- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

If you think last weekend’s BCS resolution was a travesty, just wait until the Heisman Trophy winner is unveiled in New York tomorrow night.

Every serious straw poll available predicts that Oklahoma quarterback Jason White will be the winner. On Wednesday, White was awarded the Associated Press Player of the Year Award, a fairly reliable predictor for Heisman success.

Yet anyone who was watching last Saturday night saw White finish his season with a ghastly performance in the Sooners’ biggest game of the pre-bowl season. In a 35-7 loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 title game, White passed for two interceptions and no touchdowns. In fact, White’s only scoring toss was to Kansas State’s Ted Sims, who returned a fourth-quarter interception 27 yards for a touchdown to put an exclamation point on the Sooner shocker and White’s woeful night.

At least Miami’s Gino Torretta, heretofore the Heisman’s most dubious winner (1992), waited until after he had won the award to expose himself as a fraudulent front-runner, chucking three interceptions and no touchdowns in a 34-13 Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama.

So why, you ask, is White still considered the favorite after his Big 12 title game bust? Because a certain percentage (probably quite large) of the 922 Heisman electors already had mailed in their ballots (literally and figuratively) before White and his Sooners were mauled in Kansas City.

That’s because ballots were due at the accounting offices of Deloitte by Wednesday, three business days after the Big 12 title game. Now while we’re sure a number of conscientious voters waited until after last weekend’s play to overnight their ballots to Deloitte, we’re equally certain a substantial number of those ballots were posted while college football’s regular-season fat lady was still in her dressing room.

Logic would seem to dictate a later date for the Heisman award show; if the show were scheduled for next weekend instead of this weekend, the deadline could have been a week later and such logistical issues avoided. But as the BCS has proved time and again, logic and college football rarely keep company.

Of course, there are some who will claim White’s victory, if indeed he does take home the bronze boy, needs no asterisk.

“The Heisman Trophy isn’t won or lost in one game. It’s an award based upon an entire season, and Jason has had an outstanding season,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, defending White after his flop in the finale.

Nobody can deny that White’s numbers are outstanding. He was the nation’s highest rated passer (168.0), throwing for 3,744 yards and 40 touchdowns against eight interceptions. But if you’re simply looking for Superman stats, the numbers of Texas Tech senior slinger B.J. Symons dwarf White’s. Symons set a single-season NCAA record for passing yardage (5,336 yards) while tossing 48 touchdowns.

“Here’s the Heisman deal. At some point, they need to figure out what they want with the Heisman, because the award’s not clearly defined,” said Texas Tech coach Mike Leach when asked about Symons’ Heisman chances earlier this season. “Is it the best player on the best team? Is it a stats deal? Is it the national MVP? It’s tricky because it keeps voodoo-ing from one season to the next.

“Currently, they want to give it to the best player on the best team. Well, if they want to do it that way, they should wait to give it until after the national championship game. They could do it within five minutes after the game. Then who wins it last year? Probably [former Ohio State running back] Maurice Clarett. He’s the guy who had the biggest impact on the team who ended up winning the national championship. Of course, if they did it that way some former Heisman Trophy winners like Paul Hornung [who played for a 2-8 Notre Dame team in 1956] would be out of business.”

What’s most ludicrous about White’s Heisman candidacy is that he doesn’t qualify as a favorite no matter what criteria you choose.

If you go strictly by stats, there are only three possible winners: Symons, Kansas State’s Darren Sproles and Pittsburgh’s Larry Fitzgerald.

Symons led the nation in passing yardage and touchdowns. Sproles, who shredded Oklahoma for 323 yards of total offense while White was floundering, led the nation in rushing yardage (1,948) and saved his best performances for the biggest games. But Sproles plays his football in the wrong Manhattan, the Rotten Apple. He was a late arrival to the Heisman fray and wasn’t even invited to the ceremony.

Fitzgerald, the only candidate with a legitimate chance of nipping White, led the nation in receiving yards (1,595) and touchdown receptions (22) while setting an NCAA record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch (18). But like White, Fitzgerald fizzled in his final Heisman audition, catching only three passes for 26 yards in an ugly, season-ending home loss to Miami on Nov.29.

If the award goes to the national MVP, then you almost have to tap Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning. The senior signal-caller from football’s first family almost single-handedly carried the Rebels (9-3, 7-1 SEC) to the school’s first share of a SEC West crown as the league’s top passer. Manning and the Rebels were just a pair of fourth-quarter miscues from bumping LSU out of both the conference and national title picture, losing to the Tigers 17-14 on Nov.22 when Mississippi’s last two drives ended with kicker Jonathan Nichols missing a 36-yard field goal and Manning tripping over his own offensive lineman on fourth down.

“I don’t think anybody meant more to his team this season than Eli Manning,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said recently. “Take him off that team and I’m not sure the Rebels finish .500.”

If you’re looking for the best player on the best team, White isn’t a contender either. Perhaps many electors selected White based on this criteria before then-No.1 Oklahoma lost to Kansas State. But even before that, dubbing White the squad’s best player was a significant stretch. If you take a look at the mock 2004 NFL Draft of analyst Scott Wright, you’ll see that Oklahoma defensive tackle Tommie Harris and cornerback Derrick Strait are projected as first-rounders. And most insiders believe at least four other Sooners will be selected ahead of White, if he’s selected at all.

In fact, those voters responsible enough to hold their ballots until last weekend’s final whistle would have to give best-player-on-the-best-team honors to one of two USC sophomores, quarterback Matt Leinart or wideout Mike Williams. Leinart’s numbers (3,229 yards passing with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions) were comparable to those of last season’s Heisman winner Carson Palmer (3,639 yards, 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions).

Williams’ stats (87 receptions for 1,226 yards and 16 touchdowns) are nearly as impressive as Fitzgerald’s for a team actually playing for a title. Throw in the fact that Williams authored the season’s most memorable catch and its most memorable block in the second half of last week’s victory over Oregon State, and perhaps you’d have to give the 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver a slight edge on his quarterback. Comically, however, neither will be present when the stiff-arming statue is handed out Saturday at the Yale Club.

It’s this final fact that makes this season’s Heisman situation even more irksome than the recent BCS debacle. Frankly, nobody but the fans will suffer because of the BCS mess.

If Sugar Bowl-spurned Southern Cal beats Michigan in the Rose Bowl, the No.1 Trojans will still get their piece of the national title. But no such justice is forthcoming on the Heisman front. Solomon won’t show up in NYC and hack the award into several pieces. If and when White wins the Heisman, ludicrous logistics, lazy electors and hazy criteria will have cost the likes of Fitzgerald, Sproles, Manning, Williams and Leinart a fair shot at immortality.

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