s talking heads proclaim a player to be the frontrunner, since thousands of people on Twitter can counter that by coming up with their own message. The right hashtag can work wonders.

C.) College football’s structure is changing rapidly. Conference realignment is tearing up old traditions by their roots and so, too, will the new proposed playoff. Perhaps the media, as a result, is taking a different approach to how it chooses its Heisman winner. Also, the Heisman electorate is getting younger and is probably more willing to break with old voting patterns.

The basic tenets of the Heismandments are still sound, but they will have to be updated to reflect the current reality. What barriers are left to break? Stay tuned.

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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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