Luck tops Daily’s midseason Heisman poll

Oct. 13, 2010, 3:03 a.m.

We ran an experiment this week under the guise of a poll. The task was simple: choose your top three choices for the Heisman Trophy at the halfway point of the college football season. We bombarded The Daily’s staff with e-mails and reminders. Ultimately, 22 people voted. For our intent, we’ll deem that a critical mass.

The results are as follows: Stanford’s Andrew Luck barely edged out Michigan’s Denard Robinson, with Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor and Oregon’s LaMichael James tying for third place–Pryor gets the edge because he had more first place votes. A first-place vote counts for three points; second place, two points; and third place, one point. Robinson had the most first-place votes.

The writers, editors, artists and photographers who participated came from a variety of sections and possess a wide spectrum of knowledge. Some are football fanatics who spent days considering their choices; others admitted to knowing next to nothing about the game. We find this to be a fair reflection of the actual pool of Heisman voters, many of whom have admitted to not actually watching a tremendous number of games or paying attention to entire conferences altogether. Also, as with the actual Heisman, we sent out the poll before all the games of the season’s first half had been played; early judgments are a centerpiece of the Heisman voting process. As such, there are ballots from before and after last Saturday’s contests.

Finally, we acknowledge a certain Stanford bias. There were 33 players on the ballot, mainly chosen for their presence on the voter poll. Two are from Stanford: Luck and Owen Marecic. We told our staff the following: “If you objectively think they deserve votes, go for it. If your desire to mark them down is driven only by your collegiate affiliation, reconsider your choices.”

But at the end of the day, the Heisman vote is driven by biases, and the voters themselves are not particularly shy about it. So, ultimately, there are three notes about our poll: It was taken both before and after the “final” week’s action, some voters don’t know a whole lot about the sport and a few participants have slanted views.

If we’re imitating the Heisman voting process, we might as well go all out. That is the experiment: to see how closely we could imitate general balloting practices, and how close our results match up with conventional thought. Tell us if we succeeded.

Below, four writers explain their choices.

Jacob Jaffe

Votes: First: Kellen Moore. Second: Cameron Newton. Third: Denard Robinson.

Most of you probably aren’t giving Kellen Moore enough credit, just like you aren’t giving his team enough credit. Yet the Boise State Broncos are projected to take over first place in next weekend’s BCS standings, and their undoubted leader is Moore. It is a reasonable argument to say that Boise State is under more pressure than any other team in the country, because fans and media all over the nation are rooting for the Broncos to fail. A win for any other team is good enough, but just winning won’t cut it for Boise State; the Broncos need to dominate.

And dominate they have, led by Moore. Despite the pressure of winning “impressively” every week, Moore leads the nation in passing efficiency, throwing only one interception and taking only one sack in five games to go with his 14 touchdowns. The Heisman nearly always goes to a strong leader on a title-contending team, and Moore has been the most reliable, efficient passer in the country, and he plays for the likely No. 1 team.

After Moore, a number of candidates have been impressive. Auburn’s Cam Newton has the distinction of being the top-rated passer outside of Boise, and he has mixed in some incredible plays on the ground. Newton leads the country in yards per attempt through the air, and he is also 12th in the nation in rushing. Combine this with Auburn’s unbeaten record (albeit against lackluster foes) and Newton is a strong No. 2. If he leads Auburn to a BCS bowl and maintains these numbers, he would likely jump Moore, but Auburn hasn’t proven itself to be a true title contender.

Denard “Shoelace” Robinson topped most ballots as recently as a week ago, but he ran into his first good opponent in Michigan State, and the Spartans knocked him down a peg or two. Robinson’s three interceptions in that game took some of the luster off his earlier performances, but he has still done things that few players have ever done in the history of college football. He still (easily) leads the nation in rushing at 991 yards, and even with the three picks, he remains the country’s 12th-rated passer and comes in fifth in yards per attempt. “Shoelace” might fall off when he starts facing more good defenses (Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio State all remain on the schedule), but for now he is still a top-three performer.

Kabir Sawhney

Votes: First: LaMichael James. Second: Denard Robinson. Third: Marcus Lattimore.

With apologies to Darron Thomas, James has been the most electrifying playmaker on the country’s most electrifying offense. In Oregon’s toughest game to date, against then-No. 9 Stanford, James was masterful, brutalizing the Cardinal’s physical front seven and rushing for 257 yards on 31 carries (a ridiculous 8.3 yards per carry), as well as three touchdowns. More than any other player, James is responsible for the Ducks leading the country in a whole bunch of statistical categories on offense, which is why I’m giving him the nod as my midseason Heisman No. 1.

Robinson has been insane, period, and before last weekend’s performance, when he tossed up three picks to Michigan State, he would have easily slid into the top spot. He has over 1,200 yards passing and almost 1,000 yards rushing in just six games, and if he keeps up this torrid pace he’ll easily win the award at the end of the season. However, Robinson may not have the pieces assembled next to him necessary to continue his production.

Lattimore’s stats have looked pretty pedestrian so far: 459 rushing yards through six games for the Gamecocks. He’s on this list not because he’s statistically impressive, but because his explosiveness and sheer running ability have almost single-handedly taken South Carolina from a middling, unranked team to a top-10 ranking and a contender for the SEC East title. Lattimore has given Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier the kind of backfield threat he has never had in his tenure, and the results speak for themselves.

Dan Bohm

Votes: First: Denard Robinson. Second: LaMichael James. Third: Patrick Peterson.

I guess my ballot is a lesson in why you should wait until the last possible second to cast your vote for any award. Of course I voted before last weekend’s games and my first choice, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, went and threw three picks and my third choice, LSU defensive back Patrick Peterson, muffed a punt. Still, I believe my ballot holds up.

Robinson has been the best player on the field in every game. He has run rampant all over the field and made Michigan football relevant again. Oh, and he has also put up video game-like numbers.

LaMichael James got my second place vote, and if the award goes to whom it often has in the past–the best player on the best team (read: Mark Ingram, Troy Smith, USC players)–then the award may easily swing to the running back that dropped 257 rushing yards on our very own Cardinal.

Peterson definitely deserves to be in contention. He does everything–he hits, he covers and he is the best return man in the game. There is some hesitation, I believe, among voters to select a defensive player, but the award is supposed to go to the best player, not the best offensive player, so if Peterson fits that mold, why not?

Zach Zimmerman

Votes: First: Terrelle Pryor. Second: LaMichael James. Third: Taylor Martinez.

The Terrelle Pryor hype train has been full speed ahead since he came into college football two years ago. Despite glimpses of greatness, he remained absurdly inconsistent through his first two seasons. Now, as a junior, Pryor is leading an undefeated Buckeyes team to what, at the very worst, will be a Rose Bowl appearance. The strength of schedule hasn’t been fantastic, but Pryor has mutilated opposing defenses to the tune of 1,349 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes. His ability to scramble is what makes him such a dangerous weapon, but it’s his newfound touch on the deep ball that has finally placed him among the college quarterbacking elite. If Ohio State runs the table and he continues to demonstrate phenomenal accuracy, it will be hard to select anyone over Pryor.

I may be overrating James based on his performance against Stanford (257 yards and three touchdowns), but it’s hard to ignore his value and skill. He’s already amassed 847 yards on over seven yards per carry. His 10 total touchdowns leads the most dynamic offense in the country, and he’s put Oregon in prime position to win a national title. What’s most striking to me is his ability to hold on to the ball–he has never lost a fumble in a Ducks uniform.

Martinez is a little bit of a reach, but the freshman quarterback is the main reason why Nebraska is returning to its glory days. As a quarterback, he’s averaging more than 10 yards per carry. He’s accumulated 12 rushing touchdowns on the year, and although he’s not the purest of passers (660 yards and three scores), he is undoubtedly one of the best playmakers in college football. Just ask Kansas State. Martinez torched the Wildcats for 241 yards and four touchdowns on the ground and 128 yards and a score through the air.

Wyndam Makowsky wrote and administered The Daily’s Heisman poll. Contact him at [email protected].

The Daily Sports Staff is the collective moniker of an overworked, beleaguered, underpaid collection of sportswriters that feel comfortable enough with their own self-identities to give up any sense of individualism for the good of the sports section. To contact The Daily Sports Staff, send an email to the managing editor(s) of the sports staff (sports 'at', keepers of the souls of those sportswriters.

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