Friday, September 16, 2005

Did Someone Mention College Football?

College Football is right in my wheelhouse, so ask and you shall receive.

While running backs who win the Heisman perhaps have a historical edge over quarterbacks, they've done their best to challenge the quarterbacks in terms of futility over the past 15 years. If you consider Ricky Williams a disappointment, which I do, then Eddie George is the only one who lived up to his billing. The other two winners (Rashaan Salaam and Ron Dayne) will go down in history as busts, though Dayne's still kicking around the league as Denver's 3rd stringer.

As for the quarterbacks, the winners reveal two characteristics that Heisman voters tend to look for when making selections:

1) Statistically impressive QBs on top-ranked, well-coached powerhouses. The vast majority of Heisman winners (or even contenders) fall into this category. Ward, Wuerffel and Leinart played on National Championship teams, while Toretta, Weinke, Crouch, and White all played on teams that lost in the national title game. The exception to this is...

2) Statistically impressive QBs who rack up record-setting stats in a pass-happy offense, playing against mid-major competition. That's how Ware (in Houston's run and shoot) and Detmer (in BYU's pass-first offense) won their awards.

The thing about most of these quarterbacks is that they are:
a) Playing in a system that encourages them to throw the ball often, and
b) Surrounded by a ton of NFL-level talent to protect them and make plays.

When they're forced to carry a team on their own, many fail. Some (like Torretta and White) are written off before they get to the NFL because of physical limitations. Charlie Ward was about five years before his time; he was a shifty, athletic quarterback at a time when the NFL was still looking for 6-5, strong-armed pocket passers. As for Eric Crouch, he ran the option, and did not have the size or passing skills to make it as a NFL QB; very few Option quarterbacks do.

Palmer and Leinart are different. They reflect the shift in dominant programs away from traditional college offenses (like the Florida Fun and Gun, or Nebraska's Option) towards Pro-Style offenses. These programs are meant to attract top high school prospects with the promise of playing in NFL-style offenses from Day One of school. Prime examples are schools that have signed former NFL coaches to run their programs - Pete Carroll in USC, Al Groh in Virginia, and most recently, Charlie Weis in Notre Dame. As more and more teams move towards pro-style offenses, we'll see more and more quarterbacks from top programs-the most common place to find a Heisman winner-prepared to be NFL stars.

As for the 1990s Heisman depression, I agree. But people need to remember that it's more a function of Heisman voters favoring top-ranked teams, and not an overall reflection of college football's top talents from the period - many NFL stars were runners-up for the award, such as Marshall Faulk (to Torretta), Larry Fitzgerald (to White) and Peyton Manning (to Woodson, the winner who's had the most successful professional career). People should also note that players such as Steve McNair, Michael Vick, LaDainian Tomlinson, Kerry Collins, and Drew Brees finished in the top 5 of voting once or twice in their career.

More on College Football coming later this weekend, internet availibilty pending.


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