Heismans don't come without wins

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
1:00
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What would happen if a Big 12 player ran for 2,000 yards and didn't win the Heisman? If he did it again the next year, he'd have to win, right?

Iowa State fans might think so, but you'll have a hard time convincing anyone outside Ames that Eddie George and Danny Wuerrfel didn't deserve the 1995 and 1996 Heisman trophies, respectively.

The Cyclones' Troy Davis ran for 2,010 yards in 1995, 83 more yards than George. A year later, he ran for 2,185 yards, but Wuerffel topped him in the Heisman voting, too.

And that was before the era of media saturation which no doubt affects more recent Heisman races.

I get plenty of weekly e-mails asking why X player is or isn't on my list of Heisman hopefuls for the Big 12 or my weekly ballot for ESPN's Heisman Watch. The facts are this: Winning is a huge part of the Heisman, and though it seems like only elite programs can field Heisman winners, it's mostly a side effect of elite programs doing what elite programs do: win and win consistently, elevating their top players in the Heisman race more often than everyone else. Complain about the exposure that teams like Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Ohio State and USC get all you'd like, but the success those programs have enjoyed over the past decade isn't duplicated by many, and their combined seven Heismans in eight seasons are more than products of media hype.

Davis' Iowa State teams won five games in his two 2,000-yard seasons. Ohio State and Florida were both 11-1 when the Heisman votes took place in 1995 and 1996.

The Heisman may be for college football's "most outstanding" player, but it's mostly become an award given to the best skill player on a team near the top 5. That's why guys like Daniel Thomas and Kendall Hunter will have a tough time winning the Heisman: The other players on their teams will have to play beyond what we believe their potential to be for either Thomas or Hunter to even get serious mention.

I expressed that sentiment in my mailbag last week and got plenty of angry mail in response, but let me also repeat what I wrote in my very first post on this blog: Often, the best skill player on a team near the top 5 is the nation's most outstanding player. Other times, he's not.

I don't have a Heisman vote, but I'm not afraid to express who I thought deserved it. Had I voted last year, it would have looked like this:

1) Ndamukong Suh

2) Toby Gerhart

3) Mark Ingram

Did I think Suh had a chance to win it? No way. Did I think he deserved it? Absolutely. He was the best player in college football, but I also understand that if you don't watch Big 12 football from week to week, voting a defensive tackle as a Heisman winner is a tough sell.

When I compose my Heisman Watch ballot each week, I vote for the five best players in college football. When I put together my Big 12-specific Heisman Watch, I highlight the five players in the Big 12 with the best chance to win. Obviously, the margin of error for that type of exercise is going to be pretty large this early in the seaosn, but that's why it looks very, very different from my list of the Big 12's top 25 players from over the summer.

The Heisman is flawed. Few would argue that. Popularity and media exposure have a lot to do with it.

But so does winning, and I don't have a problem with factoring that into a player's Heisman résumé.

Troy Davis didn't deserve the Heisman Trophy, and his team's lack of success is the biggest reason why. Thomas and Hunter don't play for traditional powers. If they deserve the Heisman, I won't be afraid to say it. But if their teams don't win at least nine games and prove they're the best at their position, they won't deserve it.

Players like Landry Jones, DeMarco Murray and Garrett Gilbert haven't satisfied the second component to make themselves legitimate candidates. Hunter, Thomas and Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson haven't satisfied the first.

Before a Big 12 player seriously enters into the discussion, he'll need both.

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