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Friday, November 16
 
Heisman race shouldn't be akin to Prom King

By Mark Kreidler
Special to ESPN.com

Not that there's anything wrong with the Heisman Trophy system as it is currently understood and embraced by John Q. Voting Member, but:

Eric Crouch
Eric Crouch gained 360 yards against Colorado, but his team's loss appears to have ended his Heisman hopes.
1) The other day, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch, a primary contender for the award during most of the college season, and his BCS-leading Cornhuskers team got whacked by Colorado, 62-36; and

2) That's it! Let's go find ourselves another Heisman front-runner.

This second part of the 1-2 combo occurred within a few minutes of the final score. Check that: People were already downgrading Crouch from probable to doubtful in the Heisman race during the telecast of that Friday ambush in Boulder.

Good thing he didn't lead a fourth-quarter comeback, or the Heisman handicappers might've suffered the always-painful double whiplash.

The point here is not to build a bandwagon for the Nebraska quarterback; a perfectly acceptable bandwagon already exists, the one they built about a thousand years ago in Lincoln. Moreover, for those seeking disqualifiers, it is verifiably true that Crouch threw two interceptions in the Colorado defeat. Of course, it's also true that Crouch ran for 162 yards, passed for 198 yards and absolutely, positively did not play on the defensive unit that allowed the Buffs 582 yards of total offense.

But we digress. The point is this: Is that all there is?

When did the Heisman Trophy race become analagous to Prom King? This is the award, after all, that ostensibly honors the best player in college football, yet one of its brightest lights can be tossed in the dumpster on the basis of his team apparently taking itself out of position to play for the national championship. What gives?

If this marks the BCS-ization of the college game's highest individual honor, then let's all go out and start fishing for some new rules. The worst news imaginable is that the Heisman race will fully disintegrate into the campus popularity contest, or -- insert volume 11 shuddering sound here -- the NCAA's version of the MVP.

You know the MVP, of course. It's the award, in most pro leagues, that is given to the player from the team that wins the most games because, well, because it is, that's why.

The MVP no longer pretends to be something it's not. It has thrown itself completely open to interpretation. To one voter, the award may connote the player whose team would suffer the most without him; to another, it may connote the subjectively deduced "leader" of the best team in the standings, or the guy who scored the most touchdowns or hit the most home runs. Doesn't matter -- there's no clear criterion anyway.

But the Heisman Trophy is different. Or, upon further review, we thought it was. (Could be just us.) The Heisman has long sought the elusive Best, and you can double the part about elusive. It's a sweeping task in any season, and it is bedeviled by the usual modern-day factors, by big-school-vs.-small-school domination and limited-scope voters and excessive publicity campaigns and, frankly, Nike -- all that stuff. No one ever said it was a perfectly executed search.

It was, however, pretty neatly contained in philosophy. What is the philosophy now, that a single ill-timed defeat over the course of a 12- or 13-game season in a team sport can doom a player's Heisman chance? That's the sort of torture that previously had been reserved for the polls and the dreaded BCS itself, not the people who actually play the games.

It will be interesting to see how the Heisman story grinds out. Most of the usual limitations already have come into play, meaning that the winner won't be a lineman, won't be from a small school and likely won't be from any team outside the Top 10. As we said, imperfect.

But even within those confines, the move to throw Crouch out of the running based upon one late-season loss by his team is a worrisome continuation of a fairly recent trend. It is the Heisman-as-poll-ranking, the conferring of a devalued award on (perhaps) whichever guy's defense doesn't collapse at the wrong time, or the player whose own mistakes come early enough in a season to be forgotten.

It is the Heisman-as-beauty-pageant. Got plenty of those already.

Crouch's "failure" left the door open to quarterbacks Ken Dorsey of Miami and Rex Grossman of Florida, among others, and you could make a wonderful case for either player. Both have had great seasons. Eric Crouch has had a great season. Joey Harrington at Oregon, Chris Simms at Texas -- pretty fine seasons.

Of course, Dorsey's team plays at Virginia Tech, where the Hurricanes have not won since 1993, and Grossman's team hosts 9-1 Tennessee. Harrington's team plays unpredictable archrival Oregon State, and Simms' team plays the same Colorado bunch that just got finished gnawing on Nebraska's bones.

There could be a defeat or two mixed in there somewhere, is the thing. You wonder whose Heisman chances will be dismissed by halftime of one of them.

Mark Kreidler of the Sacramento Bee is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.








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