"The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity."
I don't know if a greater gulf exists anywhere between the stated criteria for an award and the actual criteria used by the electorate as there is in the Heisman Memorial Trophy, but I'd have a hard time imagining one.
Honestly, I don't even know what this definition is actually supposed to mean. Taken literally, the Heisman sounds like your local high school's sportsperson of the year -- you know, the one who wasn't the best athlete but sure tried hard, kept their nose clean and got good grades.
In actuality, I suspect that this really is just a bit of poor writing by the Heisman Trust, and that what they really want voters to do is make sure whichever outstanding player they select also has a modicum of integrity, but still -- when this is your starting point, it's little wonder that the award has produced some wacky results over the years.
The Heisman Pundit does a great job capturing some of the de facto criteria that has evolved organically over the years, but it basically comes down to this: Play for a winner (super important!), have big games in your national TV moments (important!) and (preferably) be a quarterback or running back. There are, of course, exceptions -- but they're too few and far in between to be taken seriously.
When the voters are using criteria for "outstanding college football player" that eliminates, on a practical level, about 98 percent of all college football players before the first snap of the season, well ... there are going to be years when the results get a little wonky.
One of those years was 1991.
Those of you who were out of diapers back then probably remember the winner well: Michigan's. Why do you remember Desmond Howard so well? Because he was smart enough to strike a Heisman pose during a big performance in a big game on national TV, that's why!
Perhaps the best example of how flawed the voting was that year, second place -- and granted, he was a distant second, as Howard won in a landslide -- went to a guy who completed 203 of 345 passes for 2,619 yards, 22 TDs and 12 interceptions. Remember him? No, you probably don't remember Casey Weldon. That's because he really wasn't all that great. Heck, Marshall Lobbestael threw for 2,584 yards on 203 of 341 passing for 19 TDs and 8 interceptions last season. Weldon played for Florida State. So there you go.
But let's be real for a second. Howard did score 21 TDs from scrimmage, which is excellent. But he amassed just 950 receiving yards that year on just 61 receptions. Now, that works out to a very nice 15.6 yards per catch, but that's not spectacular -- consider that Marquess Wilson averaged 16.9 yards on 82 catches last year.
Ah, but what about Howard as a returner? Well, he had all of 27 returns that year, returning two for TDs. Devin Hester, he was not.
Howard was very good -- a worthy all-American. But he wasn't the best player in the country. That distinction should have gone to one Steve Emtman, a defensive tackle from (gasp!) the University of Washington. Quite simply, Emtman is the most dominant player I've ever personally watched play the game of football.
Now, I recognize endorsing a Husky around these parts is like wading in knee deep water with a bull shark -- actually, maybe like 100 bull sharks -- but I try to be as objective as possible, and the reality is that he was virtually unblockable during that 1991 season, the catalyst for a defense that also is one of the best I ever saw. The only other defender I've seen cause the kind of mayhem Emtman did is Ndamukong Suh, something that ought to give a bit of a frame of reference for the younger readers in the crowd.
There is absolutely zero doubt in my mind that Emtman was the best player in college football in 1991. However, he had the misfortune of both playing the wrong position and playing for the wrong school. It was as silly then as it is now.
Which player who didn't win the Heisman do you think was most deserving? I've listed a few candidates from the last 20 or so years in the poll, but feel free to expand the conversation as far back as you like in the comments.
Also feel free to skewer me for endorsing a Husky. Don't worry. I can take it.
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Which player in the last ~20 years do you think should have won the Heisman Trophy?
2011: Andrew Luck (lost to Robert Griffin III) (118 votes)
2005: Vince Young (lost to Reggie Bush) (90 votes)
2001: Rex Grossman (lost to Eric Crouch) (12 votes)
1995: Tommie Frazier (lost to Eddie George) (34 votes)
1991: Steve Emtman (lost to Desmond Howard) (698 votes)
952 total votes