Should Bowls Count Towards Heisman?

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Polls, rankings, “experts,” all tools the media uses to evaluate, group and ultimately award college football players and teams.  Although hyperboles are fun, the only defining statement happens between the white lines.  Baker Mayfield has proven week in and week out that he’s the best player in college football.  He’s the epitome of efficiency and has mastered the QB position on the college level.  Baker Mayfield will win the Heisman next Saturday.  But who’s going to NYC with him?  Saquon Barkley? Bryce Love?  J.T. Barrett?  Kerryon Johnson? Jonathan Taylor?  Is it necessary we decide now before all these players play their last game of the season?

Ballots are due Monday, December 4th.  Finalists are announced that evening.  Why don’t bowl games carry any value in terms of evaluating a player?  The Heisman Trust is allowing the Conference Championship to be included in the voting process, why not bowl games?

Lets take the last three Heisman winners and review how the vote probably would’ve gone had the voters waited until after the bowl season to vote:

2016

Lamar Jackson won the Heisman over Deshaun Watson (and others).  Jackson had 2,144 voting points and Watson had 1,524.  (Ballots are selected in a 1st, 2nd, 3rd place format.  1st place gets three points, 2nd gets two points, and 3rd gets..you guessed it, one point).

Jackson didn’t play in a conference championship so he essentially won the Heisman with out-of-conference (Charlotte, Marshall, and Houston (L)) and his ACC play).  Not knocking Jackson and the season he had, 51 total TD’s with all the rushing and passing yards, he was unstoppable.  Until he was stopped.  Against LSU in the Citrus Bowl, Jackson and the Cardinals’ offense met the 5th ranked scoring defense and this was Jackson’s stat line:

  • 10/27 passing (37%)
  • 153 passing yards
  • 26 rushes for 33 yards (1.27 YPC)
  • 0 touchdowns

Let’s not count the ACC Championship Deshaun Watson played in, accounted for 373 total yards and five TD’s and oh by the way, won the game.  We can’t use this game because either Jackson won the Heisman prior to this weekend or Watson simply didn’t do enough.  Use your best judgement on that one.  Instead, let’s look at the two College Football Playoff games in which Watson averaged 389 total YPG, totaled seven TD’s and did so against Ohio State and the vaunted ‘Bama defense, a team ranked #1 in scoring defense in 2016.

Who would win the Heisman if they included bowl games in 2016?

2015

Heisman voting summary: Alabama’s Derrick Henry beat out Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, 1,832 points to 1,539 points, respectively.

Alabama made the CFP in 2015 so in the two games Henry played in, (38-0 win against Michigan State and a 45-40 win against Clemson in the National Championship) Henry averaged 116.5 rushing YPG, 4.1 YPC and totaled five TD’s.  Good stats but not overwhelmingly Heisman-like impressive especially considering three of those five TD’s were from one-yard out and behind arguably the best offensive line in college football.  Henry was little to no impact in any other phases of the games.  He had one catch for -6 yards against MSU.  But then again, he only caught 11 passes in 15 games all year.

Stanford (12-2) played Iowa in the Rose Bowl and McCaffrey did this:

  • 172 yards rushing with 9.6 YPC
  • 4 catches for 105 yards and one TD
  • 63 yard punt return for TD

Stanford won the Rose Bowl 45-16 and McCaffrey set a new record for all-purpose yards with 3,864 yards in a season.  Statistically, the only major advantage Derrick Henry had in 2015 was 28 rushing TD’s to 15 TD’s for McCaffrey (eight rushing, five receiving, and one kick and one punt return).

*For those that look deeper into the statistics,12 of those 28 TD’s from Henry were scored from within the two-yard line.  McCaffrey wasn’t the primary goal-line, short-yardage back for Stanford.  Remound Wright led the Cardinals in TD’s with 13 while averaging only 2.91 YPC.  Henry also had more total rushing yards than McCaffrey, but only averaged 3 yards more per game than McCaffrey (147.93 to 144.21, respectively) in 2015.  The receiving yard total went McCaffrey’s way, 645 yards to 91 yards, again very respectively.  In review, TD’s matter a lot to Heisman voters in 2015, but not so much in 2014.

That’s a lot to chew on but who would be your 2015 Heisman winner if the votes came after bowl season?

2014

Marcus Mariota more than doubled the Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon.  Mariota accumulated 2,534 points while Gordon had 1,250 points.  It’s going to be nearly impossible to persuade anybody to think Mariota did not deserve the Heisman.  Let’s be real.  The Oregon QB threw for 42 TD’s, ran for another 15 TD’s, and his team was good enough to play in the National Championship.

What makes this comparison between Mariota and Gordon so interesting is that Mariota may still have won the Heisman before Conference Championship Weekend, but he certainly would not have won at that wide of margin had it not been for that weekend.  In the Pac-12 Championship, Mariota totaled 366 yards and five TD’s in a blowout win vs. Arizona, 51-13.  In the Big-10 Championship, Gordon was held to just 76 rushing yards on 26 carries and obviously zero TD’s considering Wisconsin got thumped by OSU, 59-0.

The outcomes from Championship Weekend led to Mariota receiving 788 first place votes to Gordon’s 37 first place votes.  It may just have been icing on the cake from a terrific season from Mariota to become the runaway winner of the Heisman.  However, after bowl season commenced it may have been Gordon who had the more historic year.  Gordon ran for 251 yards and three TD’s in a win vs. Auburn on New Years Day.  This game brought his total 2,587 rushing yards or 2nd all-time for a single season behind Barry Sanders’ 2,628 in 1988.  Gordon’s 29 rushing TD’s placed him 5th all-time for a single season.

Gordon may still have lost the award despite having better rushing numbers than Derrick Henry had, the 2015 Heisman winner.  It’s feasible to think the Heisman race would have been much closer than the outcome.

2009

One more example I’d like to use comes courteous from the closest Heisman race in history.  Mark Ingram beat out Toby Gerhart by the slimmest of margins.  Ingram – 1,304 / Gerhart – 1,276.  This vote was decided by less than 1% of the total votes.  If you compare the tale-of-the-tape it will basically say this: Gerhart had the better stats and Ingram was the best player on the best team.  What if they were allowed to play one game to settle the debate?

Ingram and Alabama’s game mattered a bit more because they won a National Championship over Texas.  Ingram ran for 116 yards and two TD’s.  Okay, okay.  Gerhart and Stanford lost in the Sun Bowl to Oklahoma but Gerhart still put up 155 yards and two TD’s.

Heisman votes in 2009 pretty much came down to voter preference.

Luckily for the voters in 2017, Mayfield completes both criteria’s.  He’s having the perfect season as a quarterback.  He’s at or near the top in every important passing category.  Obviously there is more football to be played with bowl games and I can throw out a bunch of “what if’s” scenarios, but in the end every voter is different.  But as a fan of both the Heisman and college football, it would add more to these bowl games if both could be woven into the fabric of football history

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