Appropriately in a season as unpredictable as this, the Heisman Trophy race is considered too tough to call. Seasons past have seen a frontrunner typically emerge by this juncture. Not so in 2011. Who will win is anyone’s guess right now, but a certainty of this otherwise completely uncertain picture is that the recipient should emerge from the Big 12 Conference.
There are two schools of thought when voting for the Heisman — or any league’s Most Valuable Player award, honestly. One, and often the prevailing mindset of Heisman voters, is rewarding the offensive MVP of a championship contender. The other, less adhered to philosophy is that the honor should reflect the play of the most outstanding. Now, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Last season’s winner, Cam Newton was both and that combination was evident in his runaway victory.
However in season’s past, the disconnect between team and individual play has seen Mark Ingram, Eric Crouch, Chris Weinke and Geno Torretta, all of championship contending squads beat out perhaps more spectacular individual performers like Toby Gerhart, David Carr, LaDanian Tomlinson and Marshall Faulk. To some extent that divide exists this year, but the Big 12 members have both sides of the fence covered.
Oklahoma State has survived 10 of its 12 games unscathed, scoring at will on opponents to the tune of 51.7 points per game. Only Houston has bested that mark. Likewise, the Cowboys are No. 2 nationally with the pass thanks to quarterback Brandon Weeden. The former baseball player has taken to tossing around the pigskin instead of the apple quite effectively, racking up over 3600 yards, scoring 31 touchdowns and completing over 73 percent of his attempts. Weeden’s interception total is just nine, an impressively low figure for a quarterback who has passed 428 times, and doubly impressive considering just three of those have come in the Pokes’ seven games since Sept. 18.
Of course, a passing attack as proficient as OSU’s needs capable receivers, and wideout Justin Blackmon has a case as strong as Weeden’s for the Heisman. Receiver is a position rarely mentioned in association with college football’s most coveted individual honor, largely because a pass catcher’s success is so connected to the passer’s success. In fact, only two have ever claimed the award (Tim Brown and Desmond Howard) and Howard more so for his special teams play. However, it’s difficult to ignore Blackmon’s lofty statistics.
He’s caught for nearly one-third of Weeden’s yards, and his 14 receiving touchdowns tie Houston’s Patrick Edwards for most in the Bowl Subdivision. Blackmon also ranks second among FBS receivers in average per catch, snagging 9.3 per attempt. He combines the size of a possession receiver, which makes a dangerous goal line target, with breakaway speed to slip past quick cornerbacks. That has made him a standout in a Cowboy offense stacked with capable catchers.
OSU is loaded in all facets, and to that end tailback Joseph Randle should not be overlooked in Heisman discussion. He may play a third fiddle when it comes to national attention, but Randle ranks among the nation’s very best ball carriers. He’s scored 21 touchdowns, more than Trent Richardson or LaMichael James. He’s breaking off nearly 6 yards per carry to make the Cowboy defense all the more multifaceted and dangerous. He’s also tacked on a pair of receiving touchdowns.
Indeed, as the Cowboys’ pursuit of the Big 12 Championship leads to Bedlam, Randle’s role will be magnified. And perhaps that will lead to more national attention. Of course, a team boasting so much talent can harm its players’ Heisman hopes. The 1994 Penn State team with finalists Kerry Collins and Ki-Jana Carter is a shining example.
Heismans have been given to players out of the BCS/national championship hunt as recently as 2007. Tim Tebow received the bronze statue despite Florida losing its own division because he put up statistics too impressive to ignore. Baylor and to a lesser extent Kansas State are out of the Big 12 title picture, yet both have quarterbacks worthy of Heisman consideration.
A very strong case can be made for Robert Griffin III being college football’s best overall player. His Bears are a ho-hum 6-3 — well, ho-hum by national accolades standards. 6-3 campaigns are not easily obtained in Waco, and the Bears’ success can be largely attributed to RG3.
Largely? I’m sorry, that should read almost exclusively. Griffin has thrown for over 3000 yards and dished out 29 passing touchdowns. For those keeping track, that’s just two scores fewer than Weeden in one fewer game. Griffin also has a superior touchdown-to-interception ratio of a whisker below 6:1. His 74.2 completion percentage ties Case Keenum tops in all of Division I.
If that litany of awe inspiring passing statistics weren’t enough, RG3 is also the Bears’ No. 2 rushing option. He’s been good for 55 yards per game on the ground and five touchdowns. His 34 total touchdowns account for 71 percent of all Baylor TDs, and he’s responsible either as passer or rusher for 206 of the Bears’ 363 points. Not even Keenum accounts for such a sizable portion of his team’s offense as Griffin in Baylor’s.
Griffin does have company in Kansas State’s Collin Klein, however. His passing statistics are pedestrian at best: 10 touchdowns, a sub-60 completion percentage (58.9), five interceptions and 1504 yards. But Klein has done work with his feet at a rate even more prolific than the great Tommie Frazier in 1995. Frazier rushed for 14 touchdowns and 55 yards per game that campaign: Klein’s got 24 touchdowns, most for an FBS rusher, and 100 yards per game. In fact, his 34 total scores through 10 games surpass Frazier’s 31 from ’95, a benchmark season for rush-heavy quarterbacks.
Bill Snyder owes his surprising 8-2 record and top 25 standing to Klein. Heisman voters owe Klein some genuine consideration.