Do rankings have an influence as to how voters view the Heisman candidates? Simply put:
Here’s why (in short, the credentials for a Heisman winner change each and every year but keep reading for examples):
As much as this season for Lamar Jackson feels like a once-in-a-lifetime affair, his run towards the Heisman is in similar juncture as Heisman winners of the past.
- Johnny Manziel in 2012; threw for 3,706 yards and 26 TD’s, ran for 1,410 yards and 21 TD’s.*
- Robert Griffin III in 2011; threw for 4,293 yards and 37 TD’s, ran for 700 yards and 10 TD’s.*
- Tim Tebow in 2007; threw for 3,286 yards and 32 TD’s, ran for 895 yards and 23 TD’s.*
Heisman contender of the present:
- Lamar Jackson in 2016; threw for 3,390 yards and 30 TD’s, ran for 1,538 yards and 21 TD’s.
Similar, no? One category sticks out like a sore thumb when comparing these four Heisman-ites: they weren’t playing for anything but pride this time of year. Manziel was 10-2, one game behind Alabama for the SEC West. Griffin III was 9-3, hovering around the top-25 for the greater part of the season. Tebow was 9-3, as high as a top-3 team and as low as an top-18 team in the AP Polls. Jackson is 9-3, ranked #13 in the latest CFP Rankings, one spot below FSU, a team Louisville destroyed in the third week of the season.
What’s interesting about that FSU game on 9/17, which Louisville won 63-20, is that game represented the stepping stone in which Lamar Jackson took the top position on the Heisman pedestal. Louisville was also 3-0 and would be ranked #3 after that game. If the CFP Selection Committee devalues that head-to-head matchup, should Heisman voters too? Not sure but I do know that at the end of the day, the stats are in the same barrel of numbers as the eight TD game against Charlotte and the seven TD game against Marshall.
In the end, are voters comparing stats and/or are they weighting wins/losses and competition level? It’s clear that Jackson has a valid argument for the Heisman compared to the three previous winners mentioned above. History might not always back up that argument however. Combined, Manziel – RG3 – Tebow, had a record of 27-8 when they won the Heisman. Since 2004, eight winners had a combined winning record of 98-3. That’s remarkably different.
Since 2004, sometimes voters would favor the best statistical season, like Jackson. Sometimes they would favor the best player on the best team. Sometimes it was both. Let’s look at the winners since 2004 who won the Heisman:
2015 – Derrick Henry: Great stats, a lot of rushing yards, a lot of TD’s. However, technically speaking Leonard Fournette’s game averages were better in yards, ypc, and TD’s as well as having more receiving yards. Fournette (8-3) finished 6th. Henry wound up winning National Championship.
2014 – Marcus Mariota: Best stats of any P-5 quarterback including leading the country in total TD’s (15). Mariota lost in the National Championship.
2013 – Jameis Winston: Threw 1,000 less yards, 10 less TD’s and more INT’s than Fresno State’s Derek Carr (11-1). Winston wound up winning the National Championship. Sidenote: Carr has turned out to be one hell of a quarterback.
2012 – Manziel: best stats.
2011 – The Third: best stats.
2010 – Cam Newton: Cam had ridiculous numbers. Very similar to Lamar Jackson’s…minus the three losses of course. Newton wound up winning the National Championship.
2009 – Mark Ingram: Heisman runner-up Toby Gearhart (8-4) had more than 200 rushing yards and 11 rushing TD’s than Ingram. Ingram wound up winning the National Championship.
2008 – Sam Bradford: Big numbers, a lot of TD’s, nobody had a better season throwing the ball than Bradford. Wound up losing the National Championship.
2007 – Tebow: best stats.
2006 – Troy Smith: Hawaii’s Colt Brennan (10-3) had twice as many yards and twice as many total TD’s as Smith. Hell, Brady Quinn had better numbers than Smith. The wild thing is the margin of victory Smith won by; 801 first place votes while the next closest player, Darren McFadden had 45. Brennan finished 6th by the way. Smith did end up winning a National Championship but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
2005 – Reggie Bush: Bush had impressive rushing yards but also contributed greatly in receiving as well as the return game. Bush lost the National Championship.
2004 – Matt Leinart: Leinart beat out Adrian Peterson (2nd) and Aaron Rodgers (9th) in the Heisman. That should tell you all you need to know. Leinart did however, play on a really good team and his numbers reflected it. He also won the National Championship so there’s that too.
*Wildly different resumes but one common denominator among every winner mentioned: Not one loss in November, Jackson could be the first to win the Heisman and lose in November since 2001, and Jackson lost twice in the turkey month.
I suppose the conclusion of this article would be; whatever it is the Heisman voters are looking for in a candidate, it’s consistently inconsistent. If they want the stats without the winning record than Lamar Jackson, D’Onta Foreman, or Donnel Pumphrey is their guy. If they want best team, best player, stats are thrown out the window, than Jalen Hurts or JT Barrett is probably their guy. If they’re looking for a helping of both success on the scoreboard and in the stat sheet, maybe Deshaun Watson or Jake Browning is their guy. Whoever it is will be worthy of the award, right?