Columnists, Sports

Foul Shots: The problem with Heisman voting

The Heisman Trophy is awarded annually to college football’s best individual player. Texas A&M University quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the trophy last year, defeating Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

Entering this season, Manziel was one of a group of Heisman favorites. Every season, the list of Heisman frontrunners changes from week to week based on players’ performances. Currently, the two consensus frontrunners are Oregon University quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston.

As for Manziel, he is enjoying a season that is arguably better than his Heisman-winning season a year ago. His statistics are superior to those of Mariota and Winston. So why isn’t Manziel the Heisman frontrunner, as it seems that he should be?

The Heisman voters historically favor players who play for national championship contenders. Texas A&M, with a record of 8-2 and 15th in the AP Top 25, isn’t a national championship contender at this point. But the Heisman trophy is supposed to be about who’s the best individual player, ideally regardless of record. The only Heisman winner to come from a losing team is Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung, who won in 1956 as the Fighting Irish struggled to a 2-8 record.

But Notre Dame’s record is beside the point. Hornung was clearly the best player in college football that year, and that’s why he won the award. The same criteria should apply to the Heisman Trophy nowadays.

Last year, Manziel passed for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,181 yards and 19 touchdowns. Let’s compare statistics from this year: (All stats courtesy of

Player A: 2,531 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 495 rushing yards, 9 rushing touchdowns.

Player B: 2,661 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, 157 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns.

Player C: 3,313 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, 611 rushing yards, 8 touchdowns.

If you had to vote right now on who wins the Heisman trophy, you’re crazy if you don’t pick player C. Player C has a clear advantage in passing yards and passing touchdowns as well as rushing yards.

Player A is Mariota. Player B is Winston. Player C? Manziel. But here’s the kicker: Mariota has an 8-1 record, Winston has a 9-0 record and Manziel has an 8-2 record.

Obviously, the record of the team plays into Heisman voting. It’s the same way that voting for MVP awards is in professional sports. It’s not the way it should be, though.

But in the case of the 2013 Heisman trophy, there’s more at play than just the record of the team. There’s some politics too. Manziel had (to say the absolute least) an eventful offseason. Whether it was him partying, tweeting or signing autographs for money, Manziel made headlines for all the wrong reasons over the offseason.

In August, an investigation into Manziel’s autograph-signing incident led to Manziel being suspended for half a game, a punishment that many “purists” viewed as a too-lenient slap on the wrist.

It seems like many college football talking heads and pundits (including some Heisman voters, I bet) view Manziel as a punk, or just someone who shouldn’t hold college football’s highest individual honor for two consecutive years. So the talking heads and pundits will proclaim how Manziel’s “character” isn’t suitable. They will also talk about the leadership of Marcus Mariota, and the poise of Jameis Winston as the freshman leads Florida State to a probable National Championship appearance.

But they will be doing Manziel a disservice. If personal grudges could ever be taken out of sports awards voting then the results would be far more representative of players’ abilities and performances. But it’ll never happen.

Take the 2010-11 NBA MVP award, for example. As much as I love Derrick Rose, he had no business beating LeBron James for the MVP that year. But LeBron alienated MVP voters with his public “Decision” to ditch his hometown team for the beaches of Miami. So although James is far and away the better player (that year and every year for the foreseeable future), Rose won.

That’s how it’s going to shake down this year. Manziel has been the best player in college football this year. There’s literally no statistical way to contradict it. But his team is “only” 8-2, and he made some people angry by partying excessively, which is something nearly every college student does. Fair? No. Reality? Yes. Manziel won’t win the Heisman, but he definitely should.

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