When I learned that our own network elected Randy Moss into our inaugural Hall of Fame class, I was astonished, really. He played just one season in the MAC and another in I-AA, but his subsequent NFL career underscored how great a wide receiver he was. But of all the candidates, the other members of the committee venerated him as the top wideout of this generation. Not that they're wrong; but that they identified it was what surprised me the most.
Of anybody in the history of the MAC, Moss came the closest to winning a Heisman Trophy. His fourth place finish was only one of two top fives in the history of the trophy. Everybody else assumed the role of " quarterback on a great team," and that's usually who wins the trophy. Sometimes, it's "running back on a great team." Once in a while it's "arcane exception." But they're always players contending for a national championship.
No, I can't say that anybody on the aforementioned "top ten Heisman list" should have ever won the award. Moss lost to one of those exceptions, Michigan cornerback/kick returner Charles Woodson. Chad Pennington finished fifth in 1999 behind Ron Dayne and the likes of fellas like Michael Vick and Drew Brees. Byron Leftwich's season of 4000+ yards and 30 touchdowns finished sixth behind Carson Palmer with similar numbers for USC and Larry Johnson running for over 2,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Everybody else on the list received votes from a pleasant minority but never had a chance against the big boys.
So I'm not going to sit and type anything about how the MAC was disrespected in the past. The conference never featured the best all-around college football player, and it probably never will.
I say "probably never" because nothing in life is absolute. I say "never" in the headline because that's an SEO trick. Now, that's not to say we can't dream — and dream we do. I love that the Bernard Pierce For Heisman website is still active. And if anyone wants to buy this Josh Harris For Heisman t-shirt for me ... well, I'd accept it.
The following is a list of Heisman winners and in what position their team finished in the BCS at time of the voting:
|2011||Robert Griffin III||Baylor||12|
|2006||Troy Smith||Ohio State||1|
|2000||Chris Weinke||Florida State||2|
So ... uh, how did Ricky Williams win it again? Take away the outlier and you have 12th as the lowest any Heisman winner's team finished. The highest any MAC team has finished in the BCS (prior to bowl games) was 11th in 2003. Ben Roethlisberger finished ninth in the voting.
There are not many exceptions to the rule that the quarterback-and-sometimes-running-back of a team in the BCS championship game is the Heisman winner. Now, they broke the mold this past year by going with a non-traditional football team and their quarterback with an incredible season, albeit against Big XII dudes. But one year is never a trend. Someone from Oklahoma or Alabama or USC or Michigan wins it this year — whichever one is ranked the highest.
With the minor adjustments made to the playoff structure starting in 2014, even more focus will be placed on the title-chasing quartet. Sure, it may be tough to find the nation's top player in a pool of two teams, but now double it.
Awesome players have been in the MAC's past, present and I'm guessing future. So many tumblers need to lock into the correct code for one of those players to have such a season, coupled with every other team not offering up a singular player worthy of the trophy.
Stars can align, though, and have in the past. ESPN brought GameDay to a MAC school in 2003 when every other game on that weekend's schedule fizzled in interest. Randy Moss went from a top prospect to a troubled youth who landed in Marshall for a second chance. Urban freaking Meyer coached at Bowling Green.
But the greatness in MAC football lies not within seasons, but careers. Dan LeFevour threw maroon and gold stars all over the record books when his four-year career was done. Players like Davonte Shannon and Barry Church made us feel good by being named to four All-MAC first teams. Brandon West, for a brief time, held the NCAA record for most all-purpose yards, but his career still stands as one of the most prolific.
I think LeFevour's case says it all. He never finished in the Heisman Top 10. And yet we're going to remember him as one of the greatest ever. But you can't point to one season — how could you, they were all great — and turn it into a Heisman campaign. Maybe the 2007 year, but it's ludicrous to put that up against what Tim Tebow did the same hear -- even though they both collected 20+ passing touchdowns and 20+ touchdowns from scrimmage.
In this current environment a MAC football team will never play for the national championship because not only does the playoff structure all but disallow it, but football — more than any other sport — limits the chance of an upset. You actually have to be better. And because of that, a MAC team is not going to win the Heisman in any method that I foresee. No, sorry, your best chance is just retroactively putting Cam Newton on Akron and hope for the best.
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