Stillwater News Press

Sports Columns

December 16, 2013

Elmquist: Why Winston wasn't my top pick for Heisman

STILLWATER, Okla. — I was never one to follow when growing up in small town Kansas, and because of that I found a way out of a community where most high school graduates end up remaining in town and living either with or next to their parents.

That wasn’t going to change when I was given the opportunity to vote on college football’s most prestigious award.

For the past two months, ESPN — and their highly opinionated QBR — drove many non-thinkers to name Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston as the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Saturday in New York City.

There is no exact science to voting on the Heisman Trophy. The difficulty in picking a winner of an individual award is the fact football is such a unique team sport.

In most cases at the college level, the quarterback isn’t going to play defense and defensive players won’t play offense. This gives the possibility of an individual having success but his team still losing (because as every football coach reiterates, there are two sides, and even a third if you want to include special teams, which was proven invaluable in the Bedlam game).

After it was revealed that Winston would not be charged for sexual assault, I had conceded to the fact that I was going to join the mindless masses that voted him as the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner — barring a setback in the ACC Championship game. But then my mind did as it often does, it wondered into the vast unknown (when I was needing to get sleep after covering the Oklahoma State men’s basketball win over South Carolina 12 hours before the OSU football team took on the Bedlam rivals).

I began to ask myself what makes a player deserving of the Heisman? Does his team necessarily have to win every game — something Johnny Manziel dispelled last year? Or is it simply a case where, as stressed by entities like ESPN during Manziel’s Heisman campaign, the candidate is a clear difference maker for his team and gives them the opportunity to win?

When it comes to a situation like Jameis Winston — purely looking on the field — is it a case where his team wins or loses because of him? Not necessarily. If that were the case, the Seminoles likely would have lost to Miami (Fla.) with his one touchdown, two-interception day — instead of winning by 27. That clearly shows that the team could win without him.

In fact, Winston had the benefit of being coupled with arguably the best defense in the country. Florida State’s defense ranks third in total defense — giving up 268.5 yards per game, and an impressive 3.95 yards per play — thanks to the top passing defense, allowing 152 yards a contest and the 14th-best rushing defense with 116.5 yards per game.

With those numbers, the Seminole defense held its opponents to 10.7 points per game — better than any team in the country. Anybody is going to look good when the opposing offense can’t even score two touchdowns a game.

And with that in mind, Winston was not my top pick. In fact, he landed at No. 3 on my list — largely by default because he had better numbers than the other candidates I considered for the last spot on my ballot.

Instead, my pick for the Heisman winner went to a different ACC player —one who clearly made his team better and turned a two-win team a year ago into a seven-win team. In a period where passing appears to be the future of the game, Boston College running back Andre Williams went old school — and drew comparisons to Oklahoma State great Barry Sanders.

Williams, in my mind, does make or break Boston College. In the season finale, Williams sustained an early injury that put stress on the Eagles’ backup — who ran the ball 17 times in a last-minute loss to Syracuse, which accounts for 30 percent of the backup’s rushing attempts for the entire season. Ultimately, the Eagles were a completely different team without the 2,000-yard rusher — which, to me, further strengthened the case that he deserved the Heisman.

Despite missing most of the final game of the season, Williams finished with the ninth-best rushing season for a college running back with 2,102 yards — with names like Sanders, Marcus Allen, LaDainian Tomlinson, Mike Rozier, Matt Forte and Ricky Williams ahead of him. For those uncertain, that’s four Heisman winners and possibly four or five NFL Hall of Fame backs that he has joined.

All of that alone made him worthy of my top selection, but there was one game in particular that set him apart for me — or as ESPN likes to refer to it as “his Heisman moment.” Remember back to that stout Florida State defense that ranked in the top 15 in rushing and No. 1 in scoring?

Well against that Seminole defense, Williams had 28 carries for 149 yards — eclipsing the 116.5 rushing allowed by the Florida State team. For those non-mathematicians, Williams averaged 5.3 yards per run — equating into a first down every two carries. I’m no football coach, but I’d take that staggering number in a heartbeat.

And just to make it clear, Boston College doesn’t have much more than Williams. In that game, quarterback Chase Rettig threw for 197 yards — thanks to a 52-yard pass. So despite Florida State knowing Williams was the offense, they still couldn’t stop him — which allowed Rettig to get four passing touchdowns, three of which came within the red zone.

Now that you know my first and third choices, I will now argue my second pick, a quarterback who based on hard stats — instead of ESPN’s highly judgmental and altered quarterback rating — actually had numbers comparable and possibly better than Winston. However, unfortunately for my No. 2 he didn’t have the backing of a name like Florida State for Winston or an SEC like Alabama’s A.J. McCarron.

He is somebody I got to see in person, who despite having injuries around him in the running game and a spotty defense at times, still proved to be a valuable asset to a BCS bound team — Baylor’s Bryce Petty.

One could actually argue that had it not been for the 7-yard line at Boone Pickens Stadium, and an abysmal showing from the Baylor defense in what proved to be Clint Chelf’s greatest game, Petty would have likely made the trip to New York City — instead of falling short as the seventh-place finisher in the voting.

Now before you go on about Petty being a “system quarterback” I want those simple-minded people with that argument to understand a novel concept — every skill player is in a system. Winston is in a system, Williams was in a system. Petty is in a system and he has proven that he can run it to near perfection — and might I add, it is a system that led Robert Griffin III to a Heisman trophy.

Based on numbers alone, Petty received my second pick, with his 3,844 passing yards — which actually stands 20 yards better than Winston, who played in one more game than Petty. Quite possibly the most impressive number to me, however, is his interceptions. Despite throwing the ball seven more times than the Heisman winner, Petty ended up with just two interceptions — compared to Winston’s 10, which included two in the ACC title game against a Duke defense that ranks 70th in passing defense.

But Petty, who is believed to only be a passing quarterback because of the system he is in, actually added 11 rushing touchdowns — Winston had just four rushing touchdowns. Winston did hold a slight lead in passing touchdowns at 38-30, getting an extra three in the ACC title game. But considering the talent that tradition-rich Florida State can pull in compared to the upstart Baylor program, Petty clearly was more valuable to the Bears than Winston is to the Seminoles.

Jason Elmquist is sports editor of The Stillwater NewsPress. He can be contacted by e-mail at jelmquist@stwnewspress.com.

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