Our crew of Big Ten reporters will periodically offer takes on burning questions that face the league. We'll have strong opinions, though not the same view. We'll let you decide who's right.
The Big Ten ended its national championship drought in the 2014 season, but the league has still not had a Heisman Trophy winner since Ohio State's Troy Smith in 2006. So today's Take Two topic is: Will a Big Ten player win the Heisman in 2015?
Take 1: Austin Ward
The bias favoring quarterbacks and stars from national-title contenders isn’t exactly something new when it comes to Heisman Trophy voting, and Ohio State has its bases covered from both angles. In fact, it has three different guys it could present as a candidate at that position alone -- and if Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett or Braxton Miller can’t get the job done, the Buckeyes could buck the trend and follow the blueprint Mark Ingram provided in 2009 by unleashing running back Ezekiel Elliott and riding him to the biggest individual prize in the game.
Certainly there is a chance that having multiple players on the same team vying for the Heisman carries a risk that their votes could cancel each other out and open the door elsewhere. And a case that can be made that the accurate, strong-armed passing provided by Jones at the end of last season helped open rushing lanes for Elliott, and the latter’s ability to eat up yardage on the ground helped make defenses easier to read for the former and Barrett before him. The mutually beneficial relationship between quarterback and tailback wouldn’t necessarily lend itself toward settling on who is truly the most valuable player on what figures to be the most talented team in the nation.
But assuming the streak of quarterbacks winning the Heisman continues, nobody has more ammunition to make a run at it than the Buckeyes. And even if they falter, the Big Ten still has Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg around to potentially pick up the slack -- which would still ultimately leave the conference in prime position to break the streak. With so many options that fit the traditional bill, it’s safe to bet on the Big Ten snapping the skid this year.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
Austin is right that the Heisman has become almost solely a quarterback's award. Ingram is the only Heisman winner in the past 13 years who wasn't a quarterback, and if Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon couldn't capture the award with their record-breaking totals, then it's going to be awfully hard for any other running backs to do so.
Heisman-winning quarterbacks don't necessarily have to play on national title contenders, but they do have to put up eye-popping stats -- see Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel, for instance. That's a problem for the Big Ten, because even though the league has become more passing friendly, weather and tradition and other factors still mean that quarterbacks in this conference often fail to match the numbers of other top signal-callers in the nation. Cook has won Rose and Cotton bowl crowns but has never gained any serious Heisman traction.
Ohio State is the exception, however, as the Buckeyes' offense has the potential to produce crazy points and yards this season. That would make Urban Meyer's starting quarterback a strong contender for the Heisman. But here's the rub: we still don't know who will be starting in Columbus, or whether there will be some sort of time-share arrangement. Elliott's presence also could create a split-vote phenomenon not unlike the Ball-Russell Wilson combo at Wisconsin in 2011. The starting quarterback, whether that's Jones, Miller or Barrett, could also see a lot of early exits if the Buckeyes are blowing people out of the water.
That's too much uncertainty for me, at least here at the end of May. If the Ohio State quarterback situation achieves some clarity, I reserve the right to change my mind. But right now, I say the Big Ten drought continues.