The Heisman and the unofficial rules that govern its selection process — the 10 Heismandments — have evolved a bit over the past decade.
That’s to be expected. The dramatic changes in offensive football since 2004 were bound to influence the Heisman race at some point. As lofty as they sound, the Heismandments were never meant to be etched into stone. They were meant to reflect the current reality of the Heisman environment so that we could more easily analyze the state of the race in a given year.
That said, the only real departure from the original Heismandments has been the sea change that came about from the quintet of underclassmen who’ve won the trophy since 2007. Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston all captured their Heismans before their second seasons of eligibility expired. Prior to Tebow, we thought that underclassmen couldn’t win. After all, every one of the previous 72 winners before Tebow were either juniors or seniors. As that is clearly not the case anymore, we’ve adjusted the language of Heismandment No. 2 to reflect this reality. While junior and seniors still have a built-in advantage, underclassmen who put up extraordinary single-season numbers can win the Heisman. Aside from Ingram, who was a sentimental winner in the closest race in Heisman history, each of the five underclassmen produced seasons that could arguably be considered among the best in college football history. That’s what it took for them to win.
The underclassman rule was one of those rules that required us to go out on a limb. So, too, was Heismandment No. 9, which states there will never be another two-time winner of the award.
But while the strictures of Heismandment No. 2 have relaxed over the years, Heismandment No. 9 appears to be stronger than ever.
Jason White and Matt Leinart couldn’t repeat. Neither could Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram or Johnny Manziel. And that’s just in the past 10 seasons. Before them, there was Doc Blanchard of Army, Doak Walker of SMU, Roger Staubach of Navy, Billy Sims of Oklahoma and Ty Detmer of BYU.
The failure of these players to win that second trophy raised the bar very high for future players attempting a double. After all, the next player to match Archie Griffin’s feat will have to be put on the short list of all-time college football legends, right? The Heisman electorate went against normal convention by selecting underclassmen in recent years, but casually doling out two Heismans is another story.
And that’s why I’m very confident in predicting that Jameis Winston will not win a second Heisman.
You would think by now that writers putting together preseason lists would understand the challenges inherent to repeating as Heisman winner. Yet Winston still appears on the top of such lists, as did Manziel last year and Tim Tebow in the seasons before that.
But at HP, we’ve always said that the return winner would not repeat. Each time, we’ve pissed off that player’s fan base.
And, each time, we’ve been right.
As the ninth Heismandment reads:
It’s not easy to win the Heisman once. So it really is just too hard for a player to have a Heisman-worthy season two years in a row. Both of those seasons must be arguably better than each of the other candidates in the running in both years.
There are a lot of other factors working against a would-be repeat winner, namely media fatigue and fickleness that tends to reward the fresh face and requires a higher burden of proof the second time around.
Besides all that, there is also that mysterious Heisman karma that seems to take hold of a race every year. In the end, everything has to fall perfectly in place for someone to win the Heisman just once. So in order to win it again, things have to fall perfectly in place twice.
Think of all that had to happen for Winston to win the Heisman last year. The preseason front runner, Braxton Miller, had to get hurt early and miss three games. Marcus Mariota, who took control of the race mid-season, also suffered an injury that slowed him down in big losses to Stanford and Arizona. Meanwhile, Winston didn’t just glide his way to the Heisman. He had to produce a remarkable season with 42 touchdowns running and passing and a passer rating that, at the time of the Heisman vote, was the highest in college football history. This doesn’t even take into account the off-the-field issues he had to weather.
Both Miller and Mariota are back for a second bite at the apple. Meanwhile, Winston’s off-the-field issues have piled up. Heisman voters, satisfied that Winston got the Heisman he deserved in 2013, will likely look elsewhere in 2014. Plus, the statistical bar he set in 2013 is a challenge — anything less than 42 total touchdowns will be seen as a drop off.
This doesn’t make Winston any less special as a player. It just means that it’s going to be nearly impossible for him to pull off this feat.
I fully expect Winston to be in the Heisman conversation throughout the season, which is why I have him on my post-spring Heisman Watch list. There’s a pretty good chance he returns to New York as a finalist. After all, White, Leinart, Tebow and Manziel all did so in recent years.
But he’s not going to win. The smart money says that some other player is going to capture the spirit of the 2014 season, the same way Winston did so in 2013.
Who will that player be?
Well, that’s the fun part. Stay tuned.