On Saturday night it was revealed to us all that the Heisman Trust had awarded this year’s memorial trophy to Texas A&M redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel in a close race that had Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o receiving the most votes for a defense-only player in the history of the trophy. Looking at it from any angle you wish, the right player received the honor of the three who were invited to participate.
But under any other circumstances than those with which this year’s trophy was awarded, that honor would have been bestowed upon Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller.
Let me be clear about one thing – Miller was not robbed of the 2012 Heisman by the A&M quarterback. He wasn’t any more or less deserving of the award than Te’o, Kansas State’s Colin Klein or the eventual winner, “Johnny Football.” What happened in the events leading up to and during Saturday night’s ceremony were not reason to further the conversation of the integrity (or lack there of) in the world of college football.
The Heisman Trust got it right and the two opening sentences within their Mission Statement will tell you as much:
The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.
Johnny Manziel was certainly deserving of the honor, but the entire situation was a lost opportunity for one young Buckeye and the university for which he represents.
Entering the 2012 season with no ticket to punch to the Big Ten Championship Game, no eligibility for a bowl invite and a clear ending point to the schedule – November 24th versus Michigan – voters from every region were in an awkward spot with regards to Ohio State.
We wondered if an AP National Championship was within reach but were soon told that wouldn’t be the case through the votes cast by sixty national writers on a weekly basis. Those votes should have told us everything we needed to know about the Heisman Trophy back in October, but fans held onto hope for Miller.
We really should have known better.
For just a moment let’s imagine The Ohio State University football program hadn’t been ineligible for post season play in 2012. All things remaining equal – and assuming the Buckeyes go into Indianapolis as clear favorites against Nebraska two weekends ago and come home with a B1G Championship – history tells us they would find themselves in this season’s National Championship Game facing undefeated Notre Dame for all the marbles.
History also tells us that our quarterback would likely enter that contest having just taken the honorary tour of ESPN’s Bristol, Connecticut campus as the Heisman Trophy winner.
Let’s be honest, the Heisman Trophy process isn’t all that difficult to figure out regardless of how heated the arguments become in the days leading up to the ceremony. In general, the following applies:
- The brightest star on the best team is the frontrunner. Period. Don’t get this confused with the “best player” on the best team. We heard nothing out of Tuscaloosa this season. They certainly have a best player, but their brightest 2012 star roams the sidelines under a headset and doesn’t stiff arm anyone except Les Miles.
- If you play quarterback then you get bonus points with no questions asked. You are the frontrunner before the run begins.
- If you didn’t score a touchdown on the offensive side of the ball all season long then you have zero chance of winning the Heisman Trophy unless every quarterback with a .500 record died before November.
So how does this apply to 2012?
Had Colin Klein kept Kansas State undefeated, he’s your default winner last Saturday night. He took snaps from center, had star power and momentum and was the clear leader of the top-ranked team late in the season. Baylor eliminated him.
Turn around and hand the ball off to Manti Te’o four or five times inside the three yard line and get him on the scoreboard, Coach Kelly. Had you done that he would have won the Heisman by a wide margin. He was easily the brightest star on your undefeated team, but you didn’t.
Add Braxton Miller to the Heisman equation and imagine anyone outside of Buckeye Nation gave a damn about Ohio State this season. Beyond the shadow of any doubt you may allow to creep into your mind, Miller receives that trophy last Saturday night. Of those in attendance, none match what he did. Not one of them.
It doesn’t matter that his numbers trailed off in November, Miller was the poster child for the Heisman formula, especially in a season where the winner had accumulated multiple losses: He was the brightest of stars - from the quarterback position, mind you - on an undefeated team. He beat teams with his arm, his legs and his video game jukes whether he was in the open field or standing in a phone booth with three defenders.
Unfortunately the sanctions that came down on the program late in 2011 extended from physical restrictions on scholarships awarded and bowl invitations to the way the Buckeyes, as a team and as individuals, were treated by those tasked with voting for national rankings and award recipients. Neither Braxton Miller nor Urban Meyer could control that. They, along with rest of the Buckeyes roster, did just as they could in 2012 - they beat everyone on their schedule and did so behind the efforts of their on-field star. From that perspective the season was an amazing success, but under different circumstances it could have been so much better.
All bets are off for 2013 and when Heisman votes are cast next November those appointed to do so may be in a position to vote for the brightest star on, effectively, a 25-0 team - and they will.