The Heisman Trophy is an inherently flawed award. That’s the bad news.
The great news is we the fans have the power to change it. Just six years ago, underclassmen weren’t really considered viable options, but Tim Tebow ended that discussion and now another second-year player could win the trophy this year. Charles Woodson is the only true defensive player to ever win the award back in 1997, but a linebacker could walk away a winner this Saturday. In fact, Manti Te’o is the third defensive Heisman finalist in the last four years (Tyrann Mathieu, Ndamukong Suh).
The voting for the Heisman is utterly counterintuitive as well. Hell, even CBS analyst Gary Danielson gave up his vote years ago because he can’t stand the voting structure. With only three names on each ballot, regional and personal agendas become over-amplified. If you have a bias against Manziel or Te’o it would be easy to leave them off of your ballot to have more of an impact on the voting.
Most importantly, however, the timing of the vote makes no sense.
The NFL awards its MVP for regular season play, but a team could play four games in the postseason. College football features a maximum of one postseason game (for now) per team. It makes no sense for the Heisman Trophy voting to take place before the BCS National Championship Game.
In just 15 seasons under the BCS system, there are a handful of Heisman winners who might not be winners had voting taken place after the national title game. This theory might be no more obvious than this season with Manti Te’o and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Johnny Manziel, Collin Klein and the Irish linebacker are all extremely deserving Heisman finalists. And Te’o could easily win the award this Saturday. But let’s say Manziel or Klein takes home the stiff-armed trophy and then Te’o dominates Alabama to win Notre Dame’s first national title in 25 years? If he posts 10 tackles and a sack, for example, against Bama’s other-worldly offensive line in a win over the Crimson Tide in the national title game, there would be no legitimate argument against Te’o as college football’s most outstanding player. Sorry, Aggies (either one), you would have no legs to stand on. There would be no hole on Te’o's Heisman resume — not even statistically.
And if the Irish get beaten into submission by Alabama, either Manziel or Klein would be the more deserving candidate.
But Te’o wouldn’t be the first player who lost the award because voters didn’t get to see them in the brightest and only spotlight that matters.
2005: Vince Young, QB, Texas
Reggie Bush won the 2005 Heisman Trophy, end of story. I don’t care what has happened since; Bush will always be ’05’s “Most Outstanding Player.” So the investigation and stripped award has nothing to do with the fact Vince Young deserved the trophy. His performance in the Rose Bowl — a game many believe is the greatest ever played on a college gridiron — was the most dominant performance the college game has ever seen. Young in 2005 was the most unstoppable force I’ve ever seen in college football. He finished third in the nation in passing efficiency, rushed for over 1,000 yards and led an offense that was the highest scoring (652 points) in the history of the sport. Bush was magical that year, but Young was better and should have his name on the great bronze statue.
2000: Josh Heupel, QB, Oklahoma
Chris Weinke was coming off of a national championship and led the No. 1 team to an unbeaten record and a third-straight trip to the BCS title game. His performance earned him the Heisman in 2000. Heupel finished No. 2 in the voting on his own unbeaten Oklahoma team. These two squared off in the BCS championship game and Weinke was completely shutdown. He threw 26 incompletions, was 1-of-15 on third down, threw two interceptions and the 'Noles' offense scored zero points in the loss to the Sooners. Heupel wasn’t dominant, but he completed 25-of-39 passes for 214 yards and finished as an undefeated national champion.
2008: Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
A trio of quarterbacks finished 1-2-3 in the Heisman voting in 2008. Sam Bradford was the winner on an unbeaten Oklahoma team destined for the national title game. Colt McCoy actually finished second, but it was reigning Heisman winner Tim Tebow who got the most first-place votes (309 to 300). Bradford and Tebow squared off in Miami for the BCS national championship and the Gators passer was the better player. He finished with 231 yards passing, 109 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the 24-14 win. Bradford finished with 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
2001: Ken Dorsey, QB, Miami
Dorsey was a fairly non-descript player on a loaded roster, but he finished third in the Heisman voting to Eric Crouch and Rex Grossman. The voting was extremely tight and the BCS MVP performance from Dorsey in a crushing win over Crouch means he likely would have won the trophy had voting taken place after the game. Dorsey was 22-of-35 passing for 362 yards with three first-half touchdowns and improved to 26-1 as the starter. Meanwhile, Crouch rushed for 114 yards on 22 carries and completed just 5-of-15 passes for 62 yards with no touchdowns and three sacks in the 37-14 loss. In fact, a case could be made that Grossman, who threw for 248 yards and four touchdowns in the Orange Bowl win over Maryland, was also more deserving following the title game.
1999: Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech
Ron Dayne was a run-away Heisman winner with 2,042 points to Joe Hamilton’s 994 and Michael Vick’s 319. Dayne had just become the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher on a team that eventually won the Rose Bowl behind his record-setting MVP performance against Stanford. But when it came to electricity on the field, few players matched Vick’s talents. He led Virginia Tech to its lone title game appearance that year in a matchup with the powerful Florida State Seminoles. After trailing 28-7 late in the second quarter, his dynamic play-making ability led four consecutive scoring drives to take a 29-28 lead as the game headed to the fourth quarter. The Noles scored 18 unanswered points in the fourth to put the game away, but Vick’s greatness was cemented in the Superdome that night. He rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown while throwing for 225 yards, no interceptions and another score in the air. Dayne was extremely deserving and proved it in Pasadena as the Big Ten's only back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP, but a strong case could be made for the Hokies' quarterback after his showcase in New Orleans.