It’s the age old Heisman Trophy debate - Are you voting for the best player or for the player with the best season? That simple debate has caused many a stir when it comes to who should win the Heisman Trophy and it’s made for great sports debate on TV and amongst sports fans nationwide.
So far during Heisman Week here on Crystal Ball Run we’ve taken a look into the future, well today it’s finally time to take a visit to the past - the past 10 years that is.
Over the past 10 years the Heisman Trophy has seen just about everything - from historic beat downs (Troy Smith in ‘06) to vacated wins (Reggie Bush in ‘05) and of course a ton of controversy in between the lines. It got me thinking, who over the past decade really was screwed out of the Heisman Trophy. Well, I’ve only come up with four legitimate cases for “Screwjob of the Past Decade” and I’ve ranked them in order from the least to the biggest screwjob for your viewing pleasure.
4) Larry Fitzgerald - (‘03 - Pittsburgh)
The winner that season was.... Jason White of Oklahoma. This was one of the closest votes of the past decade as White beat out Fitzgerald by just 128 points. White won on the strength of 40TD’s to just 8 INT’s for the season as well as 3,846 yards passing. However, he completed just 61.6% of his passes, the worst rate of his career.
Sure it was impressive to see him come back from two years with knee surgeries and put up those kind of numbers but Fitzgerald put up one of the best seasons a Wide Receiver has ever had in NCAA history having 92 catches for 1,672 yards, and 22 TD’s. To put this in perspective the only two WR’s to have won the award (Tim Brown & Desmond Howard) had only 8 more receptions combined in their winning years than Fitzgerald did by himself. You also have to combine their all-purpose yards in order to beat Fitzgerald's total for receiving alone. But what about the comparison to White? Well Fitzgerald led all players in TD’s from scrimmage in FBS football (1-A at the time) with his 22TD’s which topped even any running back that year.
That should give you some perspective on just how special of a season Fitzgerald had and add in that he did it as a true Sophomore to boot and you see why he may have lost out to White, but I argue he got screwed out of that award big time.
3) Montee Ball (‘11 - Wisconsin)
Arguably the 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist field was the deepest it’s had in quite some time and Ball is the poster child for that depth. He didn’t even finish in the top three of the voting last year, so why does he land on our “screwjob” list? Because he had one of the single best seasons of any running back in history and still managed to finish outside the top three let alone win the darn thing.
True, Robert Griffin III had an amazing season and so did Andrew Luck, but I ask you if you look at the pure numbers how does a running back that rushes for over 1,900 yards and ties Barry Sanders for most TD’s (not by a QB) in a single season at 39 not win the award? Heck he even passed for a TD that year and was 2-for-2 passing on the season. Not to mention he helped lead his team to the first Big Ten Championship game title and their 2nd straight Rose Bowl.
Well, RG3’s 4,293 yards passing (36TD’s/6INT’s) may have something to say about it, but what was most ridiculous was Ball finishing behind any other running back, especially one that rushed for nearly 300 yards less, had 15 less touchdowns and even had less yards per reception while catching more balls than Ball.
Ultimately he suffered from being in the shadow of #AllEverythingAllRussell - a.k.a. Russell Wilson at Wisconsin. Wilson got off to a hot as could be start and kinda put the numbers Ball was already racking up under the radar. That and RG3’s charisma and socks didn’t help Ball’s chances of gaining media hype until it was far too late in the game and for that he doesn’t rank higher on the “screwjob” list. Personally I have a feeling we’ll take a look at this vote many years down the road and be left scratching our heads even more as to how didn’t win, let alone finish in the top three.
2) Vince Young (‘05 - Texas)
You may think this one is a bit of cheating because we have the hindsight of Reggie Bush’s win being vacated, but I would argue that even without it VY deserved the win over Bush and here’s why: No QB in NCAA history had ever passed for over 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 or more yards in a single season until Young did it that season. Young also had his best passer efficiency rating of his career in 2005 at 163.6 and threw for 26TD’s and had a total of 38TD’s (12 rushing) on the year. The only blemish is that he threw for 10 interceptions.
This one is the classic case of the “best season vs. best player” debate as you could argue that Young clearly had the best season and that Bush was the best player. Bush had 1,740 yards rushing (respectable but not eye popping numbers) and another 481 yards receiving as well as a total of 18TD’s. He also won for accumulation of his career to that point.
However, I have to wonder if the trophy would’ve gone the other way had voters known what VY would do in the 2006 Rose Bowl (to UCS nonetheless) to win the National Championship. I’m not sure there’s a college football fan that will ever forget watching that miracle game where he passed for 267 yards, ran for 200 more, and had 3TD’s rushing (including the game winner on 4th down with just 19 seconds left) to win the National title. I get that we were in the middle of the media’s Trojan love fest and that USC had won 34 straight games, but this award is about the individual and Vince Young had the better individual season in 2005 and deserved the award in my book because of that.
(1) Adrian Peterson (‘04 - Oklahoma)
Peterson was the victim of being too young according to the Heisman Voters in 2004. All Day finished 2nd in the Heisman voting to Matt Leinart and became the highest finishing freshman of all time in a vote that wasn’t that close. However, I’d argue he should’ve been the 1st ever Freshman to win the Heisman Trophy and he got the biggest screwjob of the past decade.
Why did he get screwed? Well, he got punished for being on the same team as Jason White, who finished 3rd in the voting and split votes that should’ve gone to him and his numbers are vastly more impressive and more meaningful to his team than what Matt Leinart did in 2004.
Leinart won after throwing for 3,322 yards and 33TD’s to 6INT’s. However, he had his least efficient year of his college career with a rating of 156.5 that season. The TD to INT ratio is impressive to be sure, but not as impressive as what Peterson was able to compile.
All Day rushed for 1,925 yards and had 11 games over 100 yards rushing or more - both NCAA Freshman rushing records to this day. He had 15TD’s on the season as well.
However, what’s most glaring is the fact that he finished 3rd in 1st place votes for the Heisman behind Leinart and teammate Jason White.
The 2004 Heisman vote has really served as a huge lesson for a nation of voters that basically said “That’s a great year, but he’s got plenty left in him” because his numbers were never the same thanks to injuries that plagued his sophomore and junior campaigns. Simply put AP’s freshman year is the single best season by any freshman player in the history of college football and that trumps a pretty good season by the QB that was was in the middle of a love fest and had won a lot at USC. I have a feeling if voters could have a do over they’d vote differently now than they did then and for that Adrian Peterson got the biggest screwjob in the past decade of Heisman Trophy voting.
As you can see from the list above the debate about who should win and what the criteria are for voting won’t end anytime soon and that’s part of the beauty of this award and college football in general. I say, here’s to many more years of this debate raging on!
Don’t forget if you want to find Andy’s musings on college sports you can find him on Twitter at @andycoppens or for the best in Wisconsin Badgers coverage head over to MadTownBadgers here on the Bloguin network.