2012 Heisman Prognostication Essay

Submitted by turtleboy on August 29th, 2012 at 8:39 PM

[ed-S: this is totally a diary. Bump]

Looking at the 2012 preseason frontrunners for the Heisman trophy I've been trying to see who would reasonably be the best candidate for the award at seasons end, and have come up with a reasonable argument as to why Denard Robinson can win in 2012. The best case I made for this scenario is looking at recent winners for similar criteria that stand out, and then looking at this seasons favorites to see who might have the biggest year. I started breaking down those finalists performances from last season, looked at how this season projects, and have come up with the solution that: Of all the best candidates, Denard is most likely to have Heisman success in 2012. 

Firstly: Past winners haven't necessarily been the best prospects for the NFL draft, or always played on the #1 overall team, or put up the gaudiest numbers, but had dynamic highlights, and the gaudiest numbers against top level opponents. For 2011, Andrew Luck would have been my personal pick as the "best" player  to have future success in the NFL, but he didn't win the Heisman. Trent Richardson was the best offensive player on the #1 overall team but didn't win, and kids like Kellen Moore and Case Keenum put up by far the gaudiest numbers but were one dimensional players winning against mostly smaller programs, and neither was even drafted.

4 of the last 6 winners had multiple dimensions to their games, creating offense by throwing and running, played in AQ conferences, and scored an average of around 50 touchdowns (roughly 32 passing, and 18 rushing.) 10 of the last 12 winners were quarterbacks. 

Note: Sam Bradford had numbers similar to Keenum and Moore (4721 yards, 50 TDs) but did so at Oklahoma. Troy Smith won scoring only 31 TDs (30 passing, 1 rushing) but had previously scored 11 short yardage rushing TDs in a season, and his only competition was RB Darren McFadden (21 TDs) and Brady Quinn (lol.)

Next: I broke down the preseason watchlist players 2011 season performance, and tried to chart whether they would improve or regress in 2012.

QB Matt Barkley. Last season Barkley was phenominal for USC, and the teams unusual losses and close wins were mostly due to a suspect defense and a lack of a running game, and certainly couldn't be put on Matts shoulders. He essentially had a Matt Stafford year: No running game? No problem. With Matt Kalil protecting his blindside he attempted almost 100 extra passes than the previous 2 seasons more balanced attacks, and put up around 1000 extra yards. His completion% went up a few ticks, his YPA went up slightly, but his TD/INT numbers drastically improved and he put 39 in the end zone through the air, 2 on the ground.

2012 production? Regress. He will improve and mature as a passer and a qb, and will likely be the #1 overall pick and be most likely to succeed in the NFL a-la Andrew Luck, but  every analyst since his decision to return for his senior year has stated that without the stellar blindside protection of Kalil, and a new feature running back (in 1200 yard rusher/PSU transfer Silas Redd) added to the roster will reduce Barkleys attempts back to a previous average of around 360, as opposed to the 446 attempts in 2011. Thus the USC running game production will go up, and Barkleys production will go down, as will his TDs.

RB Montee Ball. In 2011 Ball rushed a staggering 307 times for 1,923 yards and 39 TDs (33 rushing.) He had the definition of a "breakout" year, catching many defenses by surprise as part of the new 2 headed monster of power rusher-meets-mobile quarterback Russel Wilson,  almost doubling his attempts, more than doubling his total yards, and almost doubling his rushing TDs from 2010. He even tied Barry Sanders record for TDs in a single season by a running back, and set the B1G record for total TDs in one season by any player (Denard accounted for 36 in 2010.)

2012 production? Regress. He will be a better player in 2012 all around, but again, circumstances will limit his overall numerical production over his 2011 breakout year. He will be the major focus of every B1G defense he faces this season, he won't have the added push of recent 1st and 2nd round draft picks OG Kevin Zeitler, and C Peter Konz blocking for him. A new pro-style qb starting for the Badgers will also allow opposing Linebackers to focus on the one man rush attack, so while I can imagine his workload staying the same, or even increasing, I have to believe his numbers will be reduced from last years incredible output.

Other 2012 standouts:

QB Landry Jones. Pro: Threw for 4463 yards in 2011 and scored 29 TDs, threw for 4718 yards in 2010 and an incredible 38 TDs! Threw for 3198 yards in 2009 as a freshman, and 26 TDs.

Con: Threw 14 INTs in 2009, 12 INTs in 2010, and 15 INTs in 2011, and has been sacked 41 times in 3 years. 

2012 production? Not good enough to win the Heisman. He will likely throw for another 4,000 yards this season, but probably fewer than 20 TDs, and has thrown more total INTs (including more on average) than Denard. This will mostly be due to the Sooners losing the most prolific WR in NCAA history in Ryan Broyles to the 2012 draft, so his INTs will likely increase. 2012 = QB OH NOOESSSS!!!!

QB Geno Smith. Against Big East competition in 2011 Smith put up ridiculous numbers, 4385 yards on an equally ridiculous 526! attempts. Against a suspect Clemson defense he did similarly well, accounting for an incredible 407 passing yards and 6 TDs (assisted by 4 Clemson turnovers.)

Pros: Smith finshed the season with 31 TDs, 7 INTs.

Con: He did so against mostly Big East competition, only managed 31 TDs on (again) 526! attempts, and has been sacked 54 (!) times in the last 2 seasons.

2012 production? Regress. Moving to the Big 12 he could be the best qb in the conference, but facing solid defensive teams such as Texas, and TCU he'll be sacked far more often than he already has, should pass for fewer yards, and even fewer touchdowns than last years 31.

CB? Tyrann Mattieu: Not playing football this year.

Lastly: QB Denard Robinson.

2011 was a transitional year for Denard, learning to play in a new offense that (for the first few games of the season) didn't really suit his strengths. He threw, and ran, for fewer yards than in his record breaking 2010 season, regularly ran out of bounds to avoid contact instead of cutting back for bigger gains, left many fans (and several analysts) wondering why he didn't tuck and run as his check down instead of throwing into double and triple coverage, and his INTs increased over his already high 2010 numbers. Yet, despite all of this, he made drastic strides as a QB as the season went on, the offensive scheme was adjusted to suit his strengths, his confidence as a passer grew, and he actually scored more passing and rushing TDs than in his (again) record breaking 2010 season, all despite substatially fewer attempts in both categories.

2012 production? Increase. The addition of a potent power running game in 2011, the #6 scoring defense in the nation, and plucky special teams play assisting in field position and turnovers helped Denard a lot in 2010. A 1000 yard rusher in Fitz Toussaint also gave opposing defenses a true double threat to account for (a la Montee Ball, Russell Wilson.) Last years transitional offense, and in-game RB tryout is now an established offense tailored to Denards strengths, and an established, and deep, power-rush attack. In 2012 many of the top defenses we will face also lost their top tacklers and pass rushers as well (Lavonte David, Whitney Merciless, Aaron Lynch, Jared Crick, Jerel Worthy, Mark Barron, Dont'a Hightower, Wiscys entire DLine, ect) so despite losing Rimington Award winning Center David Molk, the pressure Robinson will face in 2012 should diminish slightly. Additionally, Fall and Spring reports from coaches have been universally positive about his decision making, mechanics, accuracy, and confidence improving. 

His 2011 numbers were 2173 yards passing on 258 attempts, 1176 yards rushing on 221 attempts with 36 TDs (20 passing TDs to 15 INTs, and 16 TDs rushing.) If reports from camp translate onto the football field then his INTs should drop this year, giving him more chances for TDs through the air. Depth in the run game from returning feature back Toussaint, senior Smith, and sophomores Rawls and Hayes should set up shorter 3rd downs, and higher % passes. Plus new found WR depth from (more atttempts to) senior Roundtree, 6'4"+ Devin Gardener, 6'2"+ Amara Darboh, 6'5" Ricardo Miller a deep SR group, and a viable TE group should make the loss of jump ball specialist Hemmingway an easier transition.  Lastly: New found confidence from Denard, and better decision making, should enable him to tuck-and-run successfully in 2012 when his receivers are covered, and unleash his dynamic playmaking ability. He and the coaches should be less worried about injury by now, and Denard should be ready to eat on Saturdays.

I can easily imagine him improving his rushing and passing yards in 2012 now, and pushing his TD total to over 40, setting a new record for B1G touchdowns in a season, possibly breaking the total-yards record for qbs, winning the B1G, and playing in a BCS bowl at seasons end. If so, the 3 year Heisman hype around Denard could finally come true this year.

Note: players like RB Marcus Lattimore and RB/WR/KR De'Anthony Thomas got a look, but as good an RB as Lattimore has been, he's put up only modest numbers to date, and against SEC defenses he's unlikely to eclipse Ball as the top RB in the nation this year. Thomas also has "electric" game, and can take it to the house regularly, but he also benefits from GREAT blocking, and while fast, isn't really as fast or as dynamic and elusive a runner as Denard is. Him also being a sophomore, and not playing qb will limit his total production in 2012 compared to others in consideration.

My guess for Heisman finalists by seasons end is Barkley, Ball, Smith, and Robinson. Strength of schedule, total production, versatile and "dynamic" production, possibly breaking multiple records, and final season record, I believe, give the edge to Denard.

Go Blue!




August 29th, 2012 at 8:47 PM ^

What ends up getting lost in all the Ball hype last year (regarding him tying Barry's TD record) was that he had 2 extra games to score TD's. I believe with his Bowl Game included Barry had like 44 TD's too (and he didn't have a CG game either)


August 29th, 2012 at 9:06 PM ^

Ball also had a top talent at QB for defenses to worry about scrambling, and two top offensive linemen to block for him. Barry got rejected by just about every school in the country he tried out for. Northwestern said "no thanks" to Barry. Oklahoma State had a good back in Thurman Thomas already, but they had basically nothing else and were a bottom tier program until Thomas and Barry made them. When it was Barrys turn it was just like at Detroit, too. He was the offense, yet he still had more rushing TDs than Ball. 37 to 32.

M Fanfare

August 29th, 2012 at 8:51 PM ^

You also have to remember that in the 14 seasons of the BCS era, only 3 Heisman winners came from teams that weren't slated to play in the National Championship Game--Carson Palmer, Tim Tebow, and RG3. The real key to predicting the Heisman winner as accurately as possible is to try to predict who will play in the title game.


August 29th, 2012 at 9:34 PM ^

That's a good list. Too soon to arrange them maybe, I like Barkley, and Ball, Denard, and Wilson, but I don't even consider Landry Jones to be in the top 10 for qbs in 2012. He puts up big yards, and has a lot of hype playing in the Big "12" but that's because all Oklahoma does is throw the ball and they just lost their main target. He's attempted 449, 617, and 562 passes the last 3 years and his INTs and sacks are just horrible, plus his TDs per attempts is below average. Even Denard threw for 20 TDs last year in less than half the tries.

I still like Wilson, but I'd put Wilson out of the Heisman discussion without Petrino, plus A&M and Mizzou entering the SEC.

Ranking past performances I'd keep Jones in the top 10 for sure, but guessing about 2012 I'd pick Barkley, Wilson, EJ Manuel, Denard, Taj Boyd, AJ McCarron, TCU's Casey Pachall, Georgias Aaron Murray, Tennessees Tyler Bray, and even maybe Geno Smith, Wisconsins Danny O'Brien and Braxton Miller under Urban to have a better 2012 than Landry Jones playing against TCU and Texas, without Broyles, and with all of Oklahomas depth problems. 

What do you think, though? 


August 29th, 2012 at 9:01 PM ^

The only way I see denard winning it is if Michigan goes undefeated/has its only loss to bama.  


The only reason RG3 won it was because the MNC game was such a crock last year and the only undefeated team had no viable contender...I can't see a situation like that playing out again.


August 29th, 2012 at 9:11 PM ^

We could be a one loss team this year, but when RG3 won it Baylor was a 3 loss team, and he was horribly inconsistant in previous years, and even in those 3 losses. Alabama was only a one loss team (to eventual #1) but they had Richardson who was a finalist, and everybody said was even better than previous Heisman winning Alabama RB Mark Ingram.


August 29th, 2012 at 9:02 PM ^

While your argument did made me think slightly better of his chances, I still believe that he is by no means a favorite to win. He has yet to put together a consistant year throwing and running against good defenses, and you ignore the fact that each of the other candidates will have had another year to polish their game. He also faces a punishing slate of defenses, Eg Alabama, Notre Dame, MSU, OSU. He lost Molk from the offensive line as well. Michigan now also has a feature back in Fitz, which could cut into his production significantly. He has a shot at it, and I obviously hope he makes it, but I can't justify calling him the favorite to win.


August 29th, 2012 at 9:10 PM ^

I think you're right on about Denard.  What people also forget is that he wasn't the only one learning a new offense.  Al Borges was learning how to use a guy with his talents and implement zone-read and option principles into his offense, while also getting to know his players' strengths/weaknesses.  The receivers were also learning a new offense, one where they have more responsibility to read things and adjust/adapt before and during plays (when two guys have to make a decision, you are twice as likely to get a screw up).  With a year of film to look at and 18 months together I think everybody is going to be improved and that is the kind of thing that leads to great leaps forward.

If Denard just equals his 2010 numbers as far as completion percentage goes he's back in the discussion.  If he cuts the interceptions to say 7 or 8, things look even better.  He's also a name guy unlike a Geno Smith who may put up great numbers but isn't as well known to voters.

I think it will come down to Barkley and Denard.  Record will be a big decider, but Matt might also be held back a bit by the fact that his supporting cast is so good (Woods/Lee might be the best two WR in the country, McNeal was a 1,000 yard back last year and Redd 1,200, he has a couple 5-star WR waiting in the wings to make plays as well).  As someone who attended both Michigan and the University of Southern California, I just can't wait for Saturday.


August 29th, 2012 at 9:50 PM ^

I don't think his performance against Alabama will necessarily define the season, or ruin his chances. We don't even have to win, just because its the first game and everyone else plays a string of cupcakes to start the year. He could get a pass if he has a VT performance, just like RG3 (and Barkley) did last year a couple times, lol. We could fall flat, and still recover/rebound against Air Force and UMass before ND and then run the table in the B1G. So few teams go undefeated anymore, like 2 loss LSU winning it all, that it doesn't seem to matter as much athese days, especially with a playoff looming.


August 29th, 2012 at 10:04 PM ^

I think the Bama game will be huge as far as the Heisman race goes and will shape perception because it is a game everyone will be watching.  Everyone knew LSU was awesome last year because they beat Oregon, it didn't matter much how they looked the rest of the year.  Everybody saw RGIII tear apart TCU's defense (never mind that they had lost a ton of talent, at the time they were the defending Rose Bowl champs) and that set the stage for the rest of the season.  If Denard has a big game and we win the award is all but wrapped up.  If he struggles, it is pretty much all over, no matter what his numbers look like at season's end.

First impressions matter, especially for the casual/national audience (SEE, Denard vs. Notre Dame in 2010).


August 29th, 2012 at 10:12 PM ^

But if we lose to bama, yet still end up a 1 loss team, he breaks the B1G touchdown record of 39, and surpasses Pat Whites total offense record he could set himself apart, especially if USC ends up dropping a couple turds like they did last year. It matters when you lose late too for perception. In rankings and standings, the team that loses last gets knocked out. If we lose in week one, and USC loses in week 4, or 6, or later we'll jump them, and Denard will save face, while Barkley loses face. If USC loses twice like last year then it's completely different.


August 29th, 2012 at 10:19 PM ^

I don't think losing the game, so long Denard plays well, would knock him out of the Heisman race.  Winning AND playing well I think gives him a leg up that I don't know if anybody else can match.  Playing poorly I think puts into all neutral observers' minds the idea that he just isn't an elite player, no matter what he does against non-SEC competition.