Ness: 2009 Heisman Preview
by Larry Ness
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I've always loved the Heisman, as in spite of all its warts and blemishes, it remains the most recognized and arguably the most-cherished individual award in any sport. I began doing a weekly Heisman top-10 on my nationally-syndicated radio show ("Bally's Sports Central") in the early to mid-90s and have continued it on the internet since (my weekly top-10 was available here at VE every Monday during the CFB season). It's that time of year again to take a look at the 2009 Heisman favorites.
The 2008 Heisman was won by Oklahoma's Sam Bradford with Colt McCoy (Texas ) of Texas finishing second and Florida's Tim Tebow (the 2007 winner) finishing third, despite garnering more first-place votes than either Bradford or McCoy. With all three players back for the 2009 season, this will be a year like no other in Heisman history. Tebow became the first sophomore to win the award in 2007 and Bradford became the second to do so last season. Never before has a college football season opened a year in which two Heisman winners were active.
Throw in McCoy and it's a clear-cut three-man race in 2009. While one can't say "no one else has a chance to win," it's highly unlikely any player outside of this year's "Big Three" has much of chance to win the 2009 Heisman. Below, I'll rate the top-three contenders plus offer two longshots.
QBs have dominated the Heisman award this decade, as every winner since 2000 has played that position save Reggie Bush of USC, who won in 2005. Archie Griffin of Ohio State, who won in 1974 as a junior and again in 1975 as a senior, is the award's lone two-time winner. Tebow missed out on a chance to win in back-to-back years last season but can win a second Heisman this year. Meanwhile, Bradford will face the daunting task of repeating his Heisman win of last year.
Tebow is the early favorite at just under 2-1, with Bradford and McCoy both listed at about 2 1/2-1. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor is listed at around 7-1 and Cal RB Jahvid Best around 9-1. All other players are listed at 10-1 or more. I agree that Tebow deserves to be the favorite and I make McCoy the second-choice. I'll list Bradford third. I see Pryor as having little or no chance at this year's Heisman, as I believe it's virtually impossible for any QB this year (that includes Ole Miss' Jevan Snead and Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson as well) to be able to out-perform all three of the favorites.
Before getting to this year's "Big Three," my two longshots are both RBs. Why not, RBs have won the Heisman 42 times? Jahvid Best sat behind Justin Forsett in 2007 at Cal, who ran for 1,546 yards (5.1 YPC / 15 TDs). Best took over as the starter last year and matched those numbers, rushing for 1,580 yards and 15 TDs with a spectacular average of 8.1 YPC. Cal plays at Oregon on September 26 and then hosts USC on October 3. If the Bears can win both of those games (which would set up a possible undefeated season) and Best can somehow improve on his 2008 numbers, then he has a shot at the Heisman (wanna bet?).
As for my second longshot, I'll take Penn State RB Evan Royster. Royster ran for 1,236 yards last year, averaging 6.5 YPC with 12 TDs. He's listed at around 11-1 (I'd sure want more than that!) but the Nittany Lions have a real chance a "running the table" this year. They get Iowa at home on September 26 (lone regular season loss came at Iowa City last year, 24-23) and their showdown with the Buckeyes this year is at State College, not Columbus (PSU won 13-6 at Ohio State last year). Three, four-year receivers are gone (Butler, Norwood and Williams) and that means QB Daryll Clark (a Heisman-hopeful himself) and Joe Pa will be really relying on Royster. An undefeated regular season (along with an 1,800-yard year) only gets Royster "in the mix" if Bradford, McCoy and Tebow all "fall on their faces!"
3) Sam Bradford (Oklahoma): Here's what I wrote in my final Heisman poll of 2008. "I believe Sam Bradford should win this year's Heisman, although I'm not convinced he will. As I just mentioned in the Tebow write-up, Bradford and McCoy could split votes and if you don't think I'm right on this issue, consider this. The AP voted McCoy as the Big 12's offensive player-of-the-year, while naming Bradford as its first-team All-Big 8 QB (figure that one out!). Also, Tebow's off-the-field persona is hard to match." Bradford did win but as I mentioned earlier, Tebow received the most first-place votes. I think it unlikely that Bradford will repeat. TE Greshman is back (14 TDs) but his top-two WRs (Iglesias and Johnson are gone). The Sooners return two 1,000-yard runners in Brown (1,220 / 5.6 YPC / 20 TDs) and Murray (1,002 / 5.6 YPC / 14 TDs) and while I'm not calling for a return to the wishbone for Oklahoma, Bradford's incredible numbers may drop off some. Bradford threw for 3,121 yards (69.5%) as a freshman (36 TDs / 8 INTs), topping 300 yards just two times. He then threw for 4,720 yards (67.9 percent) last year (50 TDs / 8 INTs), topping 300 yards in 11 of 14 games (twice over 400). Let me note however, that his team lost to McCoy and Texas 45-35 in the Red River Rivalry at Dallas and then the Sooners lost 24-14 to the Gators and Tim Tebow in the BCS championship game. Bradford had led the Sooners to an average of 54.8 PPG during the regular season and Oklahoma entered the title game having topped 60 points in five straight games. However, Bradford was a modest 26-of-41 for 256 yards (2 TDs / 2 INTs), as the Sooners were held to just two TDs. The loss makes last year's Heisman-winner 0-2 in bowl games, having lost 48-28 in the Fiesta Bowl to West Va the previous season (21-of-33 for 242 yards with two TDs and one INT). My preseason call is that's there will be no repeat for Bradford in 2009.
2) Colt McCoy (Texas): As the wonderful Maxwell Smart used to say, "Missed it by that much!" McCoy bested Bradford in the Texas/Oklahoma game on October 11 plus he and the Longhorns came within a dropped interception by Texas freshman safety Blake Gideon of besting Texas Tech on November 1. However, Gideon did drop what would have been a game-ending interception on a tipped ball and one play later, Harrell threw that famous TD pass to Crabtree. In the Oklahoma game, McCoy led the Longhorns on four straight second-half scoring drives (three TDs and one FG), as Texas rallied from a 28-20 deficit to a 45-35 win. At Lubbock on Nov 1, his team trailed 22-3 in the late second quarter and 29-13 with under 30 seconds to go in the third quarter but Texas came back behind McCoy to lead 33-32 before that ill-fated dropped interception and subsequent Harrell-to-Crabtree TD. Sports truly are a "game of inches" and McCoy, not Bradford, could have easily won last year's award. McCoy is back for his senior season and features an impressive "body of work." He completed an NCAA single-season record 76.7 percent of his passes last year for 3,859 yards (34 TDs / 8 INTs). He also led the Longhorns in rushing (561 yards / 4.1 YPC / 11 TDs) last year. He's thrown at least one TD pass in 17 consecutive games and his six 300-yard passing games last year, topped the total number of times he had surpassed that 300-yard mark in his freshman and sophomore seasons combined (had four 300-yard games in his first two years at Texas). He will continue to extend the school records he already holds. McCoy's 3,859 passing yards in 2008 broke Major Applewhite's record for the most yards in one season in school history and his 33 TD passes in one season was also a single-season record at Texas (one he already owned when he threw 29 as a freshman in 2006). The team's 24-21 win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl gave him 32 career wins as a starter, surpassing Vince Young (31) for the most by a Texas QB. McCoy also passed Vince Young for first place on Texas' all-time list of TDs responsible for (passing, rushing, receiving) during the year and by season's end had accounted for 102 career TDs (Young had 81 and former Heisman-winner Ricky Williams had 76). I realize everybody 'loves' Tim Tebow but I'm rooting for McCoy to get his "just desserts" in 2009 and come away with a Heisman.
1) Tim Tebow (Florida): While my heart says McCoy, my head says Tebow must be the preseason favorite. Tebow was a freshman backup to Chris Leak in 2006 when the Gators trounced Ohio State 41-14 to win the national championship. As a sophomore he led a young Florida team to a 9-4 mark in 2007, becoming the first player in NCAA history to pass (32) and run (23) for 20 TDs or more in the same season. He completed 66.9 percent of his 350 attempts, while throwing just six INTs. His 210 rushing attempts were more than double the number of any other player on the team, as he ran for 895 yards (4.3 YPC). He set an NCAA record for rushing TDs by a QB (23), an SEC record for TDs accounted for (55) and a school-record for total offense (4,181 yards). He accomplished all this despite suffering a bruised shoulder in the middle of the season and playing with a fractured right hand in Florida's regular season finale vs Florida St. Most figured that Tebow couldn't replicate those numbers last year and while he didn't, Tebow had quite a junior year. The Gators opened 3-0 in 2008 but were shocked by Ole Miss in "The Swamp," losing 31-30. While Tebow passed for 319 yards in that game (his lone 3-00-yard effort of the season), that contest is best-remembered for his post-game press conference. Tebow's emotion-filled promise that no one would work harder than him the rest of the way turned out to be an understatement. The Gators would win their remaining 10 games, outscoring their opponents 445 (49.4 PPG)-to-107 (11.9 PPG). Tebow would throw 22 TDs and just two INTs during that stretch (16-0 ratio that last six games), while adding 10 rushing TDs. The winning streak was capped by Florida's 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS championship game, giving the Gators two national titles in three seasons. Tebow was 18-of-30 for 231 yards in last year's BCS title game (2 TDs / 2 INTs), as well as adding 109 yards rushing. Tebow finished the year by completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2.746 yards (30 TDs / 4 INTs), plus added 673 YR (3.8 YPC / 12 TDs). Those are modest numbers when one compares them to Bradford and McCoy, who both completed more passes than Tebow attempted (298) last year (Bradford completed 328, McCoy 322). Tebow has chance to become the most-decorated player in CFB history (arguably). The Gators could win a third national title in his four years (granted he was a role player in 2006) plus he could join Griffin as CFB's only two-time Heisman winner. The schedule sets up perfectly for Florida in 2009, as they miss both Ole Miss and Alabama this year. Does anyone really believe the Gators will lose at Kentucky, Mississippi State or South Carolina, where the chant will be, "remember ballot-gate!" Florida's lone road test will come at LSU on October 10 but most feel the Tigers are just the third-best team this year in the SEC-West. Tebow's numbers will likely be better than last year and not quite as good as in 2007. They will not be in the class of Bradford or McCoy's but there is a lot of subjectivity in Heisman voting and the "Tebow image" carries a ton of weight.
My first Heisman report will be available right here at VE on Monday, September 7.
Good luck, Larry