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Redefining the Heisman

True candidates for 'most outstanding player'; more

Posted: Wednesday August 22, 2007 12:58PM; Updated: Wednesday August 22, 2007 4:05PM
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Glenn Dorsey
LSU DT Glenn Dorsey may be the best overall player in college football this season.
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMI
Stewart Mandel's first book, Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls: Tackling the Chaos and Controversy that Reign Over College Football is available now.
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Remember that episode of Entourage last year when Vince, Ari and the gang nervously waited out an L.A. blackout desperate to hear the opening-day box office numbers for Aquaman? Well, that's kind of how I feel this week (though I do not anticipate crashing any high school parties).

On Friday, a project I first began working on nearly two-and-a-half years ago will finally be unleashed to the masses -- and there's absolutely no way of knowing how it will be received. Will people love it or hate it? Will the reviewers praise it or pan it? Will it sell 100,000 copies or 100? I honestly have no idea.

The only thing I'm certain of regarding Bowls, Polls and Tattered Souls is that you, the Mailbag audience, will find the material interesting. Why am I so sure of that? Because you guys were the inspiration for the book.

Whenever someone asks me the inevitable, "So, what is your book about," I reply with some variation of the following: "These are the 10 issues that, in reading thousands of Mailbag submissions over the past few years, I've found to be of most pressing concern to the fans of college football." They're the universal topics that keep coming up over and over again, like the one I received this week from Jeremy in Baton Rouge, La., who, in the course of one sentence, managed to sum up the entire thesis of Chapter 3.

What exactly is the Heisman Trophy supposed to represent these days? It would seem to me that the Heisman should predict the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. So what happened to Troy Smith on draft day?

In theory, the Heisman represents exactly the same thing it did the day the Downtown Athletic Club created the award some 70 years ago: "The [most] outstanding college football player in the United States." In reality, it's come to represent "the most outstanding junior or senior quarterback or running back who plays for a BCS contender." The sport has changed considerably over the past 70 years, with highly talented players shining at a variety of different positions and an increasingly diverse set of schools, yet for some reason the pool of candidates is actually narrower today than it was then.

I don't necessarily agree with Jeremy's assertion that the Heisman selection should mirror the No. 1 draft pick (not as long as NFL GMs keep taking guys like Mario Williams with the top pick). However, there's no question the Heisman's prestige gets tainted a little more each time a Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Jason White or Troy Smith is deemed unworthy by the pros. Like it or not, the NFL is the gold standard by which most of mainstream America ultimately judges football players, and while all of the aforementioned guys did something special to earn themselves a permanent place in history, reality cruelly dictates they're going to be remembered primarily in a negative light. (Obviously Smith, currently a rookie with the Ravens, still has a chance to avoid that fate.)

The Heisman is a college award, and by no means should we start selecting the winner based on pro potential. However, I think we could avoid many of these so-called "Heisman busts" if the voters (of which I am one) actually took it upon themselves to honor the nation's best player, not the nation's best "Heisman candidate." For instance, take a look at this list of Heisman winners from 1999-2003: Ron Dayne, Weinke, Crouch, Carson Palmer and White. While all were accomplished college players (Dayne broke the all-time rushing record, for crying out loud), four of the five are already considered certifiable Heisman busts.

Now, what if we could go back and replace those guys with four alternate winners, each of whom one could justifiably argue was the best player in the country that season, but each of whom also didn't fit the traditional Heisman mold. This is what that list might look like, along with the reason each player probably didn't win it:

1999: Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (freshman)
2000: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU (non-BCS school)
2001: Roy Williams, DB, Oklahoma (purely defensive player)
2002: Carson Palmer, QB, USC
2003: Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pittsburgh (sophomore and pure wide receiver)

Think that list wouldn't stand the test of time a little better (Vick's now-villainous image notwithstanding)?

Of course, we in the media help create this problem in the first place by putting out these "Heisman Watch" lists that, of course, consist solely of traditional candidates. But with all due respect to Darren McFadden, Steve Slaton & Co., is it not possible that, say, LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey could be the best player in the country this season? Why do we rule him out before the competition even begins?

If I were making a preseason Heisman list for this season, taking into account all classes, positions and schools, here's what it would look like:

1. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
2. Glenn Dorsey, DT, LSU
3. Pat White, QB/Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (as long as we're reinventing the rules ...)
4. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State
5. Jake Long, T, Michigan
6. DeSean Jackson, WR/PR, Cal
7. Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville
8. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii
9. Percy Harvin, WR, Florida
10. Kenny Phillips, S, Miami

A few notes: I assume the most notable "omission" here is considered to be John David Booty. It's nothing against Booty as a player -- I just think the main reason he's on these lists in the first place is because he's USC's quarterback. I think Mike Hart (not on the list) is a solid tailback, but I think he owes a whole bunch of his yards to the overpowering Long, hence his inclusion. And Phillips has a chance to be a Roy Williams/Reggie Nelson/LaRon Landry-caliber difference-maker this year.

I apologize if that was an inordinately long answer to a rather simple question, but hopefully it gives you something to look forward to. In the book, that topic carries on for ... oh, another 23 pages.

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