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The Heisman hee-haw: The joke's on the Pac-10
By Richard Linde, 11 December 2001

It's been twenty years since the Pacific-10 conference had a Heisman Trophy winner, the last being Marcus Allen, who won the trophy in 1981. It's not that the Pac-10 hasn't had some outstanding athletes grace its gridirons since 1981. How about John Elway, Rodney Peete, Steve Emtman, Jake Plummer, Troy Aikman, Marques Tuiasosopo, Cade McNown, Ryan Leaf? Add to the list this year's candidate Joey Harrington (QB, Oregon), who finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. 

Except for three, all of the Davison IA conferences have posted winners in the balloting during the last 20 years, the exceptions being the Western Athletic Conference, the Sun Belt Conference and the Pac-10. Fans from USC, UCLA and Washington can commiserate with fans from such football powers as Tulsa of the WAC and Louisiana-Lafayette of the Sun Belt Conference, who haven't had a winner either.

It's not that the Pac-10 is a conference of nobodies. During this twenty-year period, the Pac-10 has sent more players to the professional ranks than any other conference. Unlike the sports writers of America, the pros put their money where their mouths are. This year, among the Division 1A conferences, the Pac-10 has had the best out-of-conference record, winning 80% of its intersectional games. Not too shabby.

Does the Pac-10 have bad breath? Maybe, maybe not.

Certainly, Bob Toledo and the UCLA Bruins haven't helped its image with the sportswriters of America. Cade McNown's involvement in the handicapped parking scandal and DeShaun Foster's off-field problems with the NCAA have been less than scintillating. McNown finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1998, and statue-wise, Foster, a bona-fide candidate this year, shot himself in the foot, being suspended for the last three games of the season. Neither of them caught in flagrante delicto, McNown has never really admitted any culpability, other than stating "the process by which" he "acquired the permit was wrong", while Foster hired a lawyer to appeal the NCCA's decision and then to compound matters refused to show up for Senior day.

Some contrition might have helped here, from McNown, Foster and Bob Toledo, who says that "kids in the family make mistakes and kids in the family need to be forgiven."

However, all things considered, this year's balloting shows a significant regional bias in the ballots that were cast. If you look at the voting (see Table 1), Harrington finished fourth in five of the sixth regions, although finishing first in the Far West. In an effort to broaden his regional appeal, boosters from Oregon spent $250 thousand to plaster Harrington's mug on a billboard in New York City. As it turned out, it was money down the drain. 

There were 924 electors in this year's balloting, with ballots mailed to 871 media persons across the nation, 53 Heisman winners and one Suzuki fan. However, only 65% of the ballots were returned according to preliminary reports. Eric Crouch polled 770 points to capture the award over Rex Grossman of the University of Florida who polled 708. In the table below, the point total is calculated by counting three points for a first place vote, two for a second and one for third.

Table 1. Regional balloting (taken from espn.com).

Northeast Ken Dorsey, 179 Crouch, 159 Grossman, 121 Harrington, 62
Mid-Atlantic Grossman, 171 Dorsey, 128 Crouch, 103 Harrington, 41
South Grossman, 180 Dorsey, 92 Crouch, 79 Harrington, 50
Southwest Crouch, 204 Dorsey, 77 Grossman, 65 Harrington, 39
Midwest Crouch, 103 Grossman, 78 Dorsey, 64 Harrington, 35
Far West Harrington, 137 Crouch, 122 Dorsey, 98 Grossman, 93

If the professional ranks are a measure of talent, some of  the past Heisman winners (see Table 2), have not faired nearly as well in the pros as the Pac-10 runner up (see Table 3). Danny Wuerffel (Florida) of the Chicago Bears won the Heisman Trophy in 1996 and Jake Plummer (ASU) of the Arizona Cardinals finished 3rd in the balloting. The weak-armed Wuerffel is a backup quarterback at Chicago, while Plummer starts for Arizona. 

And then there is the "Heisman Jinx," which is nothing more than a euphemism for "we picked the wrong guy." Some past winners who have been bitten by the bronze statue include Rashaan Salaam (1994 winner), who played for Chicago and Cleveland and had a stint in the XFL this year, Gino Torretta (1992) who is no where to be seen, and Ty Detmer (1990), who is a back up QB at Detroit. Charlie Ward (1993) plays basketball for the New York Knicks.

With the BCS formula under scrutiny, this year's Heisman Trophy voting becomes more significant considering the regional bias in the voting. 

Taken together, they illustrate that something is dreadfully wrong about the process that determines a national champion and who the best player is in college football. 

What can be done about the BCS? For one, throw out the computer polls. The computer polls are the reason a most undeserving Nebraska team is playing in the Rose Bowl. That one's obvious. Better yet, let's have a playoff system, starting with the four BCS bowls, which would leave one more game for four teams and two more for two teams. Sure there would still be some squabbling and squawking amongst the teams that never got to play, but a playoff between the four bowl winners is better than the system we have now.

What can be done about the Heisman voting? Nothing. Consider the Heisman voting along with the BCS formula as nothing more than a joke. Both of them produce mythical winners, not real ones. As far as the Heisman voting goes, let the sports writers of America have their fun and perpetrate their continuing hoax on the public. In the arena of sports, life is nothing more than one big hee-haw--and so is the Heisman Trophy. It's all for fun, so who gives a darn.

Being a Pac-10 fan, I'm not taking the voting seriously and I hope you aren't either. 

Table 2. Heisman Trophy Winners Since Marcus Allen 

1982 Herschel Walker TB Georgia Southeastern
1983 Mike Rozier TB Nebraska Big 12
1984 Doug Flutie QB Boston College Big East
1985 Bo Jackson TB Auburn Southeastern
1986 Vinny Testaverde QB Miami Big East
1987 Tim Brown WR Notre Dame Independent
1988 Barry Sanders RB Oklahoma State Big 12
1989 Andre Ware QB Houston Conference USA
1990 Ty Detmer QB BYU Mountain West
1991 Desmond Howard WR Michigan Big Ten
1992 Gino Torretta QB Miami Big East
1993 Charlie Ward QB Florida State Atlantic Coast
1994 Rashaan Shalaam RB Colorado Big 12
1995 Eddie George TB Ohio State Big Ten
1996 Danny Wuerffel QB Florida South Eastern
1997 Charles Woodson CB Michigan Big Ten
1998 Ricky Williams RB Texas Big 12
1999 Ron Dayne RB Wisconsin Big Ten
2000 Chris Weinke QB Florida State Atlantic Coast
2001 Eric Crouch QB Nebraska Big 12

Table 3.  Runner ups from the Pac-10 in the Heisman balloting, since 1981

1982 John Elway QB Stanford 2nd
1988 Rodney Peete QB USC 2nd
1988 Troy Aikman QB UCLA 3rd
1991 Steve Emtman DL Washington 4th
1996 Jake Plummer QB Arizona State 3rd
1997 Ryan Leaf QB Washington State 3rd
1998 Cade McNown QB UCLA 3rd
2001 Joey Harrington QB Oregon 4th

(Editor's note: Joey Harrington was selected third in the first round of the NFL Pro-draft held on 20 April 2002).

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