Heisman Favors Offense

In 1935, Jay Berwanger won the first Heisman Trophy as a halfback for Chicago.

In those days, that position dominated the voting with runners winning 20 of the first 27 trophies and 41 of 77 overall.

At one point, beginning in 1974 with the first of Archie Griffin’s two trophies, running backs won 10 straight Heismans.

These days, like the game itself, the focus has shifted to the passers. Since 2000, quarterbacks have won all but two trophies with one of those running backs (USC’s Reggie Bush) having to vacate his. The other was Alabama’s Mark Ingram.

The last two players to win it, Auburn’s Cam Newton and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, were quarterbacks with the odds midway through this season pointing to a third straight as West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, and Kansas State’s Collin Klein are listed as the frontrunners on a pair of worthwhile Heisman websites.

Looking farther down the lists, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, a redshirt freshman born six days before Miami quarterback Gino Torretta won his Heisman, is on the rise. Not even considered a candidate as late as two weeks ago, Manziel shot up the charts with a 576-yard effort (395 passing, 181 rushing) against Arkansas last weekend.

Don’t think he can win it? It wasn’t until this time last season that RG3 became a household name outside of his own household.

That would be significant news, though, as no freshman, redshirt or otherwise, has ever won the award. Florida’s Tim Tebow was the first sophomore to win it, starting a run of three straight sophomore winners (Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Ingram).

The Heisman Game

Voters may want to take notice Saturday at Mountaineer Field when Smith’s Mountaineers play host to Klein’s Wildcats.

Smith has been the favorite for most of the season, but Klein can likely take over that top spot with a big performance against the Mountaineers. At this point in the season, few QBs have failed to do that as West Virginia has had one of the nation’s most generous defenses.

They’re different type of players, as Smith is a classic pocket passer and Klein is nearly as dangerous as a runner than he is as a thrower.

Smith is ranked No. 1 nationally in points responsible for (26 per game) and pass efficiency (180.80), No. 2 in passing yards per game (378.6), completions per game (32.5) and total passing yards (2,274) and No. 4 in total offense (390.33).

Klein is the national leader with seven career three-touchdown rushing scores and is coming off one of those last week. His 43 career rushing touchdowns are second in among active college football players behind Wisconsin RB Montee Ball.

Klein is coming off a pair of 100-yard rushing games in a row and has accounted for 61.7 percent of his team’s total yardage in 2012. Plus, at the moment, his team is unbeaten and very much in the national title hunt.

If you’re wondering, the two have met with Smith saying Klein is ”a cool guy.”

Could a defensive player win again?

While there have been seasons when an offensive player won the award when many felt a defensive player was the best player in college football, just one player has won the Heisman while primarily playing defense.

That was 1997 when Michigan cornerback/punt returner Charles Woodson took 66 percent of the votes and made some serious history.

This is topical again because there’s a defensive player holding steady in the top five among 2012 Heisman candidates in Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

Not only is Te’o the best player on the world’s most famous team, but his story is fascinating. There aren’t many players in Heisman history to lose a girlfriend and a grandmother in a six-hour span during the season, but that’s what Te’o endured last month.

Days after he lost both ladies, Te’o led the Irish to a 20-3 victory against Michigan State with 12 tackles, two pass breakups, and a fumble recovery. For the season, he has 59 tackles, three interceptions, and a pair of fumble recoveries.

If he doesn’t win the Heisman – with the numbers quarterbacks put up these days it seems highly unlikely – he might fall under that category as the best player in college football anyway.

Jim Elliott can be reached via e-mail at: elliott@theintelligencer.net