Is The Heisman For Frontrunners?

“And Heisman Trophy winners are champions,” writes Dave Curtis, keeper of the Orlando Sentinel’s “Swamp Things” blog, wrapping up his post, entitled “The Case Against Tim Tebow.”

May I direct you to Troy Smith, Reggie Bush, Jason White, Carson Palmer, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke, Ron Dayne, Ricky Williams, Eddie George and Rashaan Salaam? Dating back to 1994, only three Heisman winners have won national championships the year of their Heisman. (Bush, of course, won beforehand, as did Weinke, and presumably White as an underclassman understudy; perhaps Smith, too, but I don’t care.)

Further, not only did they not win NCs, Smith, White, Crouch, and Weinke flopped badly in their title games (White’s debatable, but spending the game on his back didn’t help), Bush wasn’t even on the field for the deciding play in his and had a rather momentous and inexplicable fumble, and Palmer was playing in the Orange Bowl, Williams didn’t even get Texas to the Big 12 title game his Heisman season, Dayne never lifted Wisconsin to legitimate national title contender, though he won two Rose Bowl MVPs, including in his 1999 Heisman campaign, George’s year ended in a Citrus Bowl loss, and Salaam’s team’s one loss came to the eventual national champions, Nebraska.

The three winners who were champions were Matt Leinart, conductor of USC’s wonderful symphony that dismantled Oklahoma in the title game, Charles Woodson, whose season was indisputably brilliant but whose national championship was shared, and another Gator, Danny Wuerffel, who torched FSU when he was upright in the Sugar Bowl.

The point isn’t that Heisman winners aren’t champions; it’s that history proves they don’t have to be. The system to award a trophy to college football’s best player doesn’t delineate what makes one player better than another. Championships, value to team, athletic talent, or other embodiment of nebulous qualities subjectively determined by voters all factor into the selection, but there are no benchmarks or guarantees.

Chase Daniel has the best shot to confirm the conventional wisdom of frontrunner as Heisman winner with a glamorous, nationally televised shot to knock off a tradition-laden program at Oklahoma and secure a national championship berth for his Missouri Tigers. Should he throw effectively, avoiding interceptions, and the Tigers win–the former may be the only prerequisite for the latter–Daniel becomes the prohibitive favorite to take the trophy next Saturday night.

But, for my money, and in many others’ opinions, this year, college football’s best player–as in, the one better than all others–is Tim Tebow. Others can make and have made better cases for him, and this is not the space for it. But to deny Tebow a Heisman Trophy this year not because of his age, or his team’s lack of success, quantified by a nine-win season, or because he isn’t a “champion,” to me, is folly.

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