Editor’s note: Civil Beat’s sales and marketing director, Mike Webb, couldn’t resist joining the discussion over who is the best player in college football this season.
Last week, Honolulu Civil Beat’s managing editor, Richard Wiens, got caught up in the hype over Marcus Mariota’s Heisman Trophy prospects.
He wrote a feel-good piece about the Hawaii-born player who attends the University of Oregon that mentions nary a stat — except for Mariota’s 80 mph in a 55 zone speeding ticket — or any of the other players in consideration for the top college football prize.
So let’s remedy that and take a serious look at the Heisman hopefuls. But before we delve into the numbers, let’s consider what the Heisman award purports to do.
According to its website, “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work.”
That sounds pretty nifty, but really, it’s virtually impossible to make an accurate decision.
“Outstanding” and “performance” can be measured in the numbers the players put up. “Pursuit of excellence with integrity”? Well, we’ll never really know unless we can find a way to measure their character. Ditto “diligence, perseverance, and hard work,” because we’re not behind the scenes, don’t know their work ethic or leadership abilities.
Factor in how to compare the value of a quarterback to a running back to a receiver to a lineman or linebacker, and all you’re doing is making a sport out of the art of arguing.
So the Heisman is an exercise in futility. But for sports fans, that’s part of the fun!
Now that we have that out of the way, here are the leading players’ stats (according to ESPN) as of this week:
Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB — 3,700 total passing and rushing yards, 41 total touchdowns, 2 interceptions (on 309 passing attempts), and a quarterback rating of 91.8 (with 100 being perfect). 10-1 team record.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB — 2,256 total rushing and receiving yards, 27 total touchdowns, 6 fumbles (5 lost), and held an NCAA record of 408 yards in one game before Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine broke it the following week. 9-2 team record.
Trevone Boykin, Texas Christian QB — 3,569 total passing and rushing yards, 31 total touchdowns, 5 interceptions, and 70.7 quarterback rating. 9-1 team record.
J. T. Barrett, Ohio State QB — 3,507 total passing and rushing yards, 42 total touchdowns, 10 interceptions (on 293 attempts), and 84.2 total quarterback rating. 10-1 team record.
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB — 3,605 total passing and rushing yards, 35 total touchdowns, 10 interceptions (on 308 attempts), and quarterback rating of 80.0. 10-1 team record.
We could break those numbers down a little further by noting that Mariota completes more than two-thirds of his passes and is the unquestioned leader of a team with a shoddy defense. So it’s fair to say he’s primarily responsible for the team’s record.
Or we could note that if Gordon gains 77 more rushing yards, he’ll rank fourth on the all-time yards in a single season list (behind only Barry Sanders, Kevin Smith, and Marcus Allen).
Boykin? Well the quarterback generally touches the ball on every offensive play, so credit has to go to him for his team’s success (which is another way to say I haven’t really paid much attention to the Horned Frogs or seen him in action this season). But his sub 60 completion percentage, and comparatively low TD total says he may get an invite to the Heisman ceremony in New York City, but he’s an outlier to win.
Barrett was thrust into leading his team after Ohio State’s pre-season Heisman contender, Braxton Miller, injured his shoulder. Since he and his team’s poor performance in the second game of the season, Barrett has become the Buckeyes’ single-season record holder for most offensive yards and touchdowns in one season. And he’s only a red-shirt freshman. Meanwhile, Prescott has probably faced the toughest competition and his stats stack up with all of the other players.
Gordon and Mariota are clearly the odds-on favorites, and the fact that Wiens failed to mention Gordon at all shows he was fishing for clickbait in our Pacific Ocean island paradise.
All of that said, you cannot choose the winner solely based on statistics. One of the greatest college football performances I ever saw was when the Texas Longhorns’ Vince Young took over the 2006 Rose Bowl and led his team on a game-winning drive that secured the national championship (and I actively dislike the Longhorns, but unlike Wiens, I won’t let my bias get in the way of my common sense).
So who’s the most outstanding college football player this year? I don’t know. But as an Ohio-born, lifelong Buckeye fan, I’m sure hoping that Barrett beats out Mariota to take home the trophy. And if not this year, Mariota will be playing in the NFL next year, leaving the path clear for Barrett to to be next year’s Heisman winner.