Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

November 21, 2012

Who really decides the Heisman finalists?

BLUEFIELD — It just might be the most overhyped award in all of sports. It’s also an honor that  is often more about style than substance.

The Heisman Trophy. The publicity starts early and never stops, with players moving in or out of consideration, depending on how they did the previous week.

It is an award that should go to the best college football player in America, but how it that determined.

Who decides who is really worthy? Apparently it is ESPN.

Just ask Tennessee fans. My last name is still a subject of ridicule in the Volunteer State since Charles Woodson was awarded the Heisman Trophy over Peyton Manning, who appeared destined the claim the award prior to the season.

It’s not like Manning did anything to lose it, other than lose to Florida again.

Woodson became the first defensive player to win because he did a little bit of everything, not only on defense, but also on special teams and even offense, and did much of it on national television. ESPN got behind the hype, promoted the Michigan defensive back, part-time receiver and return specialist so much that Manning was not the man when the winner was announced.

It happened again last season. Andrew Luck was the favorite from start until mid-November, Yet, Griffin, who did have the numbers with 4,293 yards and 37 scores — although the Heisman was awarded before his outrageous stats the Alamo Bowl — had a couple of highlight reel plays down the stretch, including completing a 34-yard touchdown pass with 8 seconds left to lead Baylor to its first win ever over Oklahoma.

That play pushed Griffin over the top.

There is no clear cut winner in this Heisman race. Southern Cal’s Matt Barkley was the favorite prior to the season, but the Trojans collapsed quicker than Lane Kiffin could say grab his lovely wife and move to California.

Who are the candidates? Who decides?

I did a little research and found the top five according to ESPN and USA Today are exactly the same. How did those two media giants come to the same conclusions?

The favorites are Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Kansas State signal-caller Collin Klein, USC receiver Marquse Lee and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

Manziel is a redshirt freshman who burst onto the scene in the Aggies’ upset win over Alabama. He is ranked 25th in the nation in passing with 3,047 yards, 21 touchdowns and has run for 1,114 yards and 17 more scores.

A freshman has never won the award, and could become the first.

That brings us to the other two quarterbacks on the list. Collin Klein, who helped continue the Sports Illustrated jinx by appearing on the cover a few days before the Wildcats were thrashed last week by Baylor.

He was thought to the leading candidate prior to that game. Why? He is ranked 78th in passing with 2,306 yards and 14 touchdowns and run for 787 yards and 20 more scores. Those are good numbers, but Heisman worthy?

Miller leads the undefeated Buckeyes, who are ineligible for postseason play. His numbers include 1,850 yards and 14 scores through the air, and 1,214 yards and 13 scores on the ground. Also good numbers, but Heisman worthy?

Lee has recorded 107 receptions for 1,605 yards and 14 touchdowns, which are very worthy numbers, but wide receivers are at a disadvantage in the Heisman voting since the award almost always goes to a quarterback or running back.

Plus, the Trojans have been the nation’s biggest disappointment, and he will pay for that discretion.

The eventual winner will be ... Te’o. Unless the Sports Illustrated jinx follows this week with Notre Dame on the cover of the next issue.

Notre Dame is back to national prominence for the first time in years, and the Fighting Irish doesn’t really have a ‘name’ player on offense. Enter Te’o, who is a fine player, but Heisman worthy?

He leads Notre Dame’s top-ranked defense with 99, which is 8.9 per game, tied for 44th in the nation. He also has six interceptions to lead the Irish, but teammates Stephon Tuitt and Prince Shembo have many more sacks and tackles for loss.

Why Te’o and not someone else on the Irish? Why not someone else somewhere else?

Who chooses the final three that will congregate in New York for the ceremony.

Geno Smith still has incredible numbers, but West Virginia’s troubles have ended his hopes. Even Rakeen Cato from Marshall leads the nation in passing, but he isn’t even mentioned,

What about a combination receiver, return specialist and now a running back. All Tavon Austin has done for the Mountaineers is lead the nation with 10.0 catches (100) per game, second in all-purpose yards (2,313), ninth in receiving yards per game (105.5) and 11th in receiving yards (1,050).

All that and he ran for a school record 344 yards on the ground against Oklahoma, and he’s not a running back. The Mountaineers even played on national television, and Austin’s performance, which included 572 all-purpose yards, was Heisman worthy.

If there is a more dynamic player in America, some folks, including Lou Holtz and Dana Holgorsen, haven’t seen him. Austin can do it all, as a receiver, return specialist and now a running back.

Woodson was able to pass Manning by playing offense, defense and special teams. Austin stars in the two of three.

West Virginia’s pass defense has been pretty porous this season.

Hmm...wonder if Austin could play defense too?

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