College Football is a rich tapestry of tradition. The premier award for outstanding achievement in college football for the individual is the Heisman Trophy. By definition, it is awarded to that season's most outstanding player in college football. Compared to the most valuable player awards of professional sports, it is a nice description that awards the best player regardless of that murky term "value". Even if the award has become an award given to the QB of the no. 1 school in America, any player can still win it. A great thing about the Hesiman is that in any given year, there is a true race between players. Dark Horse campaigns occur, as well as mass marketing attempts like the Joey Harrington NYC billboard ads in 2001.
In recent memory, voters have become lazy and simply awarded the QB of the top ranked team. Even worse, the voters have become lazy and failed to embrace the dark horse campaigns put forth by lesser known schools on behalf of their players. One problem in the voting system is the obstacle of "freshman status". No frosh has ever won the award, and few freshmen have ever cracked the top 3 in voting. Another problem with the voters is the lifetime achievement effect, which gives the Heisman to a player more for their career than for their season. This is a one season award and should be treated in this manner. In one of the worst displays of this lifetime achievement effect, Ron Dayne won the Heisman award in 1999.
Ron Dayne rushed for 1834 yards on 303 attempts, scoring 19 TDs with a 166.7 ypg and 6.05 ypc average. He earned All American honors with those stats, but did not lead the nation in yards per carry nor in yards per game. Dayne lacked breakaway speed and had, still has, a giant ass. I called him being a bust in the Draft and taunted Giant fans, knowing full well NY would not pass on him. If Dayne did not have the best year for a RB, was he carrying his team to the title? No. Dayne was on a 10-2 Badger squad that won the Rose Bowl. Dayne received the award for breaking the all time NCAA rushing record. Nothing peculiar to this season. The '99 season was just another year of big yardage in the Big Ten for Dayne. His performance that year did not warrant the Heisman Trophy.
Dayne's performance was the norm for Badger running backs, and the following stats do not lie:
2000 Michael Bennett 294-1598-10 TDs, 2001 Anthony Davis 291-1466-11 TDs, and 2002 Anthony Davis 300-1555-13 TDs. The following three seasons were filled with Badger RBs that ran just as well as Dayne, yet they did not get consideration for the Heisman. Why? When Larry Johnson ran for over 2000 yards at Penn St. in the same "tough conference" as the mighty Dayne did, he finished 3rd in Heisman voting. What was so amazing about Dayne's year that he warranted the Heisman? Nothing but the same thing he had been delivering the previous seasons and that Badger running backs would deliver in the years to follow 1999. The Badgers use a system that gives tons of carriers to their feature back (22+ a game). This award was a lifetime achievement award, but it was also a weaker year. The senior class lacked a lot of offensive firepower. Could the voters have done something radical and broken the mold with the Heisman? I think there were a couple of players who could have served this purpose.
1999 Son of Brock Landers Alternative Heisman Winner no. 1: Lavar Arrington
Lavar had one of the most amazing season's a defensive player has had in recent college football history. As a defensive player, he commanded thr attention of fans across the nation with his amazing displays of athleticism. His play was reminiscent of days of yore, when linebackers instilled fear in the eyes of 18 year old freshmen RBs and QBs. While not a fan of Penn St., I still watched their games when I could because you never knew what he might do. Whether it was leaping the line to sack a Qb, leaping so high that people thought he had launched off another player to block a FG, or displaying amazing closing speed to record a tackle behind the line, Lavar was everywhere. Arrington had 72 tackles, 20 for losses, 10 sacks, 1 INT, 6 deflections, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 forced fumble and oh yeah, 2 blocked kicks. Lavar's impact when you watched him was that he was the best player and athlete on the field at all times, and he was above the rest of the defensive players in the college game. The Browns still passed on him for Courtney Brown, but that's the cursed Browns. The voters could have gone in a different direction and awarded it to Arrington if they had balls. Unfortunately, they are lazy and do not have balls. When it comes to 1999, there are two players I recall during the college football season and always wanted to watch. One was Lavar, and the other was a freshman out of Virginia.
1999 Son of Brock Landers Alternative Heisman Winner no. 2: Michael Vick
The red shirt freshman from Virginia Tech carried his team to the national title. The Hokies had been building a foundation to become a big time program. Vick's emergence as the new prototype for a scrambling QB fit perfectly with the Hokies ideas of ball control, great defense and special teams. If the passing game was not working, it did not matter to the Hokies because the fastest guy on the field was their QB. He had the ball in his hands every single down. Vick was amazing to watch, as the running QB is more suited to the college game. QBs such as Vick, Vince Young, et cetera are more effective in a game with talent spread over 110 colleges. Safeties do not tackle as well, linebackers are slower, and teams do not have the overall speed of the pro game. Vick could turn a game at any time. When the Hokies made it to the title game, after Penn St.'s choke job, no one gave the Hokies a chance. The Hokies were down 21 to Florida St., yet Vick brought them back to take the lead late in the 3rd quarter. The Hokies lost, but the Vick legend was cemented. Vick was special for his athletic talent, but he also backed it up with a NCAA leading 180.4 passer efficiency rating. That was a record for a rookie. This was not Vince Young in '05, where a red shirt Junior led outstanding recruiting classes to a national title. A red shirt Freshman led a mid-power team to the BCS championship game. Truly "outstanding" things were happening around this kid. Vick's stats were solid, his play was breathtaking, and his team won. If there was ever a year to give the Heisman to a freshman, this was the year.
The Heisman voters had an opportunity in 1999 to make a mark. They had the chance to show that they could shake things up. A win by Arrington could have shown the Heisman Trophy voting to be progressive and not just an "Outstanding QB-RB in the NCAA" award. Journalists ride high horses into the ground regularly, and they are often hypocritical. Reporters constantly lament the lack of attention given to defensive players, or argue how awards or systems a rigged against certain players. If they were to take opportunities to address these issues, I could take them seriously. Ron Dayne may have been awarded the Heisman Trophy for 1999, but any fan of the college game will remember who really captivated fans' hearts and the nation's attention.
Postscript: Looking back on this 1999 season, the biggest names from that year have lead odd NFL careers. Dayne is a punchline to jokes (and has a giant ass). Arrington can't stay healthy. Peter Warrick, Courtney Brown, and other award winners have been busts. Vick has not lived up to the hype (he's still 26). Janikowski has been a disgrace to all of Poland.