Hijacking the Heisman: Who Truly Deserves the Stiff-Arm?

Lots of debate going on about which player most deserves perhaps the most overrated trophy in sports — the Heisman Trophy.

I write “overrated” because for “most outstanding player,” it almost always goes to a player on the top couple of teams.  Certainly those players are “outstanding,” but “outstanding” is conflated with “best team” and there are plenty of players who are outstanding, but on weak teams.  It is through no fault of their own that they are on poor teams.

Furthermore, players on good teams are often overlooked as well.  While Mark Ingram was certainly deserving of his Heisman trophy, one has to wonder if Stanford being 8-4 hurt Toby Gerhart’s chances.

Nevertheless, this year the debate seems to be between Trent Richardson and Robert Griffin III.  Like in 2009, Richardson’s Alabama team is headed to the BCS Game, while RG3 is on a team that has multiple losses (three).  And yet, from the pundits, it appears that the talented Baylor quarterback is going to win the trophy.

That stated, those supporting Richardson openly question the level of competition that Griffin III has faced this season.  And at the surface, that is a worthwhile question.  Here is a table comparing four offensive finalists and the level of competition in terms of total yards allowed.

BALL

GRIFFIN

LUCK

RICHARDSON

UNLV (106) TCU (32) SJSU (93) Kent (19)
OreSt (83) FCS (X) Duke (92) PSU (10)
NIU (86) Rice (111) Ariz. (110) Ntexas (97)
FCS (X) K-State (74) UCLA (91) Ark. (51)
Neb. (36) IowaSt. (98) Colo. (103) UF (9)
Ind. (109) TAMU (66) WSU (81) Vandy (20)
MichSt (5) OkState (107) Wash (94) Miss. (88)
OSU (24) Missou (61) SoCal (54) Tenn (28)
Pur (69) Kan (120) OreSt (83) LSU (2)
Minn (77) OU (62) Ore (60) MSU (43)
Illi. (7) TxTech (115) Cal (26) FCS (X)
PSU (10) Tex. (14) ND (34) Aub. (78)

And here is a look at the defenses faced and their ranked relative to the position of the Heisman candidate (passing defense for Griffin III and Luck; rushing defense for Ball and Richardson).

BALL

GRIFFIN

LUCK

RICHARDSON

UNLV (98) TCU (56) SJSU (57) Kent (34)
OreSt (101) FCS (X) Duke (85) PSU (48)
NIU (83) Rice (111) Ariz. (119) Ntexas (72)
FCS (X) K-State (104) UCLA (68) Ark. (79)
Neb. (66) IowaSt. (72) Colo. (97) UF (40)
Ind. (118) TAMU (113) WSU (95) Vandy (27)
MichSt (12) OkState (102) Wash (116) Miss. (111)
OSU (52) Missou (91) SoCal (101) Tenn (69)
Pur (91) Kan (108) OreSt (49) LSU (3)
Minn (93) OU (83) Ore (82) MSU (65)
Illi. (42) TxTech (65) Cal (43) FCS (X)
PSU (48) Tex. (47) ND (34) Aub. (99)

[NOTE: Montee Ball faced Michigan State twice, but I only listed it once in the above tables.]

Now…that nice.  But, it does not tell you that much.  Why?  Because just like a winning percentage can lie because of a soft (or difficult) schedule, so too can offensive and defensive yards.  For example, are the defenses in the Big 12 giving up a lot of yards because they are poor…or because those D’s face high-octane offenses?  Subsequently, are SEC defenses really that good, or are those teams facing anemic offenses?

Thus, it is best to see how each of the players fare relative to how other teams have fared against the same defenses.  In other words, how does Richardson’s stats measure up to how other teams performed against Alabama’s opponents; and how does Griffin stack up against the other teams that played Baylor’s opponents.

In order to do this properly, I looked at how each player fared in stats relative to their position.  For the quarterbacks, I looked at passer efficiency ratings while with the running backs I looked at rushing yards gained.  With the latter, to account for rushing yards gained by other players on the team, I took the players percentage of rushing yards gained in a given game and multiplied it the average a defense allows.  In other words, Richardson gained only 47 percent of Alabama’s 389 rushing yards against Mississippi.  So, I multiplied 47 by the Rebels’ average rushing yards allowed (224.9) in order to get a more comparable number (105.7).

To make more sense of the numbers, a ratio was used comparing yards earned to yards given up.  Any number over 1 means the player (or team) outgained the average, while a number less than 1 means the player (or team) underachieved.  Finally, I compared that number with a similar ratio looking at how likely an opponent was to over/underachieve against a given defense.  In other words, were teams more likely to have bigger-than-normal games against Indiana?

So, here we go…in alphabetical order.

MONTEE BALL (RB-Wisconsin)

Team Yards BALL Score
UNLV

63

1.241

1.008

Oregon State

118

1.057

0.811

Northern Illinois

91

1.494

1.241

South Dakota

88

X

X

Nebraska

151

1.430

1.082

Indiana

142

1.363

1.571

Michigan State

115

2.109

1.073

Ohio State

85

0.625

0.426

Purdue

223

1.961

1.815

Minnesota

166

1.518

1.208

Illinois

224

1.470

0.875

Penn State

156

1.903

1.407

Michigan State

137

1.208

0.615

AVERAGE

135.3077

1.448082

1.09431

ROBERT GRIFFIN III (QB-Baylor)

Team Rating GRIFFIN Score
TCU

158.3

1.435

1.187

Stephen F. Austin

158.3

X

X

Rice

148.9

1.488

1.093

Kansas State

136.6

1.100

0.995

Iowa State

103.8

0.662

0.741

Texas A&M

119.8

0.954

0.881

Oklahoma State

82.5

0.648

0.597

Missouri

122.6

0.824

0.880

Kansas

130.2

0.975

0.911

Oklahoma

144.9

1.040

1.040

Texas Tech

125.6

1.123

0.913

Texas

122.3

1.068

0.886

AVERAGE

129.4833

1.029

0.920

ANDREW LUCK (QB-Stanford)

Team Rating LUCK Score
San Jose State

109.6

0.721

0.814

Duke

129.5

0.928

0.931

Arizona

121

0.764

0.838

UCLA

138.7

1.027

0.985

Colorado

131.1

1.024

0.934

Washington State

119.7

0.783

0.892

Washington

130.9

0.962

0.944

Southern California

111.5

1.207

0.812

Oregon State

105.7

0.896

0.723

Oregon

87

0.693

0.606

California

101.7

0.700

0.711

Notre Dame

115.7

0.973

0.857

AVERAGE

116.8417

0.890

0.837

TRENT RICHARDSON (RB-Alabama)

Team Yards RICHARDSON  Score
Kent State

37

1.427

0.856

Penn State

111

1.413

1.045

North Texas

167

2.122

1.399

Arkansas

126

1.130

0.977

Florida

181

1.708

1.164

Vanderbilt

107

1.244

0.774

Mississippi

183

1.730

1.828

Tennessee

77

0.879

0.689

LSU

89

1.123

0.451

Mississippi State

127

1.385

1.109

Georgia Southern

175

X

X

Auburn

203

1.094

1.044

131.9167

1.387

1.031

What do you see?  I see a player being overlooked — Montee Ball!  He scored the highest (average of the “score”) and had the highest ratio (yards to defensive yards allowed).  However, the latter may be a bit biased towards running backs as there is not a lot of potential for large deviations in passer efficiency ratings.  In other words, while a running back can double up the yards a defense normally allows, it is unlikely that a quarterback can double up the passer efficiency defended.

It should be noted that when looking at passing yards compared to defenses, Griffin III has the highest ratio among the four offensive finalist.  What does that mean?  It means that RG3’s passing numbers are better than what his opponents’ defenses allow; much better.  Thus, even if he is facing porous pass defenses, he is shredding them much more than those defenses allow on average.

However, what offsets that is the ratio, where it appears that many teams overachieve against those same defenses.  And certainly there is some bias in the ratio as teams may stop throwing late, as well as there may be game plans that favor exploiting an opponent’s run defense (see Stanford v. Washington).

One final note, if we take into account Griffin’s rushing numbers, then he likely moves up ahead of Ball.  However, it would also be necessary to look at Ball’s receiving numbers, which while low would still need to be examined in context.

Nevertheless, if we are going to talk about stats and teams faced, then Montee Ball should be your Heisman winner.  He is not flashy, which is what unfortunately will doom him this evening, but he has over 1750 rushing yards (over 2000 total yards) and 38 TDs.

Coming into this, I thought that RG3 should win it.  However, after doing this, I now believe that Montee Ball should win it.  However, it is almost a given that Ball will not win it.  Shame.

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