There wasn’t much drama in the Heisman Trophy voting this year, or much anguish in the decision-making process.
Baker Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback, was my choice, as he was for most of the voters in winning by a substantial margin. His conduct issues — a drunken night out in Arkansas, some jawing and gesturing at opposing players in the Kansas game — aren’t things I’d recommend but those issues didn’t rise to a level that disqualified him from winning the Heisman, in my opinion. Other voters may have set the bar at a different level and I respect that.
One of the other common complaints — we should wait until after the postseason before voting — didn’t really affect this year’s ballot either. Last year, I voted for the winner — Lamar Jackson, who was third on my 2017 ballot — but would have elevated Clemson’s Deshaun Watson to the top after his spectacular work in the College Football Playoff. The same would have been true in 2005 when Vince Young would have been elevated over Reggie Bush. This year, it’s hard to envision Mayfield struggling so much against Georgia that it would erase his accomplishments over the course of the year.
The second player on my ballot was the third player in New York, Stanford running back Bryce Love, the best of a good group of running backs this year. If Kerryon Johnson had been healthy all year or if Nick Chubb hadn’t had to share statistical opportunities with Sony Michel, that might have been different. I also regret having so few opportunities to see San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, whose numbers were amazing.
If there was anything unusual about this year’s ballot, it was the absence of any Southeastern Conference players. That is the group that I most often see in person and I think that the traditional geographic structure of the Heisman voting pool encourages that. There are approximately 20 voters from Alabama, including Tommy Deas of The Tuscaloosa News as well as myself. If I had a defensive player on the three-man ballot, it would either have been Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick or Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith. Both could still do things in the playoff to make me regret the omission.
Last year, Jonathan Allen was on my ballot for those two reasons, proximity and defensive impact, as well as talent. Myles Garrett of Texas A&M was also a consideration, although his college career fluctuated from spectacular at times to silent at others. The No. 1 NFL draft choice is rarely the “most outstanding”college player and Mayfield certainly won’t be the first player chosen by the pros.
The award structure in college football has evolved where defenders like Fitzpatrick and Smith get their “reward” from trophies like the Jim Thorpe or the Butkus. Those are notable, but in most years, there should be Heisman consideration for defenders as well.
Will the state of Alabama have a finalist next year? Some of those never-too-early top 10 lists for 2018 are out already and mention both Jarrett Stidham at Auburn and Jalen Hurts at Alabama. Could another transfer win, as Mayfield (from Texas Tech to Oklahoma) or Cam Newton (Florida to Auburn via junior college) did? If Shea Patterson ends up at Michigan, the hype train will roll out of the station at full speed.
This year, Mayfield was a clear choice. Plus, the year isn’t over so who knows? Maybe Alabama will get a chance to see him up close after all.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.