24 August 2006

What a difference a year makes

Last year, Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. However, he was never considered a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy and finished well outside of the top three finalists in the final voting. In fact, it was only in the remaining weeks of the season that Penn State even remotely promoted Robinson's candidacy (not that Penn State has ever promoted a Heisman candidate like some other schools do). Robinson's final stats: 162/311 (52%), 2350 yards, 17 TDs, 10 INTs (QB rating of 127.2); 806 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs (10-1 final record). Compare this to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith: 149/237 (63%), 2282 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs (QB rating 162.7); 611 rushing yards and 11 rushing TDs (9-2 final record).

Robinson accounted for 3156 total yards and 28 total TDs, Smith for 2893 total yards and 27 total TDs. Robinson had a slight advantage in total yards, scores and wins, while Smith had the advantage in QB rating and fewer INTs. In the final analysis, I'd rate these seasons roughly equal statistically.

What am I getting at here? Robinson was a senior playing his first full season as a QB and now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Smith was a junior and now returns for his senior season with Ohio State ranked #1 in the Associated Press poll, and Smith is on almost everyone's short list for the Heisman trophy.

I've tried to demonstrate that Robinson's and Smith's seasons, statistically at least, were very similar. Indeed, they are both very similar quarterbacks in the same mold as Vince Young. But on account of Robinson's single season as a quarterback, he never made it onto anyone's wishful pre-season Heisman list and therefore never really had a chance. If Robinson was back for another year, would he be listed with Troy Smith? On the other hand, Troy Smith's season last year, combined with Ohio State's spot at the top of the rankings, lands him on most preseason Heisman "watch" lists this fall.

What does this mean? To me, it means the Heisman trophy is not truly based upon one season. If it was, there would be little meaning to preseason "watch" lists when none of these players have even stepped foot on a field this season. A candidacy is built from years of playing experience with the expectation that the player will continue his current performance, improve his performance, and/or based upon the (likely) fact that he happens to be on one of the top ranked teams (although conversely he may be the reason the team is ranked so high, there's some food for thought).

If you think I'm comparing apples and oranges, I see where you're coming from. However, I'm not suggesting that Michael Robinson (or Troy Smith) should have won the Heisman trophy last year. Clearly, the three finalists deserved to be there. Furthermore, I am not suggesting that Troy Smith shouldn't be a preseason Heisman candidate this year. What I am suggesting is that it is very difficult (if not nearly impossible) to be fairly considered for the Heisman based upon a single season at a particular position. I'm also still miffed about 2002, when Penn State running back Larry Johnson became the only player in the history of NCAA Division I football to rush for more than 2000 yards in a season and not win the Heisman, but that's a story for another day and trust me, I'll tell it (LJ finished a distant 3nd to USB QB Carson Palmer and Iowa QB Brad Banks)!

Pick a couple different preseason watch lists and follow them throughout the season. See how many players fall off the list and how many are added throughout the season.
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