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October 3, 2008

Mailbag: Could a lineman win the Heisman?

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Coaches love offensive linemen. Quarterbacks love them. Running backs love them. Fast-food restaurants love them.

Heisman Trophy voters do not.

No true lineman has won college football's most prestigious individual award, even though several might have been the best player in college football.

Nebraska center Dave Rimington was so good, the award that honors the nation's premier center bears his name; he finished fifth in the 1982 Heisman voting. Ohio State tackle Orlando Pace was the first player selected in the 1997 NFL draft, yet, he finished only fourth in the 1996 Heisman voting. That was much better than Michigan tackle Jake Long, who was selected first in last year's NFL draft but was virtually ignored in Heisman voting.

That trend surely will continue. As we'll see in this week's mailbag, there is another deserving lineman who will be overlooked.

Heisman hopes?

Parker in Tuscaloosa, Ala.: I know you have to be an extremely dominating offensive lineman to get consideration for the Heisman Trophy, but I think Alabama's Andre Smith qualifies as an extremely dominating lineman. I realize it would be highly unlikely for him to win, but is there any chance his name gets in the mix?

Smith definitely qualifies as dominating, and he'll be a first-round selection in next year's NFL draft. Indeed, an argument can be made that Smith is the best player in the country, or certainly one of them.

Alas, that doesn't matter in the Heisman voting. Heisman voters are looking to name the "most outstanding college football player," and it's too easy to focus on quarterbacks, running backs and receivers and overlook linemen. I'm as guilty as anyone.

Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long was the first player selected in this year's NFL draft, yet he was nowhere in the Heisman voting.

No true offensive lineman has won the Heisman, although ends Larry Kelley (1936) of Yale and Leon Hart (1949) of Notre Dame were considered linemen. Both were receivers, though.

If a lineman ever did have a realistic shot at the Heisman, it could occur only in a year in which there were no quarterbacks or running backs accumulating outlandish statistics.

That's definitely not the case this season. Quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Chase Daniel of Missouri, Max Hallof BYU and Colt McCoy of Texas and running backs Charles Scott of LSU, Donald Brown of Connecticut and Javon Ringer of Michigan State, to name a few, give linemen no chance.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Smith - or any other offensive lineman - will emerge as a serious Heisman Trophy contender. But, hey, there's always the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award.

Quantity and quality

Harry in Glendale, Ariz. : Michigan State's Javon Ringer is without a doubt a great running back. But he has the most carries out of any back in the nation. In fact, he has 41 more carries than Connecticut's Donald Brown, who is second in that stat. Should the number of carries affect how a player is viewed? It's simple logic: The more carries a back gets, the better the chances of him having more yards. A player's excellent talent should be the thing that is judged, not the coach's exploitation of that talent.

Obviously, a running back who gets a lot of carries has more opportunities to pile up yardage. But the flipside is that defenses can key on a running back who gets a lot of carries.

Ringer averages more than 37 carries per game and he's had no fewer than 34 carries in each of Michigan State's past four games. The Spartans have had 367 offensive snaps this season and Ringer has 187 carries. That means he's carried on 51 percent of Michigan State's plays.

You can bet Iowa, which faces Michigan State on Saturday, is fully aware of this. But previous opponents were, too, and it didn't matter.

If Ringer were averaging about 3.0 yards per attempt, his yardage total could be seen as at least partially skewed. But he is averaging almost 5.0 yards per attempt, which is good on any level.

Ringer is carrying his team. Opponents know it. And he continues to be productive.

That's excellence. I don't see how it can be judged otherwise.

Ohio State hate?

Kevin in Hartville, Ohio : What I don't understand is the equality (or lack thereof) in teams that drop after a loss. Last week, USC loses to Oregon State, Florida lost to Ole Miss, Wisconsin lost to Michigan and Georgia fell at home to Alabama. Ohio State loses to No. 1 USC and gets tossed to 14th. Why not send USC and Georgia out of the top 10? I know there is a national hate for Ohio State, but this does not make sense. People are tired of seeing Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game, but if the Buckeyes run the table the rest of the season, they should have the same shot as other one-loss teams. They won't. Is this fair?

Because you're an Ohio State fan, your outrage is understandable. But it's also unjustified. Frankly, Ohio State's drop in the polls wasn't that much different than that of the other teams you mentioned.

After last week's losses, USC, Florida and Georgia each fell eight spots in the AP poll and Wisconsin fell nine. When Ohio State lost to USC, the Buckeyes fell eight spots, from No. 5 to No. 13.

The difference? Well, it's quite obvious. Ohio State was overwhelmed and lost by 32 points. USC fell by six, Georgia lost by 11, Wisconsin lost by two and Florida lost by one.

Yeah, some teams might have played unranked opponents and some might have lost at home, but nothing influences a voter more than performance. Ohio State was completely overwhelmed in that loss to USC.

That said, if Ohio State wins the rest of its games, it could get into the championship game that is, if the right teams ahead of the Buckeyes lose.

But if USC, Florida or Georgia or another team with just one close loss was in the picture, those teams should be selected for the BCS title game over the Buckeyes. Not because Ohio State lost in the past two championship games, but because the Buckeyes were beaten so soundly in their loss this season.

And I think that would be fair.

Fear the Turtle?

Michael in Maryland : What are the chances of Maryland competing for the ACC championship, considering the Terps beat preseason favorite Clemson in Death Valley.

I was one of those writing off the Terrapins after they lost to Middle Tennessee State. Then, they came back and just bullied California all over the field. But not until they beat Clemson did I start to believe they could turn their fortunes around this season.

Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is one of the most explosive players in the country, running back Da'Rel Scott has had some strong games and quarterback Chris Turner has been solid. But most impressive is the Terps' defense, which shut down Clemson in the second half of a 20-17 victory.

I'd expect the Terps to beat Virginia this week. But it's the following week at Wake Forest that will determine whether they're true contenders in the ACC Atlantic Division.

Based on the way they've played of late, the Terps definitely have a chance. But I'd still go with Wake Forest.

Flawed system

Todd in Irving, Texas : Here's my beef with the BCS. You're basically saying that the non-"Big Six" conference teams will never have a chance at the national championship even if they finish undefeated. Don't fans love the NCAA basketball tournament and the College World Series because of the possibilities of a Cinderella team? Look at the story Fresno State became during the past College World Series.

You're preaching to the choir, Todd. I've previously stated that I don't think the current system allows non-"Big Six" conference teams to have a true chance at the national crown.

That's not fair, but that's the way it is.

For the record, I doubt those teams would win a football championship. But if there were a playoff, at least there would be a chance of a great underdog story like Fresno in the CWS.

Who's hotter?

Marc in Memphis : I was talking to a Tennessee Vols friend of mind and we're stumped: Who is on the hotter seat right now Clemson coach Tommy Bowden or Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer? Fulmer's best days are long behind him and Bowden has never had any "best days," so to speak. Tough call.

The temperature is hottest in Knoxville, I believe.

Last summer, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton was criticized for giving Fulmer a contract extension that included a clause in which an eight-win season automatically would add a year to the end of Fulmer's contract. Tennessee fans demand more than eight victories.

So what's happening? The Volunteers are 1-3 and will have to defeat either No. 2 Alabama or No. 11 Georgia on the road to reach eight wins. And that's assuming they won't trip up anywhere else, which is a tremendous assumption.

Fulmer proponents could point out that he has had only one losing record in 17 seasons, has a national championship and won the SEC East last season. But that national championship was a decade ago, and Vols fans expect more than division titles.

Tennessee is in danger of its second losing seasons in four years. If that's not bad enough, Vanderbilt is ranked 19th in the nation. Vols bristle at the notion of being second in the state to the Commodores.

Of course, Vandy's emergence doesn't help Bowden, either. The Commodores are coached by Bobby Johnson, a Clemson alum and former Tigers defensive coordinator.

You can bet some prominent Clemson boosters are keeping a close eye on Johnson.

Clemson is 3-2 and still has some of the best talent in the ACC. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Tigers posted eight victories, which is probably enough to keep Bowden's job secure.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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