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July 31, 2009

Mailbag: Should we wait to award the Heisman?

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In one of the most enduring sports phrases ever uttered, New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra once proclaimed: "It ain't over till it's over.' "

Of course, he was referring to a pennant race, but the same principle applies to college football.

There was a time when the United Press International crowned its college football national champion before the bowl games. That didn't make sense. That's like declaring the winner in a 100-meter dash just 90 meters into the race.

A case in point is the 2002 Miami Hurricanes, who had a roster teeming with future NFL first-round draft choices, a perfect record and a double-digit margin of victory in 10 of 12 regular-season games. The Hurricanes were viewed as virtually unbeatable.

That is, until Ohio State beat them in the BCS national title game.

That was a dramatic reminder that championships cannot be determined until after all the games are played.

There have been plenty more.

Florida State was a big favorite to win the 2000 championship, but the Seminoles were upset by Oklahoma. Ohio State in 2006 was, too. And then Florida blew out the Buckeyes.

Some media was trumpeting the 2005 USC Trojans as the best team in college football history. But then, the Trojans lost to Texas when Longhorns quarterback Vince Young turned in perhaps the greatest individual performance ever.

The last game gave Young and the Longhorns a chance to win the national title. If awards weren't presented until after the bowl games he might have won something else, too, as we'll see in this week's mailbag.

What if ... ?

From: Trey in Pittsburgh: What are the chances that the Heisman ceremony will ever be moved until after the bowl games?

Some recent postgame performances have made that a legitimate question.

Had the vote been held after the bowl games, Texas' Vince Young would likely have won the 2005 Heisman instead of USC's Reggie Bush. Young, who finished second in the Heisman voting, upstaged Bush by passing for 267 yards and rushing for 200 and three touchdowns in a 41-38 win in the national championship game.

Bush rushed for 82 yards and scored a touchdown, but he also lost a fumble on an ill-advised attempted lateral early in the game.

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden might have snatched the trophy away from Ohio State's Troy Smith if the vote had been held after the 2006 bowl games.

McFadden, who finished as runner-up in the voting, had a solid but unspectacular showing with 89 rushing yards in a 17-14 Capital One Bowl loss to Wisconsin.

Still, it was a much better performance than Smith had in a 41-14 loss to Florida in the national championship game.

Smith completed just 4 of 14 passes for 35 yards and threw an interception in that game. Because of sacks his rushing total was minus-29 yards. He managed just 6 yards in total offense.

Last year Florida's Tim Tebow might have wrested the trophy away from Oklahoma's Sam Bradford. Both quarterbacks passed for two touchdowns and threw two interceptions, but Tebow also rushed for 109 yards in a national championship game win over the Sooners.

That game might have swayed some voters.

But despite those recent occurrences don't expect any changes in the Heisman format. That's not just my opinion, either.

I put the question to Tim Henning, the Heisman Coordinator for The Heisman Trophy Trust. He doesn't foresee any changes.

"We pride ourselves on our history and traditions," Henning wrote in an email. "Historically, the Heisman has never been awarded after the bowl games. I do not think we would change at this point. The Heisman is awarded based on an individual's performance during the regular season."

Rare double

From: Mike in Montgomery, Ala.: How many quarterbacks who won a national championship have also won a Super Bowl?

Unfortunately, that isn't an easy question to answer.

In my opinion a national champion is a team that was ranked No. 1 in the final BCS rankings and/or the old Associated Press or United Press International polls. Sorry, I'm not buying the retroactive computer championships.

Still, some may disagree with that. For example, Doug Williams, who led the Washington Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XXII, was a quarterback at Grambling in 1975. Grambling topped the final Sheridan poll, which crowns the black college national champion. Some would argue, then, that Williams was a quarterback on a national championship team.

Tom Brady was a backup to Brian Griese on Michigan's 1997 national championship team. Of course, Brady has led the New England Patriots to three Super Bowl victories, but he shouldn't be defined as a "national championship" quarterback.

Conversely, Bernie Kosar, the starting quarterback on Miami's 1983 national championship team, was the backup to Troy Aikman when the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XXVIII.

Kosar has a Super Bowl ring, but by in my opinion doesn't fit the definition of a Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

Obviously, there can be varying opinions on that subject.

To me, the answer to that question is the quarterbacks who were starters on Super Bowl winning teams and were starters on teams that were named national champions in the major collegiate polls.

So, to break it down there are 27 Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks who represent 21 universities.

Purdue has never won a national championship, so that knocks out Bob Griese and Len Dawson. Stanford hasn't won a national title, so Jim Plunkett and John Elway are out.

Louisville, Miami University, Navy, Fresno State, Southern Mississippi and Washington State haven't won national titles, which eliminates John Unitas, Ben Roethlisberger, Roger Staubach, Trent Dilfer, Brett Favre and Mark Rypien from the discussion.

Two BYU quarterbacks - Jim McMahon and Steve Young - have won Super Bowls, but Robbie Bosco was the QB of the Cougars' 1984 national championship team.

Louisiana Tech won a Division II national title in 1973, but that was after Terry Bradshaw's departure. Florida State has two national crowns, but neither with Brad Johnson at quarterback.

Kenny Stabler came close. He led Oakland to victory the Super Bowl XI and Alabama to an 11-0 record in 1966. But Alabama finished third in the '66 AP rankings even though it was the only team with an unblemished record that year.

The list is eventually pared down to just two non-ordinary Joes - Namath and Montana.

Namath led the New York Jets to victory in Super Bowl III and Alabama to AP and UPI championships in 1964.

Montana started at quarterback for San Francisco in four Super Bowl victories. He also led Notre Dame to AP and UPI national championships in 1977.

Need for speed

From: Jonathan in Westerville, Ohio.: After summer workouts at Ohio State (sophomore quarterback) Terrelle Pryor clocked the fastest electronically time 40-yard dash on the team (4.33 seconds). Pryor may be a freak, but isn't it a bad thing if your quarterback is the fastest player?

That depends on the quarterback. If a guy like (former Georgia quarterback) Matthew Stafford is the fastest player you've got serious problems.

That's just being facetious. Obviously, that's not what you meant. It could be a problem even if your quarterback is Florida's Tim Tebow, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or Texas' Colt McCoy, who are all good runners but aren't blazers because overall team speed is so vital.

But if the quarterback is really, really fast it's not a problem.

It didn't hurt Texas with Vince Young in 2005. Look back at 1999 when Virginia Tech almost won a national championship with Michael Vick. Tommie Frazier might have been Nebraska's fastest player when the Huskers won back-to-back national titles in the '90s. If he wasn't he was close.

If there is plenty of speed remaining around him it's not a big deal if the quarterback is the fastest guy.

Ohio State fans should look at it this way: Their fastest guy will touch the ball on every play. That's a good thing.

Room for Locker?

From: Rick in Washington: How come you don't write about one of the best running quarterbacks in the country? He's an absolute stud. I know we are up here in the rain forest, but give some props to Washington's Jake Locker.

Jake Locker? I'm a big fan of his. I've interviewed him and written about him before.

He handles himself very well off the field, he plays hard on it and has excellent leadership skills. Yet, he remains somewhat obscure to the rest of the country because he's playing way up in the Pacific Northwest for a struggling program and has had injury problems.

Washington suffered through a dismal winless season last year, but I think the Huskies would've pulled out a few victories if Locker hadn't gotten hurt. Losing the best player will always weaken a team, but Locker brings more than talent.

His leadership skills can rival many of the other top quarterbacks in the country. His running skills are better than most, perhaps even Tim Tebow's.

Locker's passing skills, however, are suspect - and that's putting it kindly. Locker has completed less than 50 percent of the passes he's thrown in his collegiate career. He needs to make significant improvement in that area or move to running back.

But even more troubling than his passing is Locker's health. He sustained a concussion in 2007. Then, he broke his thumb in the fourth game of last season and missed the remainder of the season.

It will be very interesting to see how Locker performs in coach Steve Sarkisian's offense. If his passing improves and he stays healthy the Huskies will be significantly improved. And his national profile will be significantly raised.

Deal with it

From: Troy in Los Angeles: Since Pac-10 teams are no longer allowed to lose a game, or even have the same record as other teams that qualify and are eligible for the national championship (the case the last three years), should USC consider going independent, join the ACC or move to the CFL? It seems that scheduling for guaranteed out-of-conference wins and having eight games (four of which are against conference teams that also scheduled four guaranteed home wins) is the recipe to play in the BCS championship game. I would love to know your thoughts?

Obviously, USC's omission from the past three BCS national championship games has caused a lot of frustration in L.A., but the Trojans have no one to blame but themselves.

Well, themselves and the Pac-10.

USC may well have had the best team in the nation in some of those seasons, but under the BCS system the two teams with the best résumés play for the national championship. That's the reality. Deal with it.

In '06 USC had losses to Oregon State and UCLA. Ohio State ended the regular season undefeated and Florida had one loss, so they played in the championship game. There shouldn't be any questions about that. Had USC not lost to UCLA, the Trojans would have faced Ohio State.

In '07, two-loss LSU was selected ahead of two-loss USC. But one of USC's losses was at home to Stanford, which finished 4-8. LSU's losses were in overtime to Kentucky and Arkansas, which both went 8-5 that year.

Beat Stanford and the Trojans play for the crown.

But it's not all about the opponents you lose to. It's also about the teams you beat.

Last year's BCS participants were Oklahoma and Florida, which had one regular-season loss just like USC.

Oklahoma had five wins over teams that were nationally ranked, including a victory over No. 2 Texas Tech.

Florida also had five wins over nationally ranked opponents. Three were against teams that were ranked in the top 10 when Florida played them, including No. 1 Alabama.

USC beat three nationally ranked teams.

However, the biggest problem facing the Trojans is the Pac-10's lack of a conference championship game.

The Big 12 and SEC have conference title games, so Oklahoma and Florida both played an extra game against a strong opponent and had a last chance to impress coaches and Harris poll voters and to enhance their computer ranking.

USC doesn't. The Trojans' last three wins were over Stanford (5-7), Notre Dame (7-6) and UCLA (4-8). Yawn.

It's not fair, but that's how the system works. USC doesn't have much room to complain.

Perhaps the Pac-10 should realize the disadvantage, expand to a 12-team league by inviting a couple of schools (Utah and BYU, perhaps?) to join and then stage a conference championship game.

Then, if need be, its teams would have a last chance to boost their BCS résumés.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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