Friday, November 12, 2010

How the Heisman was Lost

Cam Newton will not be this season’s Heisman Trophy winner.  It may seem hard to believe given that he is widely considered to be the frontrunner for College Football’s most prestigious award.  Unfortunately for Newton, he must overcome two very difficult obstacles to win the Heisman: he must carry Auburn to an undefeated season, and more importantly, he must be acquitted in the court of public opinion of all wrongdoings during his recruitment from Junior College.
Despite being ranked in both pre-season polls (#22 AP, #23 Coaches) there is no denying that Auburn has been the surprise team of the season, few outside the plains thought they would rise to the verge of a National Championship bid.  There is also little doubt that Cam Newton is responsible for Auburn’s success this year, he means more to his team than any other one player means to his team, the very definition of Most Valuable Player. 
Newton is currently projected well ahead of Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Oregon’s LaMichael James, both of whom are merely considered to be the best players on otherwise still very good teams, in the Heisman race.  Moore, and James to a certain extent, have something Newton doesn’t, and that is victories over their best regular season opponents.  Even though Auburn boasts victories over very good Arkansas and South Carolina teams, their biggest game remains the season-ending Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa.  With today’s prisoner-of-the-moment sports media, it is almost impossible for a player to lose late in the season and still get the votes needed to win the Heisman.  It is not impossible for Auburn to go through the season undefeated, but their most difficult test looms, and off the field distractions will make Auburn’s remaining games significantly more difficult.
Undefeated or not, Newton’s biggest obstacle in the Heisman race will be the allegation that his father sought payment from Mississippi State to get him to commit to the Bulldogs.  Unfortunately the right of ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’ is not one that Cam Newton will benefit from, not just because of the recent Reggie Bush incident, but just as importantly because of his own actions.  Newton’s arrest and criminal charges for possession of a stolen laptop while at Florida hurt his personal character.  Allegations of academic cheating during his time as a Gator don’t help either.  Whether it is fair or not, Newton’s previous troubles will make Heisman voters, and the public at large, hesitant to believe Newton’s innocence in any wrongdoings. 
During the 11/11/10 episode of College Football Live on ESPN, the host mentioned that 80% of Heisman voters in the company still plan to vote for Newton.  John Tamanaha of NBC Sports argues that rumors should be left off the Heisman equation when considering Newton.  Both are very noble sentiments, and the right thing to say, however when it comes to player eligibility, a requirement to win the Heisman, allegations and rumors are extremely relevant and deserve consideration, especially when the NCAA and even the FBI have launched investigations.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Heisman Trust refuses to accept votes for Newton to avoid a future Bush-like embarrassment.
It is a shame because in terms of on-field performance Cam Newton is the best Heisman candidate.  Kellen Moore will likely win the Heisman.  Moore’s Broncos are all but guaranteed another undefeated season, however TCU is next-in-line should Auburn or Oregon lose.  Boise State will likely not be invited to play for the National Championship and the sports media will give the Heisman to Moore as consolation.  In the case they do end up playing for the National Championship, the sports media will blitz them with awards, including a Heisman Trophy for Moore.  LaMichael James, for all his amazing talent, will continue to be perceived as a cog in the very powerful machine that is Oregon’s offense.  Fortunately for James nothing cures a Heisman snub like a National Championship.
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