Thursday, December 15, 2011
No one to blame for another Heisman silver
By Kevin Gemmell
"I'll get over it," Andrew Luck said of his second consecutive Heisman Trophy runner-up finish.
One of the many keys to Andrew Luck's success is repetition: Going through the process, learning from the experience and then doing it better the next time around.
If you watch last year's Heisman Trophy presentation, Luck was the first of the finalists to clap for Cam Newton when his name was announced. Watch this year's Heisman presentation, Luck is the first one clapping for Robert Griffin III. Only he's quicker. More efficient.
The Cardinal are getting good at this runner-up thing. An unprecedented three consecutive years Stanford has had a second-place finisher in the voting for the stiff arm. Call them the Buffalo Bills of the Heisman Trophy.
"Every year the Heisman voting is different," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "There is no set of criteria. Every voter votes how they want to vote. Some years you can point to stats. Some years you can point to, as they say, signature games and Heisman moments."
So it begs the question -- is there a reason for this historical trend? Or rather just a series of unfortunate coincidences that has led to three consecutive silver tries?
Whose job is it to win the Heisman? The player? The head coach? The sports-information department? Should the Cardinal have put Luck on a billboard in Times Square with an "Andrew Heisman" hashtag?
Year of the Quarterback
ESPN has dedicated 2011 to examining one of the most crucial positions in all of sports -- the quarterback. Year of the QB »
Let's look first at 2009: Running back Toby Gerhart finishes second to Mark Ingram in the closest Heisman vote in history. Gerhart rushes for 1,736 yards and 26 touchdowns, earning 222 first-place votes. Ingram rushes for 1,542 yards, 18 touchdowns and 227-first place votes. He bolsters his candidacy in the final week with 113 yards and three touchdowns against Florida. Plus, the fact that Alabama was the last traditional powerhouse not to have a Heisman winner probably swayed some voters at the end.
2010: Newton blasts on to the scene to run away with the trophy. You can make a case that Luck was the best player in the country last season. But it wouldn't hold up in court. Newton was the best player. That's just the way it is.
"Last year, we all knew it was a foregone conclusion," Luck told CSN after the ceremony Saturday night.
On to 2011. Luck announces he's returning to college football for one more year, and his candidacy is put into motion. The campaign takes care of itself -- for a while. Luck is a great story. A great football mind at an amazing academic institution. He's the face of college football all summer long.
But a better story is on the rise. A historically football-challenged school -- Baylor -- has an explosive talent who was off most people's radar. Then he tossed five touchdowns and his team dropped 50 on TCU -- the defending Rose Bowl champs -- in the season opener. He is accurate, athletic, charismatic. He's also intelligent, having graduated early with a political science degree and a minor in communications. He wears Superman socks and is brimming with personality.
And he has a catchy nickname. RG3. Very cool.
While Luck maintains an even keel throughout the season, RG3 rides the roller coaster -- going from a Heisman darkhorse to an afterthought to The Guy.
And he sealed the deal, accounting for four touchdowns in the final week against Texas while Luck was no doubt nose-deep in an architecture book.
Luck doesn't have a nickname. Andy? Lucky? Not very flashy.
"I worry about playing football," Luck said. "I don't go out there to impress a voter or media member. I go out there and try to win football games. It's gotten me this far so I think it's been working ... I'll get over it. Football goes on."
Griffin put up better numbers than Luck. More touchdowns. More passing yards. A higher completion percentage. Heisman voters love numbers. They are the most simplistic way to make decisions.
But anyone who knows anything about Stanford football knows that Luck was more than just numbers -- that he has a one-of-a-kind football mind that can process more than any other player in college football today -- maybe ever.
Does that mean he should have won? Voters didn't think so.
"There are voters that want to vote who they want to have the award," Shaw said. "It's not a negative thing. That's just the way that it is. Like the Walter Camp is a select group of people and they chose Andrew and the Heisman people didn't. He won the Maxwell and the Walter Camp and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm. This is just one award he didn't win. C'est la vie ...
"I think Robert Griffin is a heck of a football player and an even better person. He's a great kid. I'm as happy as can be for him."
With all of that said, Luck looked like a can't-miss candidate three months ago. Should fingers be pointed for another second-place finish? And if so, at whom?
At Luck? He did all he could with an average receiving corps and an offense that relied more on common sense than style. Had Stanford beaten Oregon, he would have been playing that final week, too. Can't saddle the entire Oregon loss on his shoulders. But fair or not, Luck was judged by many voters by that one performance. Yet they were able to look beyond Griffin's three losses. Why not Luck's one?
After Cam Newton won the 2010 Heisman, Andrew Luck was the first fellow finalist to clap.
"Here's a guy that's the best quarterback I've ever been around and all of these people have all of these questions, but he does all of these difficult things and he makes it look so easy," Shaw said. "You don't see these Herculean throws because he makes it look easy. And what I love about him is he doesn't care about anyone's approval."
So what about Shaw? Should he have called for more passes in the red zone? Luck threw 26 of his 35 touchdowns inside the 20. Would 30 have been the tipping point? Tough to blame it on Shaw. He has his offensive philosophy and he's not going to yield it. His job is to win football games. And he delivered 11 victories in his first year.
"I believe there is a way you coach this game," Shaw said. "The first half of our season, we were on a streak of winning games by 25 points or more and we didn't throw the ball a lot in the fourth quarter. He was never going to have the stats other guys have."
Maybe it's the school's sports-information department that's to blame? In the age of Twitter, Facebook and 24-hour news cycles, could they really have done more to get Luck's name out there? Search for Andrew Luck on YouTube -- the highlights are plentiful, and they are just a click away.
"We did all of that," Shaw said. "I did what nobody has ever done which is have an entire press conference on why he should win. We had videos and websites and all of that stuff."
So who's to blame?
All of the above.
And none of the above.
Maybe Luck should have struck the Heisman pose after galloping in for a touchdown against USC. But he didn't. He calmly handed the ball to the official. That's what makes Luck Luck.
Maybe Shaw should have called more passing plays. But he didn't. That's what makes Shaw Shaw.
Maybe Stanford should have taken a more offensive approach with Luck and the media throughout the season rather than an all-out blitz in the final two weeks and one nifty highlight video. But it didn't. That's what makes Stanford Stanford.
The simple fact is voters weren't ready for a candidate like Luck -- a player who couldn't be packaged neatly in a three-minute, 26 second video. To understand what Luck was able to accomplish meant careful examination of his games. Voters want snippets, not sagas.