In the four seasons that I've been writing The Watch, no Heisman Trophy race has been as excruciatingly tight as this year's, with three players (maybe four if you count Texas Tech's Graham Harrell) having good cases to win the stiff armed statuette. And when the winner is announced on Saturday night, The Watch wouldn't be surprised if Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow made the three-way finish the closest in Heisman history.
The Watch's ballot, however, came down to Bradford and McCoy (to read why Tebow was not the pick, see below), and, after much hair-splitting, the choice was McCoy by about the width of a credit card. I'm sure Bradford backers will send e-mails along the lines of "How could you vote for McCoy over Bradford? Bradford passed for more yards and more touchdowns than McCoy and won the Big 12 championship" (with much more colorful language thrown in). So to answer those e-mails in advance, let's explain.
Why does McCoy deserve the Heisman over Bradford? There are a few reasons, the main one being that McCoy regularly makes plays with his feet while Bradford rarely does. (And, yes, I saw Bradford's 10-yard touchdown pass to Juaquin Iglesias in Saturday's Big 12 championship game.) Unlike the Oklahoma quarterback, McCoy doesn't have a consistent running game to help him out; he is the running game. (He led Texas in rushing this year.) And his fleet feet allow him to consistently turn broken plays into big gains, the most memorable being his falling-down impromptu flip to Chris Ogbonnaya for a 65-yard touchdown against Colorado. The Watch wrote this earlier in the season, and it still holds true: "McCoy escapes from seemingly impossible situations so often, The Watch wonders if his real surname isn't actually MacGyver."
Meanwhile, Bradford is aided by a lethal rushing attack (led by the electric DeMarco Murray and ranked 19th in the country) that got better in the second half of the season and put Bradford in position to throw for a ton of touchdowns. There's no doubt that Bradford had a great season, setting a slew of Oklahoma passing records with 4,464 yards and 48 touchdowns. But if stats are the basis for the argument, then Houston's Case Keenum (more passing yards per game than Bradford and just as many total touchdowns per game) is your Heisman winner.
The second reason behind the McCoy choice is that his offensive line is far inferior to Bradford's. Texas allowed 22 sacks this season, and McCoy was hit hard in games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M, to name a few. Still, he got off the turf and made plays. Bradford, playing behind arguably the best offensive line in the nation, was barely touched. The Sooners allowed just 11 sacks this season, giving Bradford time to stand in the pocket and pick out his receivers.
Speaking of Bradford's receivers, they're the third and final significant reason why McCoy gets the edge. The Watch watched every televised snap that both Bradford and McCoy took this year, but, regrettably, did not track each receiver's yards-after-catch stat. Still, it's safe to say that the Sooners' band of gamebreakers led that by an enormous margin. Every week it seemed as if Iglesias, Manny Johnson, Ryan Broyles and tight end Jermaine Gresham were zig-zagging through defensive backs for big chunks of yardage or running freely to the end zone. How many times did you see Texas receivers doing that? Maybe Jordan Shipley here and there, but that was it. In simple terms: Bradford was the kind of quarterback to throw to receivers who then would make plays with their feet for touchdowns; McCoy was the kind of quarterback to make plays with his feet and then throw to his receivers for touchdowns.
There are other reasons why McCoy got the edge (his NCAA-best 77.6 completion percentage, his uncanny knack of moving the chains on third down, his win over No. 1 Oklahoma), but the main reasons were the three above.
The Watch is not Bradford bashing. Again, he had a phenomenal season and had the edge over McCoy in many areas, the most significant coming in the downfield passing game. (McCoy threw mostly short and intermediate routes.) But even if you give Bradford the edge in passing, McCoy has an enormous edge in running.
The Watch had to split hairs to come up with the pick for the "most outstanding college football player in the United States for 2008," and that choice was McCoy.
Last week: Idle.
Season: 291-of-375 passing, 3,445 yards, 32 TDs, 7 INTs; 128 rushes, 576 yards, 10 TDs; 2 punts, 69 yards.
Heisman-o-meter: Either Bradford or Tebow would be a worthy winner of the Heisman, but The Watch believes the most deserving is McCoy. The main reasons for him being No. 1 were stated above, but, to repeat, he was the best passing and running threat in college football the whole season. He was terrific in Week 1 and played at that level the whole year. He repeatedly turned broken plays into big ones. He had the accuracy of a military sniper. He led his offense to a second-half surge to beat No. 1 Oklahoma. He was clutch on third downs. He threw into tight windows. He avoided interceptions. And, with respect to Shipley & Co., McCoy did all that without as much talent around him as Bradford or Tebow.
McCoy's The Watch's first choice for the Heisman Trophy. We'll find out Saturday night if he wins it.
Last week: 34-of-49 passing, 384 yards, 2 TDs; 1 rush, 7 yards in a 62-21 victory over No. 19 Missouri in Kansas City.
Season: 302-of-442 passing, 4,464 yards, 48 TDs, 6 INTs; 40 rushes, 65 yards, 5 TDs.
Heisman-o-meter: Bradford had a season that statistically ranks among the best in college football history. He took Oklahoma's fast-break, no-huddle offense to another level, helping the Sooners average a ridiculous 54 points per game. In an era of spread offenses that routinely rely on short passes, Bradford threw the ball downfield. Like McCoy, he was outstanding the entire season and played well in Oklahoma's biggest games, even the loss to Texas. He was accurate. He showed poise in the pocket. He avoided interceptions.
Bradford has a great case for the Heisman. McCoy's, in this opinion, is just greater.
Last week: 14-of-22 passing, 216 yards, 3 TDs; 17 rushes, 57 yards in a 31-20 victory over No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta.
Season: 174-of-268 passing, 2,515 yards, 28 TDs, 2 INTs; 154 rushes, 564 yards, 12 TDs.
Heisman-o-meter: Iowa's Mack truck-like running back Shonn Greene or either player in Texas Tech's dynamic passing duo of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree would be deserving of filling out the ballot, but the last spot goes to the reigning winner from Florida, who The Watch thinks still has a good chance to join Archie Griffin as the only two players to win two Heisman Trophies. After a slow first four weeks (maybe five if you count the first half of the Arkansas game), Touchdown Tim came on in the second half of the season, showing the dual-threat ability that won him the award in 2007. His numbers may have been drastically down from last year's, but he had a better team (Percy Harvin, Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps and Brandon James to name a few) around him. The Gators fielded a powerful offensive machine, but Tebow was the main cog in that machine.
So why wasn't Tebow, who got a lot of Heisman love from color analyst Gary Danielson during CBS's telecast of the SEC championship game on Saturday, the choice? Tebow said it himself last year. In an interview with the Gators quarterback after The Watch named him No. 1 on the 2007 ballot, The Watch asked him what his definition of "the most outstanding college football player" was. He said, "I think it would have to be about being consistent through a whole year and being able to go into every game and be an outstanding player in every game."
Even Tebow would admit that he fails by that definition in 2008. While he was great after the Ole Miss game, McCoy and Bradford were great right out of the gate; their respective bodies of work are greater than Tebow's. One reason why The Watch voted for Tebow over Darren McFadden in 2007 was because Tebow was terrific from Week 1, while McFadden underperformed during a stretch of the season. So to ignore Tebow's slow start to 2009 would be hypocritical.
That said, The Watch expects Tebow to be a running and passing monster in the BCS championship game on Jan. 8 against the Sooners, lift his team to the title and be named the game's MVP. But even that wouldn't change The Watch's mind on this ballot.