How a Darkhorse Could Win the Heisman
Let's now look at something for this season: Can anyone other than Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, or Colt McCoy win the Heisman? I think the answer is yes.
Here's why: Heisman fatigue.
Four of the six regions of Heisman balloting are college football hotbeds: the South (dominated by the SEC), the Southwest (dominated by the Big 12), the Midwest (Big Ten), and the Far West (Pac-10). For better or worse these regions are going to disproportionately support the candidacies of the players in those leagues. This isn't entirely a case of intentional bias, the media representatives are more likely to know the coaches and players, have watched their games, and hence, more likely to believe that they are watching the best player in college football. This isn't rocket science, but it doesn't get discussed that often.
So assuming everything goes according to expectations -- meaning there aren't any injuries -- you can go ahead and pencil in first-place winners in two of these regions: Tebow's going to take the first place vote in the South and McCoy or Bradford is going to take the Southwest. Those regions are virtually assured. That means the battleground will be the two voting areas that encompass the East Coast (the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast), and those that feature no obvious Heisman candidates-- the Far West, and the Midwest.
Now let's run through what needs to happen for what we'll call an insurgent candidacy to catch fire and peak in the first week of November.
1. The three-headed quarterback monster of Tebow, Bradford, and McCoy has to become a two-headed quarterback monster.
That means that one of these candidates has to eliminate himself from the competition. I don't believe Tebow will because Florida is likely going to destroy so many of their opponents this year that Tebow won't have the opportunity to fall entirely off the proverbial Heisman wagon and lose twice. That means either McCoy or Bradford has to fade.
I think one of these men will. How? Three possibilities.
A.) Their team underperforms. If either Texas or Oklahoma loses two games, their quarterback won't win the Heisman., no matter how well that quarterback plays. Carve that in stone. Expectations are so high for both teams that merely winning 10 regular season games is a failure.
B.) One of them has a "bad" season statistically. In order to repeat, Bradford is going to have to outperform his 2008 statistics. Otherwise, even if his team is better, he'll fall victim to the Tebow bias: a reduced stat line means a lesser season. At least in the eyes of Heisman balloters. The same holds true for McCoy, but less so. Many will want McCoy to win because they think he "deserves" it. So his comparative stats aren't as important, but close.
C.) Red River Rivalry. I think only one man's Heisman chances will survive this game, certainly if either player or player's team vastly outperforms the other. But even if it's not the case, many may use this year's game as a de facto elimination. I know, I know, last year Bradford lost the game but still won the Heisman. I think this year will be different because the two men will be squaring off with the Heisman storyline already omnipresent.
2. If you play quarterback and you're not one of the three men above, you're eliminated from competition. The Heisman winner, outside of those three men, will be either a running back, wide receiver or a defensive player.
Because the three men above have sucked up all the quarterback attention in the offseason and will continue to suck up all the attention throughout the season. There is no way all three men will fail to perform. The only other quarterbacks who could become storylines on a national scale are Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame, Terrelle Pryor at Ohio State and Jevan Snead at Ole Miss. None of these quarterbacks are going undefeated or putting up the stats that the big three are. So they're not winning the Heisman. Nor are any other quarterbacks. Period.
3. That means that if the Heisman winner emerges from outside of the big three, it will be a proverbial dark horse, someone who plays either running back, wide receiver or defense.
And I'm giving you four names to follow that I think have the best shot to catch fire:
Jahvid Best, running back California
Eric Berry, safety Tennessee
Dez Bryant, wide receiver Oklahoma State
Jacquizz Rodgers, running back Oregon State
Over the next few weeks we're going to break down each of the four men above and explain their insurgent path to the Heisman.
4. Don't underestimate the media's boredom.
For the past nine months, we've all said that the Heisman belongs to one of the three big-name quarterbacks. That's a boring story, it doesn't move product, get jaws wagging or make people tune in. Two of the four men listed above will surge into contention by October.
By doing something so spectacular in the month of September that we can't look away. Remember the Charles Woodson one-handed interception? And how that was played so many times you thought Charles Woodson had 40 interceptions? Each of these men needs their YouTube moment. And each of them is electric enough to make us unable to escape their transcendent moment on the college football stage.
The media as a collective group wants there to be an insurgent candidate for the Heisman, needs there to be one. So there will be one.
5. While I believe you can make strong arguments for all four men listed above, I believe that insurgent candidate is going to be the player most unlike any of those quarterbacks, Eric Berry.
Unlike the other men on this list, Berry's team doesn't have to be the best in the country. But they do have to find a way to get to 9 wins. Which isn't as difficult as you think, Tennessee, despite the turmoil next year, will be favorites in eight games this season. And every single one of their games will be on national television.
Berry has to find a way to get to eight interceptions, score from a position other than safety, either via a "Wild Berry" formation, at wide out, or by returning a punt or kick.
Can he do it?
Certainly he can.
Will he win?
Maybe not, but either he or his comrades above will end up as the alternative to one of the big three quarterbacks.
6. The Hypesman comes into play
The East and West Coasts are in play for this year's champion since they don't have a presumptive favorite residing on their regional shores. That's exactly half of all the Heisman votes, excluding the vote of former winners. And they're out there, unclaimed. Which area of the country has double the votes of any other? The East Coast. And which coast has the least college football teams or candidates and is, henceforth, most susceptible to the rise of a comparative unknown? Yep, the East Coast.
Reading the college football voting tides shows you the path, "Go east young man."
If you do, you just might win the Heisman Trophy.