The finalists for the Heisman Trophy were announced on Monday and, no surprise, two of the three headed to New York Saturday night are quarterbacks.
The surprise is who will be joining Kansas State’s Collin Klein and Texas A&M freshman Johnny Manziel.
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is the third of the three finalists named on Monday. He’s had a great season, intercepting seven passes for the Fighting Irish and helping lead an improved defense through an undefeated regular season and into the BCS national championship game.
But let’s not pretend for a minute that Te’o will actually win the award.
The Heisman Trophy is allegedly awarded to the best player in college football. But for all intents and purposes, that definition has been “best quarterback or running back” for at least two decades—with the exception of Michigan’s Charles Woodson in 1997.
That’s 15 years since a player other than a running back or a quarterback struck the pose.
Part of it is who does the voting for the Heisman. It’s a collection of media folks along with the former Heisman winners.
The media voters aren’t going to vote for a linebacker. They won’t vote for an offensive or defensive lineman. Only seldom will they vote for a wide receiver. It’s all about the running backs and quarterbacks.
Since the preponderance of the former winners is made up of quarterbacks and running backs … well, you see where this is going.
It will be business as usual in New York Saturday night. One of the quarterbacks—probably Manziel, based on early surveys of Heisman voters—will hold up the trophy.
Te’o will be there to clap politely for one of the glory boys from the other side of the ball. Frankly, it’s nice that someone without the initials QB or RB next to his name on the roster actually got invited to the ceremony.
There have been many seasons when the best player in college football—using the true definition and not the one as interpreted by most of the voters—is an offensive lineman, for crying out loud.
In 1996, Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace was a finalist for the award and finished fourth. The winner that year was Florida quarterback (of course!) Danny Wuerrfel.
Not to take anything away from Wuerrfel, who was a fine quarterback for a Florida team that won the national championship that season, but Pace went two seasons without giving up a sack. How in the world does a guy do that unless he’s the best player in the country?
But, alas, Pace didn’t play one of the skill positions so it was not even that close and no cigar.
While great college players don’t always translate into great professional players, it’s worth pointing out that Wuerrfel was a bust in the NFL. The runner-up in 1996, running back Troy Davis of Iowa State, did not have a great professional career.
Pace was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a five-time All-Pro for the St. Louis Rams from 1997-08. He was a member of the NFLs All-Decade team for the 2000s. At some point in the near future (he retired after the 2009 season), he will likely be posing for a bust and trying on one of those garish yellow jackets at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
But, yeah, there’s no way he was the best player in the country when he was a senior at Ohio State. After all, did he play quarterback or running back?