Who Will Win the Athletic Wuerffel Award?

Every year in December, the Downtown Athletic Club bestows the most prestigious award in college football to the "most outstanding player" in the country. That award, named after John Heisman, the Director of the Club and former AD at Auburn, Clemson, and Georgia Tech, is known throughout sports as the Heisman Trophy and on ODB as the "Athletic Wuerffel."

This year, Baylor is privileged enough to have on its team a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Robert Griffin III, easily the greatest offensive player our school has ever seen and possibly the greatest player period. Given that the votes for this year's Heisman Trophy are due next week from the voters, some of whom no doubt have already submitted their ballots, I have decided to delve into the complicated waters of the Heisman for two reasons: 1) to figure out who will win, and 2) to figure out who SHOULD win this year. Only a handful of true candidates for the Trophy remain after recent upsets and/or memorable performances and given patterns in how the Trophy has been awarded in the past, those candidates can be identified and ranked.*

*NOTE: I am intentionally being as unscientific as I believe many Heisman voters to be. In the coming days we at ODB will delve more deeply into statistical arguments, particularly for our boy RGIII, for who should win the Heisman, but I wanted to start off by looking at the recent history of the award and making a prediction that way. Is it all that useful? Probably not. Is it interesting? I think so. Am I writing this because I'm bored? Absolutely.

Let me say at the outset that college football is blessed to have a significant number of skilled observers who look at this Trophy in particular from every possible angle. Some conduct straw polls, some analyze historical trends, some talk to coaches or other experts to try to gain a pulse. Each has their own way of looking at the award, what it means, and how it should be determined. Websites like HeismanPundit.com, StiffArmTrophy.com, and ESPN's own Heisman Watch exist to provide predictions and information on what shapes up in most years to be an incredible race. Across SBNation's 300+ college blogs, I have no doubt that you have seen or will see dozens, if not more, of articles about the Heisman and where it is likely to go.

It is important to note that one interesting aspect to the Heisman balloting is the regional divisions into which voters are separated. According to the Downtown Athletic Club, these regional divisions were created to simplify the appointment of voters; each region has a Sectional Representative that appoints State Representatives that then choose the individual voters. Each section, however, receives the same number of votes: 145. Multiply that by 6 sections and you have 870 media votes to go along with the 55 votes of the existing former Heisman winners and 1 vote granted to the public at large. Texas is part of the Southwest section and represented at the section level by Dave Campbell.

The easiest way to determine who will win the Heisman is to look at who has won it in the past. Recently, it seems like the trophy goes through phases. In the late 90s, the Trophy was dominated by running backs who put up big rushing numbers. Guys like Ron Dayne and Ricky Williams won the Heisman because of their individual numbers rather than that of the teams for which they played. Since 2000, however, the Heisman has increasingly become an award given to the best player on the best team.

Year Winner School Position BCS NCG?
2010 Cameron Newton Auburn QB Yes
2009 Mark Ingram Alabama RB Yes
2008 Sam Bradford Oklahoma QB Yes
2007 Tim Tebow Florida QB No
2006 Reggie Bush USC RB Yes
2005 Troy Smith Ohio State QB Yes
2004 Matt Leinart USC QB Yes
2003 Jason White OU QB Yes
2002 Carson Palmer USC QB No
2001 Eric Crouch Nebraska QB Yes
2000 Chris Weinke FSU QB Yes

I included the right-most column to demonstrate the point, 9 of the last 11 Heisman Trophy winners played for teams in the BCS National Championship game. That's about 82% and possibly the best predictor of all for who will win the award-- just look at who is playing in the last game of the season. One of the two outliers, Carson Palmer, played for a team that was eventually named the AP National Champion and had a great argument to play in the BCS game if only they could have figured out how to put three teams on the same field at the same time. That means 10 of the last 11, or ~91%, of the Heisman winners since 2000 played for a team awarded some kind of national championship trophy. The other outlier was Tim Tebow, who is Tim Tebow.*

*It is worth noting that the year Tebow won the Heisman, the two starting QBs in the national championship game were Todd Boeckman and Matt Flynn. Those guys weren't winning anything except the Trent Dilfer Award for Outstanding Game Management.

The second column from the right shows the position played by each award winner. As you can see, 9 of the last 11 winners (though a different 9 from before) shared a position-- Quarterback. 7 of those 9 were on the list we just talked about. That means that if you were the starting quarterback of a team that would play in the national championship game in the last 11 years, you had about a 1 in 3 chance to win the Heisman. That's pretty incredible. The only two non-QBs on the list were RBs for teams playing for the national championship.

We can use this information to create two basic rules, or predictions, for who will win the award in a given year. The first rule is simple-- choose the best offensive player on the best team, but can be broken up into a priority system as follows:

1A- If a QB having a statistically dominant season for a team in the BCS NC game exists, he will likely win. If not...

1B- Look to the RBs on those same teams. Wide receivers and defensive players simply do not win the Trophy anymore, so if 1A doesn't work, pick the best RB in the NC game. Mark Ingram won the 2009 Heisman (the closest vote ever) not because of his statistics (runner-up Toby Gerhart bested him in virtually ever offensive category), but because he was the best offensive player on the best team, Alabama.

2- Pick Tim Tebow.

*Considering I basically just made them up, these rules are not foolproof (or even arguably that informative), the biggest of which is obviously Reggie Bush. In 2005, Bush won the Heisman with the second-most first-place votes and the second-most points in the history of the Heisman balloting after amassing over 2600 yards from scrimmage. Though he didn't start a majority of the games because of Lendale White, he was the undisputed best offensive player on what most people thought to be the best team in the country until Vince Young took the Rose Bowl to 11 that year. Until another Reggie Bush comes along, we can probably stick to the rules.

Most experts looking at the 2011 Heisman Race recognize the same basic pool of 9 (or so) candidates that are "in the conversation." Using the above rules, we can apply a traditionalist approach to check each player off the list and determine who, according to recent patterns, will win this year's Trophy.

The Wisconsin Contingent-- Russell Wilson (QB) and Monte Ball (RB)- If Wisconsin could defend Hail Mary passes, these two players, both of whom are having exquisite statistical seasons, would really give Heisman voters across the country something to think about. Two dramatic losses and a BCS ranking in the teens later and neither probably has a realistic chance to win the award because Wisconsin has no chance to play in the national championship game. That's two down.

Kellen Moore (QB) from Boise State-- If Boise State had a kicker, Moore's statistics would also likely give voters pause in keeping him off their ballots. Because they don't, though, and somehow managed to lose to TCU again this season, Moore is almost certainly not going to win. There goes another.

Matt Barkley (QB) from USC-- Different QB, same problem. Because of a total ban on postseason play, USC isn't even allowed to be ranked in the BCS this year, much less play for the National Championship. It's really too bad for Barkley, QB for an underrated USC team that lost one game they shouldn't (to ASU earlier in the season) and one game they should (to Stanford in triple OT exactly one month ago). Without that ban and without that loss to ASU, Barkley could be looking at a very strong Heisman campaign given that he plays for USC (and the voters love them some Trojans) and is having a superb statistical season.

Case Keenum (QB) from Houston-- God. I can't believe I'm having to go over this. Because he has dominated defensive powerhouses like North Texas, Rice, East Carolina, Marshall, UAB, Tulane, Tulsa (owners of the 103rd, 90th, 74th, 70th, 118th, 111th-ranked defenses according to Football Outsiders' S&P+ rankings) and Georgia State (FCS) and racked up ridiculous stats and his team has gone undefeated against those squads, people want to believe that Case Keenum deserves legitimate consideration for the Heisman. He won't get it because Houston shouldn't and won't play for the National Championship.

Robert Griffin III (QB) from Baylor-- Kinda like my personal favorite candidate, RGIII. In the coming days we're going to highlight why RGIII should receive the Heisman Trophy (short version: he's been the most outstanding player in college football this season regardless of how his defense has played behind him, will almost definitely set a new NCAA record for passing efficiency in a season, and will have accounted for more than 4,000 yards and 40 TDs), but the fact of the matter is that according to a traditionalist approach, Griffin's team simply isn't good enough to warrant him serious consideration. I'm not saying I agree with it; I'm actually saying I don't at all, but the only comparable candidate in recent history to win it was Tim Tebow, and Tebow played for a team that won the NC the previous and following seasons and ... well ... he's Tim Tebow. RGIII probably won't win it, though he should.

Andrew Luck (QB) from Stanford-- The good news is that I don't think Andrew Luck will, either. If anyone other than the last person on my list does, it will probably be Luck because the media absolutely adores him, but Stanford's loss to Oregon means that not only will Stanford not play for the NC, it won't even play for the Pac-12 championship. Statistically, Luck had a better season last year when he finished second to Newton, and I think his team's lack of success will mean that he finishes second again this year to...

Trent Richardson (RB) from Alabama-- The best offensive player on a team that will likely play for the national championship in a little under five weeks (how ridiculous is that?), Richardson meets the primary criteria for the Heisman this year in exactly the same way former teammate Mark Ingram did two years ago. Interestingly enough, Richardson faces the same weakness in his campaign now that Ingram did then-- lack of statistical dominance. That factor could mean that the vote is as close or closer than it was two years ago. Wouldn't it be something if another Stanford Cardinal finished second in an extremely close race to another Alabama running back?

I actually think that's exactly what's going to happen. Trent Richardson is going to finish first for the 2011 Heisman Trophy in a very close race over Stanford's Andrew Luck despite the fact that better options than both exist. Heisman voters have demonstrated, especially recently, that they value winning over all else and Trent Richardson's Alabama team has won enough to put itself in the NC game and Richardson behind that podium in NYC. RGIII will finish third as of this moment on the strength of his statistical argument and the fact that he turned Baylor into an 8-win team (possibly 9, here's hoping to a HAMbino performance against Texas this Saturday), probably by a wider margin than Colt McCoy did in 2009 (because McCoy's Longhorns played for the NC against Alabama).

Again, I'm not saying it SHOULD happen this way; I'm saying that I think it will.

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