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This week in Heisman history: Vinny Testaverde shines against Oklahoma

testaverde

Miami dominated college football in the 1980s and early 1990s, winning four national titles between 1983 and 1992, while finishing second or third four other times.

The Hurricanes succeeded with ultra-fast, hard-hitting defenses and wide-open, single-back offenses run by cerebral and efficient pro-style quarterbacks.

Jim Kelly was the first of the great Miami quarterbacks, and he helped set the table for the amazing run that was to come. Bernie Kosar came next and put the program in the spotlight when he led the ‘Canes to the national title as a redshirt freshman in 1983.

Kosar left early for the NFL, but his replacement was arguably the best Miami quarterback of all time: Vinny Testaverde.

As a first-year starter in 1985, Testaverde threw for 3,238 yards and 21 touchdowns and nearly led Miami to another championship. A Sugar Bowl loss to Tennessee left the Hurricanes with a 10-2 record. But Miami entered 1986 as one of the favorites for the national title with Testaverde as the overwhelming front runner for the Heisman Trophy.

At the time, it appeared only one team stood in the way of both goals: Oklahoma.

The Sooners were the AP preseason No. 1 team, while Miami was tabbed at third withMichigan in between. But the Wolverines struggled in their opening 24-23 win over an unranked Notre Dame team (the Irish would become the first team ever to enter the rankings despite losing). Miami took over the No. 2 spot, setting up a home showdown with No. 1 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Sept. 27, 1986.

The hype and storylines surrounding the matchup were intense. The two teams epitomized the changing structure of college football in the 1980s, with Miami cast as the “new money” insurgent program and Oklahoma as the fading but still venerable “old money” traditional power. The Hurricanes’ outlaw reputation was countered by the arrogance of the Sooners and their outspoken linebacker, Brian Bosworth.

In other words, this game was a media dream.

It soon turned into an Oklahoma nightmare.

Oklahoma and Bosworth (who finished with 14 tackles) played inspired on defense from the start, and Miami led just 7-3 at the break. But the second half was a different story as Testaverde turned in a virtuoso performance. He went 9-for-9 in the third quarter and threw three touchdowns to break the game open. He ended up 21-of-28 for 261 yards and four touchdowns on the day. He also tortured the Sooner defense with several Tarkentonesque scrambles, showing tremendous nimbleness and athleticism for a 6-foot-5, 230-pound quarterback.

The final result: No. 2 Miami completely outclassed No. 1 Oklahoma, 28-16.

“In 21 years, I have never seen a better quarterback,” OU coach Barry Switzer said afterward (while also adding that he didn’t want to play Miami again).

Here’s a clip from the third quarter of the game:

The Hurricanes came out of the win No. 1 and in the driver’s seat for the national title, while Testaverde all but locked up the Heisman with his performance.

An undefeated regular season followed in due course for Miami. Testaverde threw for 2,557 yards and 26 touchdowns with a record 165 pass efficiency rating, which was more than enough to claim Miami’s first Heisman.

It wasn’t a particularly strong Heisman field that year. Temple running back Paul Palmer ran for 1,866 yards for a 6-5 team, while Jim Harbaugh was the star quarterback for a top-10 Michigan squad. Neither had the resume that Testaverde offered to Heisman voters, and his performance against Oklahoma stuck in their minds all season.

Testaverde won the Heisman going away, sweeping the regions while totaling 2,213 points to Palmer’s 672 and Harbaugh’s 458.

While he couldn’t lead his team over Penn State in the 1987 Fiesta Bowl, he was drafted first overall that year by Tampa Bay and went on to a 21-year NFL career.

Testaverde’s greatness at Miami helped establish that program as a Heisman power. And it all began with that win over Oklahoma, 28 years ago this week.

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Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel play William Tell

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Looking back at Archie Griffin’s Heisman repeat — and what it means for Jameis Winston

Since we once again have a player looking for that elusive second Heisman, I thought it would be appropriate to take a peek back at the circumstances that created the only two-time winner to date.griffin

Archie Griffin is probably a shade under 5-8, but his shadow looms large over Heisman history.  He won the award in 1974 after rushing for a Big Ten-record 1,620 yards and then returned in 1975 as the favorite to become the first two-time winner.

There weren’t a whole lot of established candidates to challenge Griffin in ’75.  Going in, his main competition was probably senior running back Joe Washington of Oklahoma, who was coming off a 1,321-yard (8.4 ypc) junior season in which he led the Sooners to a share of the national title.   Washington finished third in the 1974 Heisman voting, but he had one major hurdle to face in his quest for the 1975 trophy:  The Sooners were on probation and banned from television.  As we know, big performances on TV are key in the Heisman race.

Of the top 10 Heisman finalists in 1974, only Griffin and Washington returned in 1975.  That paved the way for some up-and-coming names to make a move in the race.

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Heisman Pic of the Day

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Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian reacts after USC upsets the undefeated No. 1 Irish, 20-17, in the Coliseum on Thanksgiving weekend in 1964. Quarterback John Huarte (No. 7 in the background and a native of Southern California) was announced as that season’s Heisman winner four days prior to the dramatic loss.

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Heisman Picture of the Day

Life-Magazine-1963-11-29

LIFE Magazine’s edition the week of Nov. 29, 1963 included two cover options — one for recently murdered President John F. Kennedy, the other for Navy quarterback Roger Staubach, who was about to win that year’s Heisman Trophy.

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The role of conference realignment in Heisman voting

Last year, Heisman Pundit wrote about how conference realignment gave West Virginia’s Geno Smith a unique advantage in the Heisman race.

While Smith failed to finish in the top 10 of Heisman voting due in large part to a poor showing in a week 8 matchup against fellow Heisman hopeful Colin Klein and Kansas State, one player did end up as the beneficiary of conference realignment in last year’s Heisman voting: Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.

Heisman balloting is divided into 6 geographic regions: Far West, Mid Atlantic, Mid West, North East, South and Southwest. When the BCS was introduced in 1998, the 6 BCS automatic-qualifying conferences were each mostly contained within a single region: the Pac-10 (now Pac-12) was in the Far West, the ACC mostly was in the Mid Atlantic, the Big 10 was mostly in the Mid West, the SEC was mostly in the South and the Big 12 was mostly in the Southwest. The Big East was more spread out across the east coast.

BallotingRegions

As discussed before, voters have a tendency to vote for players from their region. Looking at voting from 1998 through 2012, with the exception of the North East region, which has had only two finalists in that span, every region on average gives the highest vote totals to players from within that region.

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Examining a conference breakdown of regional votes over the same period, we see a similar pattern of conference preference by region.

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Conference realignment has adjusted the relationship between region and conference. More schools are playing in conferences that are concentrated in regions different from where the school is located.  So, in addition to writers and reporters in their school’s region, players now receive more media exposure in their conference’s region.

1998Regions

2013Regions

Texas A&M’s move to the SEC put it in the unique position of being located in Texas, the major media outlet center of the Southwest region, while playing in the SEC, concentrated in the South region.

The Aggies’ conference schedule set up some high profile games played in the South region, namely a marquee match-up with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, which earned Manziel major support in the South region, and nationwide. With no offensive Heisman candidates from the South region and no other candidates from schools in Texas, Manziel was the clear standout candidate in two regions. Manziel went on to receive the highest vote total in every balloting region except the Mid West, where Manti Te’o of Notre Dame (located in the Mid West region) received the highest total. With all of these schools changing conferences, which ones are in the best position to benefit?

Missouri and Texas A&M moving to the SEC, West Virginia moving to the Big 12 and Colorado moving to the Pac-12 provide the most exposure for these schools in a new region. With the structure of the ACC and American Athletic Conference, moves to these conferences does less to help players’ exposure within a region outside of their own. Of course, regardless of realignment, players have to perform well enough to garner Heisman consideration.

Let’s see if anyone steps up to take advantage of the changing landscape.

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The author of this post, Daniel Heard, is a PhD candidate in Statistical Science at Duke University. He has dedicated a significant portion of his research to examining trends in Heisman Trophy voting and developing a model to forecast the voting each year.

You can contact Daniel at danielpheard@gmail.com.

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Dennis Dodd’s open letter to the Heisman Trust

Long-time Heisman voter and colleague Dennis Dodd is giving up his Heisman vote due to the trust’s short-sighted policy of punishing voters who reveal their choices before the ceremony.

Dodd wrote a powerful letter to those in charge of the trophy:

To: William Dockery
President, Heisman Trust
17 Battery Place, Suite 1226
New York, NY 10004

Bill:

I respectfully resign my Heisman vote effective immediately.

This is my way of getting out on my own terms before the Heisman Trustees can throw me out. Monday is the deadline in your organization’s ham-handed attempt (in my opinion) to make secret a process that has been a joyful, celebrated American sports tradition for decades.

As you know, in August voters were notified if they didn’t agree to hide their Heisman ballots, voting privileges would be up for review. A heretofore unenforced “non-disclosure requirement” was mentioned.

Last month about 50 of the 928 voters from 2012 were admonished for revealing their ballots. I was one of them. Your letter arrived with the names “Johnny Manziel,” “Manti Teo” and “Collin Klein” highlighted from my column with a yellow marker like I had cheated in class.

We had until April 8 to atone for our sins — aka promise “in writing” we would hide our ballots from public consumption after the voting deadline (early December). Even then, you stated regional and state representatives “will take your explanation into consideration when determining the 2013 electorate.”

So this is what Heisman double-secret probation feels like. It’s not worth it. Not like this: Bill, it seems that you didn’t send letters to all the “violators.” I know that. I’ve received at least one call from a media member who did the same thing as me — wrote about his ballot for an annual column. So now we have a case of a previously unenforced non-disclosure agreement being applied arbitrarily.

But let’s forget that for a second. Having voted for at least 15 years, I/we at least deserved an explanation for this sudden change of protocol. I contacted all nine Heisman trustees, including you. They are captains of law, finance and industry. Eight did not return my phone messages and/or emails.

Richard Kalikow of Manchester Real Estate and Construction in New York was kind enough to spend a few minutes on the phone. Mr. Kalikow explained that while he remembers the trustees making such a decision he didn’t remember when, or many details.

“We want to keep it [voting] under wraps like the Oscars or another announcement,” Mr. Kalikow said. “We don’t want any announcements going out before the television announcement.”

That raised an important question. Did ESPN pressure the trustees to make this decision? The Heisman show has drawn record ratings lately and would seemingly be unaffected by 50 voters revealing their ballots less than a week before the announcement. I was told by Mr. Kalikow and a Heisman spokesman there was no interference from ESPN.

Good.

As for the Oscar analogy, we are talking statuettes and stiff arms, Bill. Two different things. If you mean that careers are sometimes made and lost on who wins an Oscar and a Heisman, then yes, they are the same.

If you mean the voting processes are similar, then no. According to this website, Oscar nominees are decided the same way the Cambridge, Mass. City Council is elected, the same way the Australian Senate and parliament of Ireland are elected.

The same way we elect a president. It’s called a proportional voting system and I have little idea what it means. I do know that when I voted for the Heisman, Deliotte and Touche handled the ballots and that was pretty much good enough for everyone. Now with all the ballots in one big secret pot, we’ll just have to — like the Oscars — take the accountants’ word for it.

It’s called transparency, Bill, and there is precious little of it these days in college athletics. I am resigning my vote because I cannot in good conscience participate in a process where there is more secrecy, not less. You may have noticed, there’s a huge need to keep things on the up and up in college athletics these days. The world has become a very skeptical place because of the implied words from the NCAA: “Trust us.”

There’s something wrong with O.J. Simpson still having a vote (as a former winner) and a bunch of slappy sportswriters in danger of losing theirs. A Heisman vote is not a right. I get that. But someone must still explain to me why, after 70-plus years of not invoking the non-disclosure clause, the Heisman Trust is using it as some sort of threat against loyal voters.

A threat that has become selective and unfair, considering all the voters who “violated” policy were not contacted.

“Then maybe that was an oversight on our part that we didn’t know all the people who revealed their ballots,” Kalikow said. “Everybody should have gotten a letter, probably.”

We both know, Bill, there are Heisman voters who have a hard time telling the difference between a first down and a spatula. Perhaps that’s unfair too, to those of us who care — care enough to make a special trip to the Downtown Athletic Club to survey the damage post-9/11.

This was in 2002 or 2003. The DAC was close to Ground Zero. The resulting devastation eventually reached all the way to Heisman finances. That day I crossed yellow police tape, alone, to enter the lobby of a building that held so much history.

Thankfully, the Heisman recovered to attract new sponsors and post those record TV ratings. A sophomore won the award for the first time, then a freshman. All that with us freely writing and talking about the Heisman. All of it publicizing your award, Bill.

That’s why I do know that secret ballots or not, we’re going to know the Heisman winner in advance nine times out of 10. It’s America. It’s the Heisman. It’s unique. We the people actually love that process.

Hiding things will never change the fact that voters can still anonymously divulge their ballots. I suggest you check out stiffarmtrophy.com which has predicted the Heisman winner for 11 consecutive years. There was even a way for me to keep my vote. I simply could have agreed to hide it, and write after the deadline, “I have filed my ballot and agreed to keep it secret. But if I were to divulge it, I’d be strongly leaning toward …”

Not worth it for me. Either everything is out in the open or nothing is. Lack of transparency is what has NCAA critics howling. But forget about me. Any Heisman process that doesn’t have CBSSports.com’s Tony Barnhart as a part of it, isn’t worth participating in. Mr. CFB has given up his vote too.

So, what’s the point? Heisman speculation is a cottage industry. It’s not going away. Neither are those record ratings on ESPN.

Bill, please don’t do this. The Heisman is about to lose some of its luster. The Reggie Bush debacle was bad enough. This just brings unneeded negative attention to an American tradition that ranks right up there with Chevrolet and apple pie.

Hope to speak to you about this further. You should have my number. I know you have my address.

There’s nothing more that I can add to this eloquent letter. All I can do is co-sign.

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