Tuesday, October 03, 2006

 

I am a Candidate

A few semesters back, the C.W. Post sports information office proclaimed in all seriousness that running back Ian Smart was a Heisman Trophy candidate. Smart did rush for more than 2,000 yards in both 2001 and 2002, but for those unfamilar with C.W. Post, it's a Division II school. How exactly does someone become a Heisman Trophy candidate? Apparently all that is required is issuance of a press release and the ability to keep a straight face.

August 28, 2002 -- C.W. Post running back Ian Smart – who was last season’s #1 rusher and scorer for all of college football in the country – was presented as a Heisman Trophy candidate at a press conference this afternoon at the new Pratt Recreation Center on the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville, New York. C.W. Post Sports Information Director Brad Sullivan acknowledged Smart’s "underdog status" for the Heisman Trophy -– which is usually awarded to a major Division I running back or quarterback -- but felt that Smart’s production on the field was worthy of consideration despite the team’s Division II status. The Heisman Trophy is awarded to "the outstanding college football player in the United States."

I saw Smart play against Bryant in 2002, and I can attest that he was a darn fine Division II running back despite being a bit undersized at 5-foot-8. Smart did play in the NFL for Tampa Bay briefly in 2004, with his career highlight being a 25-yard run against Atlanta. He touched the ball three other times for 11 yards in a total of three NFL games, and he also spent some time in NFL Europe. Certainly he can tell his grandchildren he had a cup of coffee in the NFL, but it also demonstrates why the various NCAA divisions each have their own awards. The winner of the 2002 Heisman Trophy was quarterback Carson Palmer, and of course he played big-time Division 1-A football at USC. Smart didn't even win the Division II Harlon Hill award that year, finishing second.


Ian Smart, 2002, click for larger image.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to Northern Illinois. This institution of higher learning is not in a lower division, it is in 1-A just like USC, but when it comes to Heisman Hype it may as well be in Division II with C.W. Post. Northern Illinois is a member of the Mid-American Conference along with other "directional" schools such as Eastern Michigan. Every once in a while a MAC team beats a Big Ten team, but the Big Ten teams still consider most of these matchups to be tuneup games. NIU has a fireplug (5-foot-7) running back named Garrett Wolfe who torched Ball State for 353 yards rushing and three touchdowns last weekend. Those totals don't include two TDs and 115 yards called back by penalty. Through five games, he's averaging 236 yards per game.

Ah, that's all very well and good against MAC teams, but how did he do against Ohio State? He did have a "below average" game against the top college team in all the land, only cutting up the Buckeyes for 187 yards and a TD.

"I’ve heard so much (junk) about how it’s just the MAC," (Coach Joe) Novak said. "We’ve got six MAC quarterbacks starting in the NFL. He’s done it against Ohio State, which no one else has done. He’s done it against Michigan and Northwestern."

Even though some voters such as Mark May say they are leaning toward Wolfe, most Heisman voters will go with a safe choice such as Ohio State QB Troy Smith or Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson. The names change, but the same schools have been rotating the trophy for the past 40 years. NIU isn't helping matters with its lack of a hype campaign. Here's hoping that voters can look beyond the hype and the big-school bias and do the right thing. Otherwise this Heisman crap is just so repetitive and boring.

With the confusion about who qualifies as a candidate, I've decided to clear things up and declare retroactively that I was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy during my junior and senior years, 1977-78. The fact that I never actually played football for the South Dakota State varsity should not be considered a bar to my candidacy. At some point during those years I must have played in some intramural or pickup flag football games, so in fact I was a college student playing football and was therefore eligible for the award. In 1977 I finished 1,547 points behind the great Earl Campbell. I came quite a bit closer in 1978, only 827 points behind Billy Sims.

Yes, I got beat out by guys from Texas and Oklahoma. Damn big-school bias!


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