How to Fix the Heisman

Toughness of schedule is also the problem with evaluating the two very talented quarterbacks who have been invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, Baylor's Robert Griffin III and Stanford's Andrew Luck.  No argument can be made that both aren't outstanding quarterbacks: In 13 games Griffin threw for just under 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns while Luck in 12 games, threw for 3,710 and 35 TDs. But neither one faced a single outstanding defense all season, a fact that seems to have eluded most of the Heisman pundits.

In Stanford's last game of the season, a 28-14 victory over Notre Dame, Luck played against the only defense he saw all year that finished within the top 40 in the country in fewest points allowed. (The Irish were 28th best.) Likewise, the closest Griffin came to facing a top-flight defense was against TCU in the first game of the season (TCU ended up with the country's 30th stingiest defense).  That's it.  There was very little in the way of genuine opposition for either quarterback all season long.  This was reflected in the fact that most of their games had scores that seemed more like basketball then football games. Luck's Cardinals, for instance, beat Southern Cal 56-48 in three OTs and lost to Oregon 53-30. Griffin's Bears beat TCU 50-48, Rice 56-31, Missouri 42-39, Oklahoma 45-38, and Texas Tech 66-42.  Baylor lost to Kansas State 36-35, to Texas A&M 55-28, and Okalahoma State 59-24.

Clearly there was only one conference in the country where defense is taken seriously, and that's the Southeastern Conference. Against LSU (ranked second, behind Alabama, in fewest points allowed per game), Mississippi State (19), Florida (25), Vanderbilt (26), Tennessee (35) and Arkansas (37)—not to mention the Big 10's Penn State (No. 5)—Richardson played against outstanding defenses in 7 of his team's 12 games, far more than Griffin and Luck combined. 

Also, there is the question of piling on.  Consider that Luck threw for 370 yards in a 48-7 slaughter of hapless Colorado, a team that won just three of its other 12 games. Couldn't the Cardinals have won that game easily with Luck throwing for half that many yards? Griffin was near perfect in a 48-0 pounding of Stephen F. Austin, completing 19 of 21 passes for 25 yards and 3 TDs. But Baylor would still have easily won if Griffin had been relieved midway through the second quarter.

Trent Richardson's numbers are, in comparison, untainted.  Not only was he not left in any game to pad his numbers, Alabama's second- and third-stringer runners, Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler, combined for more than 1,000 yards and 11 TDs. If Coach Nick Saban had wanted to, he could have left Richardson in games the Crimson Tide had nailed down so that he could rush for 2,000 or even  2,500 or more yards - and then the winner of this year's Heisman Trophy wouldn't be in doubt. And here's the clincher if the argument comes down to Richardson vs. Luck or Griffin: Luck threw 9 interceptions, Griffin threw 6, and Richardson did not fumble the ball once in  290 chances.

If the Heisman Trophy voters were honest, they'd acknowledge what fans have known for more than four decades: that offensive players—particularly quarterback and running backs—have an unfair advantage over defensive players in the voting because they get the lion's share of opportunities to pile up the stats.  Why not award two Heismans—one for the man they regard as the outstanding player on offense and one for defense?  Wouldn't Richardson and Mathieu, whose teams will play each for the national championship on January 9, make a handsome pair of Heisman bookends?

For that matter, why doesn't the Heisman committee hold the vote until after the bowl games?  This antiquated attitude is a holdover from a time when relatively few teams got to play in bowl games, but now every good team gets a bowl berth, and quite often teams are facing the toughest team they've played all season. The Alabama-LSU matchup in the BCS championship could have been a game to settle both the question of the national championship and the Heisman Trophy - and all in one night.

In a perfect world, Alabama's Trent Richardson and LSU's Tyrann Mathieu would both be awarded big bronze trophies Saturday night. But in the imperfect world we live in, the Heisman should go to Trent Richardson.  

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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