The parallels between this year’s Heisman Trophy race, and the battle from six years ago, are too good to ignore:
In 2009, the final three candidates included an Alabama stud rusher (Mark Ingram), a total-yards whirling dervish from Stanford (Toby Gerhart) and perhaps the best quarterback headed for the national-title game (Texas QB Colt McCoy).
For 2015, the final three candidates comprise an Alabama stud rusher (Derrick Henry), Stanford’s total-yardage equivalent of the Tasmanian Devil (tailback Christian McCaffrey) and perhaps the best quarterback headed for the national-title game (Clemson QB Deshaun Watson).
So, using as history as our guide, should Henry — the nation’s leading rusher this season (1,986 yards, 23 TDs) — be a shoo-in for Saturday’s Heisman, the most prestigious award in college sports?
Six years ago, Ingram prevailed in one of the closest races in Heisman history, edging Gerhart and McCoy — but with all three stars collecting at least 200 first-place votes.
For that dream campaign, Ingram captured the SEC titles for rushing yards (1,658) and rushing touchdowns (17), while helping Alabama collect its first BCS national championship under coach Nick Saban (beating McCoy’s Longhorns in the title game, 37-21).
On the flip side, Gerhart easily outdistanced Ingram in rushing yards (1,871) and touchdowns (28); and citing his 11-game finishing kick to the season, the Stanford star absurdly averaged 152 rushing yards and 2.4 touchdowns during that span.
So, what put Ingram over the top? Well, it could have been as simple as Alabama cruising to an undefeated season and an eventual national title … and Stanford incurring four defeats before bowl action.
Should that even matter? Does it sufficiently cover the art of vaguely choosing The Most Outstanding College Football Player in the United States?
QUICK FUN FACTS
1. Citing the last five Heisman-winning quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel, Robert Grififn III, Cam Newton), the quintet averaged 4,787 total yards and 49 touchdowns. Of that group, though, only Winston and Newton were undefeated heading into the bowls.
Watson tallied 4,399 total yards, 41 touchdowns (30 passing) and only 11 interceptions this season, while leading Clemson to a No. 1 national ranking and College Football Playoff berth (versus Oklahoma in the semifinals).
2. Since 2000, the famed Maxwell and Heisman awards have only synced up three times in the same year — Tim Tebow (2007), Cam Newton (2010) and Marcus Mariota (2014).
Is that bad news for Derrick Henry, this year’s Maxwell recipient? Not so much.
Of the 12 Maxwell Award winners at running back since 1975, a robust 10 doubled as the Heisman recipients. (The lone castoffs: Anthony Thompson in 1989 and Larry Johnson in 2002.)
THE CANCELING-OUT CONUNDRUM
Of the 12 SEC- or ACC-affiliated Heisman winners of the last 50 years, only three have captured the award at the same time of another SEC/ACC star finishing in the top-three voting.
2013: Jameis Winston (Florida State) over A.J. McCarron (Alabama — 3rd)
2007: Tim Tebow (Florida) over Darren McFadden (Arkansas — 2nd)
1993: Charlie Ward (Florida State) over Heath Shuler (Tennessee — 3rd)
(Note: South Carolina was a college independent in 1980, when George Rogers eclipsed Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green and UGA freshman Herschel Walker for the Heisman.)
It’s’s not a damning statistic, given all the variables that go into the voting process; but it does underscore the importance of how the luck-based component of timing ultimately defines the Heisman winners.
Which brings us to this: For the sakes of Watson and Henry (18 straight games of at least one touchdown — an SEC record), it’s a good thing the Heisman award doesn’t require a re-vote once the field has been pared down to three finalists.
If that were the case, McCaffrey — as the lone West Coast representative — would have a major advantage over his fellow finalists, obliging southern-based voters to choose between Watson and Henry. Among the western voters, especially ones who loathe East Coast snobbery, they’d have free reign to target McCaffery for first place.
And that vote would certainly have merit. The Stanford sophomore accounted for 2,387 total yards (tops in the nation) and 13 total touchdowns (including one kick-return TD). Plus, of his last 11 games, McCaffrey cracked the century mark in rushing 10 times — with a sterling average of 157 rushing yards in that span.
The aforementioned 11-game sample included Notre Dame, eight one-time Pac-12 opponents and Southern California twice (regular season/conference championship). Against the Trojans, McCaffrey held staggering averages of 231 total yards and one touchdown.
For good measure, in the conference title game, McCaffrey tossed one touchdown against Southern California and cumulatively broke Barry Sanders’ single-season NCAA record for all-purpose yards. (Oklahoma State’s Sanders won the Heisman in 1988.)
Back to the Henry/Watson conundrum. The southern vote will likely consist of two classes: 1) Those who believe the SEC, even in a down year, can do no wrong; and … 2) Those who don’t.
Regional biases occur all the time. As such, McCaffrey likely has no shot of winning the “southeast” vote (below), just like Watson or Henry have little chance of taking honors in the West.
It’s just how the world works. Vote what you know.
HEISMAN VOTING REGIONS
Midwest: Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin
Southeast: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee
Southwest: Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, New Mexico
West: Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
Mid-Atlantic: Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Washington D.C.
Northeast: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont
*929 Heisman voters were reportedly eligible to vote in 2015
“If Henry scores here, he’s got the Heisman locked up.”
The above quote came from a friend last week, during the waning seconds of No. 2 Alabama’s 29-15 victory over Florida in the SEC title game. In his delusional world, Henry needed one more touchdown to clinch a trophy that — once again (in unison) — has no explicit, itemized criteria.
Never mind that Henry logged 90 total carries in the regular season-ending outings against Auburn and Florida. Never mind that he finished 11 yards shy of 200 yards against the Gators, which would have marked his second consecutive 200-plus game.
If anything, Henry clinched this Heisman on the same day he swiped it from LSU tailback Leonard Fournette. In the Crimson Tide’s “upset” of the Tigers (ranked No. 2 in early November), Henry rolled for 210 yards and three scores, putting the biggest exclamation point on Alabama’s crucial blowout win.
Conversely, Fournette — the Heisman front-runner for the season’s first two months — rushed for only 31 yards against Alabama’s vaunted defense.
The following week, Henry experienced his truest “Heisman Moment” on the most unlikeliest of plays — running for an up-the-gut touchdown of 74 yards on 3rd-and-9, transforming a reasonably close game against Mississippi State into a decisive thumping. (Henry ended up with 204 rushing yards and two TDs.)
Bottom line: It’s fun leading a double-bubble existence, living in the heart of SEC football country (hey, that might make for a great Web site!) and operating on Eastern Standard Time, thus minimizing the potential for cruel ‘TV-show spoiler alerts’ on Twitter.
But the so-called East Coast Bias typically isn’t a good thing for Heisman Trophy voters, particularly those who turn off the TV around 11 p.m on football Saturdays.
For this year’s vote, though, the early-to-bed crowd might get this one right.
Just like the small cluster of anxious voters who filed their ballots in mid-November.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.