|Three Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks from the state of Florida in five years
signaled the beginning of the evolution of the award and the quarterback position.
Earlier this week, which is Heisman Week at Crystal Ball Run, we took a quick look at the odds for who will win the most prestigious award in sports this fall. USC quarterback Matt Barkley comes in as your money favorite this year at 3/1. This should come as little surprise, not because Barkley will take the field in a couple of months as one of the top players in the game, but because he is a quarterback, and quarterbacks dominate the Heisman races these days.
It used to be that the Heisman Trophy was an individual award dominated by running backs. From the first year the Heisman Trophy was presented, in 1935, through 1983 a running back was the Heisman winner 35 times (including players who played multiple positions). Running backs had won 12 consecutive Heisman Trophy awards before Boston College’s Doug Flutie snapped the streak in 1984. Since then only eight running backs have won the most recognized individual award in college football.
Much like the game itself, the Heisman Trophy has evolved to become an award made for the quarterback. Since Florida State’s Chris Weinke won the Heisman Trophy in 2000, all but two Heisman Trophy winners have played quarterback (USC’s Reggie Bush and Alabama’s Mark Ingram). It is certainly not because running backs have dropped off in talent over the years, but so much attention is given to the quarterbacks in the college and professional game. And this happened well before Tim Tebow.
You can probably go back to Doug Flutie’s Hail Mary in Miami to pinpoint the origina of the phrase “Heisman Moment.” When Flutie heaved a last second pass to the end zone on the road at No. 12 Miami for the win it all but clinched a Heisman Trophy for the undersized quarterback. Flutie received 71.11% of the Heisman votes, at the time the third highest vote total in Heisman history. Bo Jackson received 47.9% of the votes the following season to win the Heisman Trophy. Barry Sanders received 68.27% of the votes the next year. Since Flutie, picking out a “Heisman moment,” has been much easier to do for quarterbacks than any other position. When voters look at little more than highlights, it is easy to recall who you see the most.
Perhaps no program showcased the quarterback position and influenced the changing of the guard for the dominant Heisman position the way the University of Miami did. Miami had a string of great quarterbacks with Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta. As the Hurricanes were taking care of business on the field, their top players were becoming household names, which helped Testaverde and Torretta take the lead in the Heisman race in 1986 and 1992, respectively. The mold for quarterbacks had evolved at Miami from the mid-1980s through the early part of the 1990s, and everyone else was looking to catch up, especially in the state of Florida.
Florida State’s Charlie Ward took the Heisman in 1993. Florida’s Danny Wuerffel blossomed under Steve Spurrier, a former Heisman Trophy quarterback himself, and took the Heisman in 1996. Ina span of five years, three quarterbacks inside the state of Florida had won a Heisman Trophy. Was it a coincidence, or a trend?
Charles Woodson has a special season that could not go unrewarded in 1997, and Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne made it practically impossible to not be awarded with a Heisman Trophy the following two years, but since then the Heisman Trophy has been an award for a quarterback to lose.
Of course, Heisman voting will vary from year to year, as will the candidates. Some years there are slam dunks, sometimes the race is tight. But take a look at the voting in more recent years, where quarterbacks have won in multiple landslides. Last year Griffin had 60.66% of the votes, and Auburn’s Cam Newton received 81.55% the prior season. Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the Heisman in 2009 while receiving less than half of the total votes. Tim Tebow took 70.52% of the votes and Ohio State’s Troy Smith received 91.63% of the votes.
USC running back Reggie Bush was the rare exception to the rule, receiving an astounding 91.77% of the votes in 2005. Bush, of course, won the Heisman Trophy one season after his teammate and quarterback Matt Leinart won the Heisman Trophy. Running backs still have the best chance to sneak in to the Heisman pole position, but with the sport continuing to develop in favor of passing offenses and protecting the quarterbacks more and more, it will continue to be an uphill battle for everyone not under center.