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Can We All Agree? (Heisman Trophy Edition)

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It is time once again for a special segment we provide here at Dawg Sports called "Can We All Agree?"

As sports fans, we have many areas of dispute over which reasonable people can and do disagree, but some subjects are so straightforward and one-sided that we should be able to reach a consensus and dispense with what ought to be settled questions so we can move on to matters of genuine disagreement.

Such as, for instance, identifying the second-best player in University of Georgia history.

This latest installment of "Can We All Agree?" was inspired by a recent report from College Football Resource, who has informed us that we have been given the latest Heisman Trophy odds.

Unfortunately, those odds have come from a source whose site I have refused to visit as a matter of general principle since an exchange in a February 2006 comment thread over at The M Zone, so I have no idea what said source asserted, but the reference to college football's most overrated award reminded me that it was high time to revive an old argument.

The Heisman Trophy is awarded after the end of the regular season but before the start of the bowl games. Historically, this timing was not without legitimate justification. Prior to 2002, a player's postseason achievements did not count toward his season statistics or his career totals. Prior to 1965 (for the sportswriters' poll) and prior to 1974 (for the coaches' poll), the final rankings were released after the regular season was completed, leading to such anomalous results as national championships awarded to Minnesota in 1960 and to Alabama in 1973, despite those teams' subsequent losses in the Rose and Sugar Bowls, respectively. Postseason games, in essence, were little more than entertaining exhibitions.

That was then, this is now. The 2007 season will be the sixth in which postseason statistics count when compiling a player's season-long numbers, the 10th in which the Bowl Championship Series purportedly matches the country's top two teams, and the 34th in which both major polls crown a national champion only after the conclusion of all of the bowl games.

In light of those realities, what possible justification (other than ESPN's need to fill air time during early December) could be offered for awarding the Heisman Trophy before the contenders have played all of their games . . . and, in most cases, prior to the point at which the most deserving candidates have taken the field for their most important performances of the year?

It's too bad the Rose Bowl wasn't relevant to determining the best player in college football in 2005.

How truly skewed are the results being produced by the existing system? Consider, for example, the case of the last seven recipients of the trophy:

Troy Smith, Ohio State (2006): Against Florida in the national championship game, the Buckeye quarterback completed four of his 14 pass attempts for 35 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception.

Reggie Bush, Southern California (2005): Against Texas in the Rose Bowl, the Trojan tailback was only the second-best rusher on his team in terms of carries (13), yards (82), and touchdowns (1). Bush was badly outplayed by Heisman Trophy runner-up Vince Young, who went 30-for-40 for 267 yards and no picks through the air and rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Matt Leinart, Southern California (2004): The Trojan quarterback lived up to his hype in the Orange Bowl, connecting on 18 of his 35 pass attempts for 332 yards and five touchdowns in a 55-19 thrashing of an overrated Oklahoma squad that probably should have been passed over in favor of Auburn. (I hate Auburn.)

Jason White, Oklahoma (2003): The Sooner signal-caller was left bruised, battered, and bewildered in the Sugar Bowl, in which he completed just 13 of his 37 passes for 102 yards and a pair of interceptions. The Bayou Bengals sacked White on Oklahoma's final offensive play to seal the victory for L.S.U.

Carson Palmer, Southern California (2002): The Trojan Q.B. earned Orange Bowl M.V.P. honors for his season-ending performance against Iowa and Heisman Trophy runner-up Brad Banks. Palmer went 21-of-31 for 303 yards, including a 65-yard bomb to Kareem Kelly. Although the U.S.C. quarterback threw only one touchdown pass, he led the Men of Troy on four scoring drives of 79 yards or longer in a 38-17 victory over the Hawkeyes.

Eric Crouch, Nebraska (2001): While absorbing a 37-14 drubbing from Miami in the Rose Bowl, the Cornhusker quarterback completed five out of 15 passes for 62 yards, fumbled in the first quarter to give the Hurricanes an early lead, and threw the interception that signaled that the rout was on in Pasadena.

Chris Weinke, Florida State (2000): The final score of the Orange Bowl did not begin to describe the magnitude of the beatdown administered to the Seminoles in general and to their quarterback in particular. Weinke, best known as the Teletubby of questionable sexual orientation, completed less than half of his passes (25 for 51) and threw two interceptions. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's Josh Heupel tallied 214 yards through the air on 25-for-39 passing as the Sooners held the ball for more than 36 minutes of clock time.

Some of those games confirmed the correctness of the Heisman Trophy voting---and by "some," I mean two---but the rest raised real questions about the validity of the verdict.

This recent pattern is far from aberrational, as attested to by a whole host of historical examples best summarized in just two words: Gino Torretta.

Might a few of those Heisman Trophy ballotings have turned out differently had the voters simply waited to see how those seasons played out in the end? Indeed, isn't there a plausible argument to be made for the proposition that the poor performance of Heisman Trophy winners in bowl games results partly from the premature bestowing of the award?

The trip to New York City and the resulting media attention cannot help but distract the recipient from the business of preparing for the bowl game and many winners appear to begin believing their own press clippings, as evidenced by Reggie Bush's impromptu lateral in the Rose Bowl against Texas.

Furthermore, when a player receives the Heisman Trophy in early December, he receives the undivided attention of the opponent he will be facing in early January. His presence on the field becomes a motivating factor for the other team's players and he becomes the focal point of the game plan put together by the other team's coaches. The stiffarm statue becomes an albatross around his neck and paints a target on his back, as attested to by Marquise Hill.

The current method of presenting the trophy involves bestowing an award upon the basis of less than all of the relevant information and requires running the risk of changing the nature of the important games that are to follow. It is bad enough that Heisman Trophy voters are allowed to send in their ballots early, but to compel the decisionmakers to submit their votes prematurely further undermines the dubious credibility of what is already the least legitimate major award in all of sports.

Andre Ware, for crying out loud? Dude, get serious! (Image from Hollywood Collectibles, Inc.)

Reasonable football fans may differ over which contender is most deserving of the honor in any given year, but can we all agree that the Heisman Trophy should not be given out until after the end of the bowl games?

Let me know in the comments below if you concur with my judgment that this is a sentiment with which only an ESPN marketing executive could quarrel.

Go 'Dawgs!