Saturday, December 8, 2012

Heisman 2012: There is No Such Thing as Objectivity

Everything about the Heisman this year is frustrating.  Never mind that I come pre-programmed with an unremitting bias toward all things Irish. This isn't about whether Manti Te'o wins; Te'o has already won pretty much every other award there is, and not a single one of them will mean as much as bringing home the crystal trophy Notre Dame plays for on January 7th.

No, this is about the media pundits (and a large number of Heisman voters) simultaneously deciding to throw a rave in the back of Johnny Manziel's bandwagon on or about the night of November 10th--and somehow convincing the rest of the country that this is a perfectly acceptable thing to do in the wake of a freshman quarterback's statistics.

No freshman has ever won the Heisman. And no freshman ever should.

I will stand by this more stubbornly than a donkey in a tar pit, because I do not believe that the Heisman is an award that should be won or lost over the course of a single season. (Most of my thoughts on that are summed up right here.) If defenses can't keep Manziel contained next season, then either A) all of the defensive coordinators in the SEC have forgotten how to do their jobs, or B) yes, he's really that good. Give him the award then.

Although considering the way the Heisman voters have been treating the injured Collin Klein, there is always only ever this season in college football.

However, today's rant was specifically inspired by Pat Forde over at Yahoo! Sports, who devised his own system for trying to compare apples and oranges, in an effort to be more fair & balanced in his Heisman choice.

But I think he still cast the wrong vote for the Heisman, and here's why: numbers don't make you objective.

I understand the impulse to try to be fair. You can't vote someone the Most Outstanding Player In College Football just because he's been the subject of a few human interest pieces that tugged at your heartstrings. But even coming up with your own method of trying to compare apples and oranges doesn't do you justice unless you're willing to compare all of the numbers. Like, for example, Collin Klein's.

Forde tried to estimate just how many of the Aggie's touchdowns Manziel was personally responsible for, versus the number of Notre Dame's turnovers Manti Te'o was personally responsible for. I don't really buy that these stats are comparable, since the goal of the offense is to score points, whereas the goal of the defense is to stop the offense from scoring. Forcing a turnover is only one way to do this. However, in keeping with Forde's line of reasoning:

So Manziel's percentage of the Aggie's TD's this season was .597? Collin Klein's was .661. The Aggies scored far more touchdowns than the Wildcats this season, so to get a better sample size, I'll add in Klein's numbers from last season, too. In 2011, Klein was personally responsible for 40 out of 46 touchdowns scored by the Wildcats. That's .869. Over the course of 115 touchdowns, Optimus Klein scored 80. That's an average of .695 overall.

I've heard some arguments to the effect of, "Oh, but K-State doesn't play anybody." Except that Kansas State beat five ranked opponents this season. Also, I'd argue that K-State doesn't play with anybody, either. They have to recruit in the same stomping grounds as Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska, and they're flanked to the east by the SEC. Klein was recruited out of Loveland, Colorado, and played his first season at State at wide receiver-- a year the Wildcats went 6-6. The next year they went 7-6. In 2011, after Klein was finally a starter for the whole season, they went 10-2. This year? 11-1. When was the last time the Wildcats were this good?

So really, if we're going by numbers alone, I think maybe Forde's vote should have gone to Collin Klein. Klein doesn't have as many passing yards as Manziel, but he has more wins, more TD's, and a higher single-season quarterback rating.

Moreover, I'm not convinced Johnny Football's prominence in this year's Heisman race has a darn-tootin' thing to do with how good his numbers are. Manziel's numbers were plenty good before the Aggies played Alabama. Maybe I just don't watch enough ESPN, but as far as I could tell, Manziel was barely a blip on the Heisman radar before the Crimson Tide went down. Afterward, he was everywhere.

I can't help thinking that Manziel's late-season surge has less to do with his football prowess than it does with with the nation's unwavering conviction that the SEC is indomitable, and that anyone who can come in and wreak havoc with the defending champs must be One Of The Best Of All Time.

A&M had already lost to two top-ranked SEC teams by the time they played the Alabama. While two close losses can't cancel out the Aggies' win against the Crimson Tide (or vice versa, in my opinion), I have to wonder: if Johnny Football plays Alabama the week before the LSU game instead of the week after, does Texas A&M still win? Maybe not. Hypotheticals are no reason to rob the kid of a vote, of course, but my point is this: without that 'Bama game, Manziel's not in the Heisman conversation this season.

Objectively speaking, the same holds true for Manti Te'o. As terrible as it seems to say, without his personal tragedy, there's no publicity: no chance to be awed or humbled or moved by who he is as a person, or what he's done for this team. The coach can talk about Manti's intangibles and leadership until he's red in the face, but without the words of Manti himself, it's impossible to understand the depth of his effect on everyone around him.

And without Collin Klein's injury? (Or perhaps that lopsided loss to Baylor?) Yeah, I think maybe he's still the Heisman #1.

It seems like excellence on the field should be all that matters, but honestly I don't think that's what brought the frontrunners to New York this year. It was the extenuating circumstances--the perfect storm of moments that allowed them to step into (or slide just slightly out of) the limelight--that brought them into the media's focus.

So serendipity to you, Heisman candidates. May the most fortuitous man win?

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