Alabama's MVP headlines annual non-traditional Heisman Watch
As a group, Heisman Trophy voters aren't the sharpest knives in the drawer. That's probably because most of them (including myself) are sportswriters.
Sportswriters -- especially the old ones who make up a large portion of the Heisman electorate -- love baseball because it offers dozens of statistics that allow them to better understand how a particular player impacts the game. Basketball offers a similar treasure trove of numbers, though not to the extent that baseball does. (Beyond the rebound total, traditional basketball stats did a lousy job of quantifying how a non-scorer such as Dennis Rodman affected a game.)
For most of the players on the field, football offers little in the way of meaningful numbers. Punters and kickers are ranked fairly easily by pure stats, but, because they are punters and kickers, they probably aren't going to be considered for the Heisman. Among position players, only a few statistical categories produce benchmarks readily understood by the average fan and the average member of the fourth estate. We grasp the following: attempts, completions, passing yards, interceptions, rushes, rushing yards, catches, receiving yards, punt return yards, kickoff return yards and, of course, touchdowns. We might understand tackles if some schools didn't grossly inflate their tackle stats, but unless you know which schools pad the stats, that number is fairly useless.
Unfortunately for a majority of the college football players in America, this lack of understanding eliminates them from contention for the Heisman. Only three positions can be measured by the above stats: Quarterback, running back and receiver. Everyone else is out of luck, even if the ballot asks voters to choose "the most outstanding college football player in the United States."
But the rise of advanced stats such as the ones at
This season, Jones will play his third position in as many years. If he winds up being the best center in the nation, too, he absolutely deserves Heisman consideration. Why is Jones moving to center? Because Alabama has a sophomore tackle named Cyrus Kouandjio who looks like a future first-rounder, and it needs a center to replace William Vlachos, the undersized, undrafted fireplug who started for two national title teams and is now trying to make the Tennessee Titans' roster. Before spring practice, Jones met with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and head coach Nick Saban and told them to move him wherever they pleased. "I just told them I'd do what's best for the team," Jones said. "I know that sounds cheesy, but that's how I feel. Our philosophy has always been to get the best five guys on the field."
Besides, Jones knew he could handle the strategic and vocal requirements of the job. "I already knew most of the calls," Jones said. "As William will tell you, I already tried to make a lot of the calls. At least now I get to officially be the boss out there."
Jones should have plenty of time to hone his snapping craft this semester. He only needs one class to finish his degree. "Corporate taxation," Jones said. "It's the same thing that Matt Leinart took, right?" Did we mention the degree in question is a master's in accounting? Former USC quarterback Leinart, while seeking his second Heisman in 2005, took ballroom dancing.
Jones will dance plenty this fall. Playing center is a tango that requires the player to diagnose the defensive front, assign roles to the other linemen, snap the ball with a 300-pounder inches away and ready to strike and then successfully block said 300-pounder. (Or, if facing an even front, block a linebacker or fire out at an angle on a distant defensive tackle.)
The skill set is closer to guard, which Jones played as a freshman and sophomore. Guards and centers place a premium on power and technique. Tackle, where Jones shined last year, requires more sheer athleticism. While it isn't the same kind of feat as 1997 Heisman winner Charles Woodson starring at receiver and cornerback in the same game at Michigan, it is akin to mastering three linebacker positions or excelling as a wide receiver, slot receiver and flexed-out tight end.
If Jones can pull off the offensive line trifecta, he should be in New York in December. But that doesn't mean he is the only player who might prove himself worthy of breaking the quarterback-tailback stranglehold on the Heisman. These guys also deserve consideration.
Lotulelei probably would have been a first-round pick had he left after the 2011 season, but, like Suh in 2009, he elected to return for his senior season. He may be the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12 for the second consecutive season, but he'll be subject to the other major Heisman voter bias. If a player's team isn't at least on the periphery of the national title picture at some point in the season, he's probably out of luck. Lotulelei probably will go unnoticed by Heisman voters unless the Utes challenge USC for the Pac-12 South title.