Breaking down the Heisman

December 12, 2002|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It's that time of year to once again give out the single most overrated award in sports, the Heisman Trophy.

Hey, just because it's overrated doesn't mean we don't care. We do. Millions of us do.

I don't have a vote, but (surprise!) I do have an opinion. Consider this one man's breakdown of the Heisman race - but first, a few guidelines that should be considered.

  • The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be awarded to "the outstanding gridiron star," according to the Web site

    In truth, after the first half of last century, the award has been reserved for the outstanding quarterback, running back or receiver of the year, with very few exceptions - Michigan defensive back Charles Woodson being one. So if you're an offensive or defensive lineman, tight end, fullback, linebacker or defensive back (again, noting the rare exception), you're out of the running.

    Yes, it's unfair, as others have written, but that's the way it is nowadays.

  • The Heisman Trophy is also meant to recognize the most outstanding player this season, not the player with the most outstanding career.

    Ken Dorsey's 38-1 career win-loss record at Miami, as impressive as that is, should not have any bearing on this year's Heisman vote (although it will). However, Dorsey's 12-0 mark this season should.

    With apologies to Marshall's Byron Leftwich, who threw for 4,019 yards and 26 touchdowns and turned in an inspirational performance in a loss to Akron - returning from the hospital, playing on one leg and at times being carried downfield by his linemen - the Heisman race is down to five players, including three quarterbacks - Dorsey, Iowa's Brad Banks and USC's Carson Palmer - and two running backs, Miami's Willis McGahee and Penn State's Larry Johnson. These are the five who were officially invited to the Downtown Athletic Club for Saturday's presentation.

    First, let's narrow down the field to the best quarterback and the best running back.


    All three signal-callers are heading for BCS bowls, with Dorsey and Miami taking aim at a second straight national championship.

    Dorsey threw for 3,073 yards and 27 touchdowns - solid stats by anyone's standards - but only completed 55.4 percent of his passes (194 of 350) and had the most talent around him in McGahee, receiver Andre Johnson and tight end Kevin Winslow. Dorsey leads the Hurricanes capably and admirably, but he was not the best quarterback this season.

    Banks led the nation is passing efficiency, completing 60 percent of his passes (155 of 258) for 2,369 yards and 25 touchdowns, and was also a running threat, scrambling for 387 yards and five more TDs. His touchdown-to-interception ratio (25:4) is staggering and the main reason Iowa is Big Ten co-champions and playing in the Orange Bowl.

    Seriously, can you name another Hawkeyes player? I can't - which says something for Banks' carrying his team to a New Year's Day bowl, let alone a BCS jewel.

    But by sheer numbers alone, Palmer was the best quarterback in college football this season. He completed 288 of 458 passes (62.9 percent) for 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns. He threw for 425 yards and four TDs in USC's final regular-season game against Notre Dame, played on national television in front of the vast majority of Heisman voters.

    When comparing Palmer and Banks, the bottom line is Palmer threw for 1,270 more yards while carrying his team to the same bowl game. And Palmer threw for 566 more yards and five more TDs than Dorsey despite having less talent around him. Palmer beats out both.


    Let's not take anything away from the phenomenal year McGahee, a sophomore, produced for Miami. He was the engine of the 'Canes, setting school season records with 1,686 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns, including six against Virginia Tech last weekend. McGahee also caught 24 passes for 350 yards, giving him 2,036 yards from scrimmage.

    If that's impressive, Johnson's numbers are literally unbelievable.

    The Penn State senior became the ninth running back in NCAA Division I history to run for 2,000 yards in a season, finishing with 2,058 overall. He ran for 327 yards against Indiana and 279 yards against both Illinois and Michigan State, with all his yards against the Spartans coming in one half. Add in his 341 yards and three TDs receiving, and Johnson finished with 2,399 yards from scrimmage and 23 TDs.

    Arguing against those numbers isn't just difficult, it's impossible.


    Palmer or Johnson? Hoo boy, I've got sympathy for the real voters. This is like trying to decide between Pacino and DeNiro. Britney and Christina. Smurfs and Muppets. ... Uh, just ignore that last one.

    Truth is, you couldn't go wrong with either one of these guys. They both bring tremendous credentials and rock-solid cases for winning the Heisman.

    What? I'm waffling? You bet.

    How can you not pick a 2,000-yard rusher for the Heisman?

    Then again, how can you not pick a guy leading his team to the Orange Bowl, choosing instead a guy leading his to the Capital One Bowl?

    If I had a vote, I'd break into a cold sweat and find it hard to breathe ... before writing Carson Palmer down on my ballot and mailing it in.

    Then I'd check myself into therapy.

    Dan Kauffman is a sports writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at

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