Longing for the day when Heisman voters think outside the box
Few Heisman voters acknowledge the best player can be a non-QB, RB or WR
Since 1980, only one player outside the Holy Trinity placed higher than fourth
This season, DT Ndamukong Suh and S Eric Berry should warrant consideration
If he reaches the end zone for the fourth time in his career, Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh might reprise the Ducky Dance. The 300-pounder debuted the jig, named after a Parasaurolophus from The Land Before Time movie series, last season after he lined up at fullback and caught a touchdown pass against Kansas. But could Suh, a player NFL scouts could consider the nation's best college football player by season's end, use such a moment to make a more iconic statement?
"Do I strike the pose?" Suh said. "No, I do not. I do not strike the pose."
With that vaguely Suess-ish answer, Suh scuttled the notion he might channel Desmond Howard and strike a blow for all the husky-section shoppers ignored by Heisman Trophy voters. Besides, even if Nebraska bought a billboard in Times Square and treated tourists to a 30-foot tall image of Suh doing his best impression of former New York University back Ed Smith's classic stiff-arm, Heisman voters probably wouldn't think of Suh when they cast their ballots.
Which is unfortunate, because even in an era when television and the Internet take fans deeper inside the game than ever, most Heisman voters can't wrap their brains around the possibility that the "Most Outstanding College Football Player in the United States" -- the man voters are asked to elect -- could be someone other than quarterback, running back or wide receiver who also returns kicks.
Obviously, this might not be the best year to make this argument. Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (2007 winner), Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford (2008 winner) and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (2008 runner-up, who might have won in any other year) could be the best trio of quarterbacks playing simultaneously in a generation. But with no clear consensus on who is the best, maybe it's time to start considering the 19 positions Heisman voters routinely overlook.
Tebow, Bradford and McCoy were excellent choices last year, but an equally excellent choice didn't even finish in the top 10. Offensive tackle Andre Smith, who steamrolled SEC defenders for three seasons, helped the Crimson Tide improve from 7-6 in 2007 to 12-1 by the time votes were due for the 2008 Heisman. Yet Smith wasn't even considered.
In 2001, when Heisman voters had no clear favorite and Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch won the award, the best player on the nation's best team went completely ignored. That year, Miami destroyed every team in its path en route to a national title. Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey finished third in the balloting, garnering 109 first-place votes. Dorsey, though, wasn't even the best player on his own offense. That was tackle Bryant McKinnie, who finished eighth. The soul of the Hurricanes, safety Ed Reed, didn't even place.
So bless Tennessee for mounting a campaign for safety Eric Berry. Though Volunteers fans never will forgive Heisman voters for choosing Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson over Vols quarterback Peyton Manning in 1997, at least voters that year gave serious thought to the notion that a defensive player can change a game just as much as an offensive one. Of course, if Woodson hadn't occasionally lined up at receiver, he probably would have finished fourth.
Since 1980, when Pitt defensive end Hugh Green finished second behind South Carolina back George Rogers, no player outside the Holy Trinity of positions has finished higher than fourth except Woodson. (Gordie Lockbaum, the Holy Cross dynamo who finished third in 1987, played running back and defensive back in equal doses.) Ohio State's Orlando Pace, the most dominant offensive lineman of the '90s, finished fourth in 1996. Penn State's LeVar Arrington, one of the most dynamic linebackers in the college game, finished ninth in 1999.
Let us dream for a moment that Heisman voters collectively began appreciating all 22 positions. What positions would get added to the usual mix? The offensive line positions are probably out, for two major reasons.
The first, Alabama offensive guard Mike Johnson explained, is a lack of statistics. "There are no measurables when it comes to us," Johnson said. "There are no catches. No carries. No touchdowns." And since offensive line grading varies from coach to coach, there is no reliable metric that would allow quantitative comparison.
Florida State offensive line coach Rick Trickett added the very nature of offensive linemen would prohibit them from garnering enough individual attention to win such an award. The best linemen, Trickett said, are concerned more about their line's performance as a whole than about individual glory. "All I sell is the unit," Trickett said. "Our group is the unit. There's only one quarterback. Only one tailback."
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