(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
On Saturday, the 70th Heisman Trophy will be awarded to college football’s top player. More than likely it will be handed to USC’s Reggie Bush, but he isn’t college football’s top player. He isn’t even the best running back in the country.
But he plays for one of the most glamorous institutions in all of college football. Add that to the fact that they haven’t lost in a few years, and he’s a mortal lock to walk away with the hardware.
Bush is an easy choice. Texas’ Vince Young will probably come in second, but most of the voters had their minds set on Bush weeks ago.
In the last 15 years Heisman voting has more closely resembled a prom night election than an actual representation of college football’s most outstanding performer. The award usually goes to someone who puts up gaudy numbers for a winning team in a major conference. And it usually goes to a running back, quarterback, or wide receiver.
A QB has won the last five and 10 of the last 16. There have only been two winners who weren’t a QB, RB or WR in the last 55 years. Cornerback Charles Woodson of Michigan won in 1997, and Notre Dame end Leon Hart won it in 1949.
Am I supposed to seriously believe that there weren’t any other outstanding players at other positions in that time frame? Even if you’re an incredible skill player (QB, WR, RB), you can still be left out if you have the misfortune of playing somewhere other than a major conference.
From 1991 to 1994, Steve McNair played for Alcorn State and put up eye-popping numbers. He threw for 14,496 yards and 152 touchdowns in his career. He had 16,823 all-purpose yards and threw for 4,863 yards in his senior season alone. He also threw for 649 yards in one game his senior year.
And Alcorn St. won games. But did MacNair’s performance warrant a Heisman? Nope. That year the trophy went to Rashaan Salaam of Colorado, who rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns. McNair did finish third in the balloting, just 1,088 votes behind Salaam.
We all know now who the better player was. I’m not saying that the Heisman should be awarded on NFL potential, but I think how the winners did in the pros goes a long way in revealing what kind of player they really were in college.
A lot of times players just happen to be in the right system and produce big numbers, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best player in college. Like Andre Ware, or Ty Detmer, or Danny Weurffel, or Gino Torretta. Those guys all walked away with the Heisman and straight into ‘Where are they now?’ territory. There have only been three Heisman winners since 1989 that have made an impact in the NFL.
And then there’s the mid-major bias. The last player to win from a mid-major school was Roger Staubach of Navy in 1963. There are tons of guys who, for whatever reason, didn’t make it to one of the big-time conferences, but can still play ball on any level.
Like Memphis Tiger DeAngelo Williams of Wynne.
He is your true Heisman winner this year, no matter what name is called Saturday at the Touchdown Club. Williams finished his four-year career with Memphis (where he has been an outstanding citizen and student) as the NCAA’s Division 1 all-time leader in all-purpose yardage with 7,210 yards.
He is also fourth all-time in rushing yards and is tied with Heisman winners Archie Griffin and Tony Dorsett for most 100-yard games in a career (which he will more than likely break in the Motor City Bowl). And by the way, he has never fumbled the ball.
He put up those numbers after only gaining 684 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards his freshman year. In the process, he helped break the Tigers’ 35-year bowl drought and has led them to their third straight postseason appearance.
The knock against him is Memphis’ Conference USA schedule. But C-USA is still Division 1 and is loaded with quality NFL prospects on defense. Besides, if a back can put up those kinds of numbers when he is the sole focal point of a defense’s efforts, he has to be applauded.
Bear in mind that Williams carved his way into the NCAA record books this year sharing the backfield with a converted wide receiver as quarterback. The Tigers lost their top two quarterbacks to broken fibulas and decided to go with wide receiver Maurice Avery after the third string QB couldn’t get it done.
If you don’t think defenses were only geared to stop Williams, you’re delusional. And he still put up 1,599 yards and 13 touchdowns this year.
The only games he didn’t break 100 was in the first game of the year against a tough Ole Miss defense and against Tennessee, a game in which he didn’t play because Coach Tommy West elected not to play him off the bench due to an ankle injury.
Reggie Bush rushed for 1,398 yards against the crummy Pac-10, but didn’t break the century mark against Hawaii, Washington, Washington State and California. Teams I would wager who would be fighting for middle of the pack status in other conferences.
Picture it this way: What if Williams had the luxury of running behind USC’s offensive line with a quarterback like Matt Leinart in the same backfield? Watching Williams as much as I have, my guess is he would rush for 250 yards a game.
Now on the flip side, what kind of back would Bush be if he had to run behind the Tigers’ line with a wide receiver as quarterback? He would be just another average back in C-USA, along the lines of Marshall’s Ahmad Bradshaw or Central Florida’s Kevin Smith.
But DeAngelo might not even get invited to New York to watch Bush win his award. On Wednesday Sports Illustrated released their All-American squad and Williams was on the second team. After he set the record for all-propose yardage, his accomplishment couldn’t even warrant a mention on most sports outlets. ESPN.com has a Heisman watch page, updating candidate’s performances, and Williams wasn’t even on their list of seven finalists.
It’s a shame the best college running back doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. If there is any justice in the universe he’ll at least win the Doak Walker Award.
In any event, he’ll always be a hero in Memphis for what he has done for the Tiger football program. I’ll forever remember him as the Heisman Trophy winner of 2005, even if the voters are too ignorant to realize it.