All elective races have their outrages and miseries. Be it President, Prime Minister or Pope, or American Idol Season 5, there are shining moments where a great talent ascends, and years where the white smoke rises for a muddling fool who adds nothing to history. Sometimes, the race goes not to the swift but to some hick with fortunate timing and a dim future. As veteran observers, we tailor our expectations accordingly.
(photo left: LaMichael James, at last December’s Heisman Awards ceremony. Getty images photo)
So too with the Heisman trophy. In week four of college football, The Heisman Pundit polls 13 likely voters and declares the two most eligible candidates are Andrew Luck (a reasonable and supportable choice) followed closely by Robert Griffin the Third of Baylor.
The three also-rans of the moment are Kellen Moore, Marcus Lattimore and Case Keenum of Houston. Denard Robinson is a distant sixth. LaMichael James, the leading rusher in the country with 613 yards, 7 touchdowns and a gaudy 9.4 yard average, wasn’t named on a single straw ballot. The Pundit himself, Chris Huston, also an actual Heisman voter, says James has only a dim chance with the voters for college football’s most prestigious individual award:
Without a doubt, he is piling up rushing yards with 502 the last two weeks. But I think Oregon’s loss to LSU in week one really hurt his candidacy. There is a perception out there that James (and Oregon) can pile up yards against bad team (like Arizona) but really struggles against teams with elite talent. I think the only way James is going to shake that perception is to have a ridiculously amazing season. If he keeps doing what he has been doing the last two weeks, then fine. But I doubt he does.
The lesson here is to avoid competition. Flavor of the week Griffin has played a rebuilding TCU, Stephen F. Austin and Rice. Andrew Luck, the leading returning vote getter and frontrunner, squared off against San Jose State, Duke, and Arizona, then took a bye. Don’t get me started on Kellen Moore, who cruised to two stat-padding victories against Toledo and Tulsa after pounding SEC also-ran Georgia, a 5-7 football team last year. Fourth place candidate Lattimore built his impressive cache of support running 20 times for 77 yards against Vanderbilt, after rumbling to big days against East Carolina, Navy and Georgia.
Nobody in the top four has faced an opponent with a defense like LSU’s, and voters neglect the fact that James had 132 all-purpose yards and a touchdown against the Tigers, the leading receiver that night on either team with six catches for 61 yards. They forget his versatility this season, with two punts returned for more than 50 yards, 17 pass receptions for 159 yards, including a 44-yard score. James is electric. Oregon abandoned the running game in the Cowboys Classic, as they did in the 2009 Rose Bowl, but it hasn’t prevented James from winning last year’s Doak Walker Award as the nation’s most outstanding running back, and it hasn’t prevented him from piling up 3,890 career rushing yards, sixth on the PAC 8/10/12’s career rushing list just four games into his junior year.
The Heisman Trophy is supposed to go to the most outstanding college football player in the country. In truth, it goes to a quarterback on a national contender or traditional power. It helps to have big games on television, have your team ranked in the top five, or play East of the Mississippi. Running backs can win the award but it often takes a 2,000-yard season or some memorable performances with the cameras rolling, performances that include a signature moment, a weaving, darting 60-yard run or game-winning play.
James has had plenty of those already in his career. Huston charges that he hasn’t done well against “teams with elite talent” yet two of the best games of his career came last season against USC, which sent about 7 players to the NFL, and Stanford, which finished the season 4th in the country. When Mark Ingram won the Heisman in 2009, he was held to 30 yards on 16 carries against Auburn, 50 yards on 17 carries against Arkansas, and 10 carries for 56 yards against Florida International.
LaMichael James is an outstanding college football player. He’s exciting to watch, runs with power, grace, intensity and flair. He’s versatile and selfless. His career statistics and accomplishments match up against some of the greatest players in the history of the game. He has stated very firmly that he doesn’t care about awards; he only cares about winning games. But if he can’t win the Heisman Trophy, based upon some ill-concocted, sloppy preconception, they should stop giving the award.