According to the committee, the Heisman Trophy is given to the individual player whose performance "best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity." They add: "Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work."
This is a somewhat pretentious explanation, and, in the eyes of most college football fans, this prestigious award is really given to the best player on one of the best, if not the best, teams. It is usually obvious when the media anoints its favorite. Last year, it was Marcus Mariota, following his team’s flashy win over Michigan State in week two. This year, however, a murkier path awaits.
As I watched the Ohio State game on Monday night, I thought to myself about how perverse it was that J.T. Barrett, who finished fifth in Heisman voting last year, was now the backup. I mean, at most, ten teams in the country even have one player who will be passingly mentioned as a Heisman contender at some point throughout the year, but Ohio State, they sit theirs?
This is when it occurred for me: Ohio State has four players in their offensive unit that have been (or most likely will be) mentioned throughout the year as Heisman contenders. Alabama has had similar roster wealth in the past decade, but this particular offensive unit at Ohio State currently has such concentrated talent that its share of the Heisman race will be disproportionate.
The national media was careful to admit this in their preseason Heisman guesses. But now that we all have a better idea of who will be running the Buckeye offense this fall, and what to expect from key skill position players, the hesitation needs to be over immediately.
The talk of an Ohio State Heisman winner in 2015 needs to be broadened to talk of Urban’s Heismen.
For good measure, both quarterbacks need to be included in this equation. Regardless of J.T. Barrett’s label as the second string quarterback, he did finish fifth in voting as a redshirt freshman last fall, and, as we all know very well, backups sometimes become starters. Barrett squeezed everything he could out of his limited playing time against the Hokies, breaking a 41 yard run and completing his only pass for a long touchdown to Michael Thomas. Barrett’s main contribution to this team may be his leadership, poise, and coach-like attitude this fall, but to forget about him would be asinine.
Cardale Jones won the starting quarterback job at Ohio State and continued his remarkable campaign in primetime games in Blacksburg. Jones had 285 yards of offense against the Hokies and was responsible for three touchdowns. Although his stats line wasn’t quite up to Heisman standards in week one, anyone who really watched the game saw that his impact on the game was there. Jones’ unique size gives him the ability to make freakish throws and hit defensive players like a linebacker; he gives the Ohio State offense another dimension. I expect Jones’ stats line to improve in the next eleven games, as Ohio State should be heavily favored in each matchup, and his charismatic presence as the face of college football will not hurt his campaign, either.
Ezekiel Elliott, made famous by his postseason performances in 2014, was a quiet star in the season opener against the Hokies. The hero in the half shirt came into this season on everyone’s watch lists for the Heisman trophy, and he surely did not disappoint tonight. Although his carries were limited, he made the most of them, putting up 122 yards on the ground on just eleven carries, averaging a ridiculous 11.1 yards per carry. As Ohio State pads its stats with inferior foes in the coming weeks, look for Elliott to do the same. Will Elliott get enough carries to win the Heisman on an Urban Meyer coached team, though?
The last Heisman contender on the Ohio State offense was everyone’s dark horse. No one knew how Braxton Miller would transition from years under center to a new role as the all-purpose back in Tim Beck’s offense. It really is a testament to how clueless we have all become that we ever doubted a seamless transition. As tonight clearly showed, Braxton Miller can do anything he puts his mind to. Not only was Miller's play Heisman-esque in Blackburg, he made his presence felt when the Buckeye's seemingly needed him most.
With the definitive play of the week, Miller made a video game spin move on a 50+ yard run to put Ohio State ahead by 11 late in the third quarter. This web gem came after a beautiful 54-yard reception on Ohio State’s opening drive in the second half, which calmed Buckeye nation far and wide. I think it was clear to everyone watching that, not only was Miller brilliant in his position switch, he was arguably the best player on the field from either team. This was Braxton Miller’s coming out party, but I expect him to scorch the Buckeyes' remaining opponents more and more with each passing week.
As is apparent, Ohio State has multiple legitimate Heisman contenders, and, in fairness, I only examined the offense (sorry, Silver Bullets and Bosa). This year, a new challenge will face the sports media and the Heisman selection committee: how should players in an offensive unit like Ohio State’s be evaluated? No other Heisman contenders across the country will be the back-up to another Heisman contender, nor will they be catching passes or taking hand-offs from other Heisman contenders.
The college football world will have to evaluate Ohio State’s Heisman contenders carefully as being part of a bigger equation, because in Columbus, in 2015, we have Heismen.