Friday, August 28, 2009

It's Too Bad That SEC Offenses Aren't Fancy Like the One That Featured Ron Dayne

If you want to see a great instance of shifting rationales, check out HeismanPundit's latest effort at defending the useless award about which he bases his existence. HP's initial argument was that SEC teams haven't thrown the ball enough over the past 30 years to win a Heisman Trophy. After a critical review from the Senator, the rationale has now shifted:

The point isn’t so much that the offenses need to be cutting edge, but if you are going to produce Heismans in a quarterback-dominated era, you’d better have guys who can throw the ball and put up numbers. And if you have a great running back, he’d better get a lot of yards. The SEC hasn’t been doing enough of that in the last 20 years and that’s why its Heisman production has not kept up with its prominence in the team rankings.

In case you're wondering why that rationale shifted, it's because HP is trying to glide past the Senator's citation of Ron Dayne, who played in an offense that was anything but sophisticated. So now, the argument is that you need an offense that puts up a lot of numbers, either at the quarterback position or at running back. Really? Heisman winners need gaudy statistics? That's a revolutionary concept.

And why do SEC players not put up gaudy numbers? I'll give you two reasons, none of which will have anything to do with Cro Magnon offenses in the Deep South:

1. SEC defenses do not permit opponents to run up huge numbers. Ask Sam Bradford.

2. SEC teams are more likely to rotate running backs. This is because there is more talent in the South and most top teams have multiple running threats. In this respect, SEC teams are more advanced than their counterparts in other conferences, as the majority of offensive coaches in the NFL have figured out that rotating backs makes sense. (The coach of the local pro football collective could stand to learn this lesson.) The fact that Heisman voters fall for ruses like Javon Ringer putting up numbers because he gets the ball 30+ times every game against average defenses is an indictment of the award, not of SEC offenses.

I'll also make the point that the characterization of SEC offenses as being less likely to throw the ball is simply wrong. Off the top of my head, SEC offenses of the past 20 years have included: David Cutcliffe's offenses at Tennessee and Ole Miss, Terry Bowden's offense at Auburn (especially when he had Dameyune Craig), Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher's offense at LSU when they rode Rohan Davey and Josh Reed to an SEC title, the Air Raid offense at Kentucky, the offense that Rich Brooks built around Andre Woodson at Kentucky, the 1994 Georgia team with Eric Zeier, the adaptation of the Fast Break that Mark Richt has employed at Georgia, and Steve Spurrier's offenses at South Carolina and Florida. Yeah, other than that, no one throws the ball in the SEC.

And then HP turns his loving attention to my post. Initially, notice the unsubtle attempt to bait and switch. My argument is this: it cannot be a coincidence that the two SEC teams in the all-time top ten in winning percentage - Alabama and Tennessee - have combined to win zero Heismans while the other eight programs have combined to win 35. Knowing that he has absolutely no chance when discussing Tennessee, a program whose two best candidates lost to the only Heisman winner from a losing team and the only Heisman winner who played defense, he just ignores them and instead focuses on Alabama. He makes a decent point when noting that Alabama did not produce a lot of runners with gaudy stats in the 1970s because the wishbone tended to disperse carries. (This would be an instance of an SEC offense being too advanced for simple-minded Heisman voters.) HP then challenges me to come up with an Alabama player who should have won the award. Since Don Hutson left Alabama just before the first Heisman was awarded, I'll vote for Shaun Alexander.

In 1999, Alexander ran for 1,383 yards and 19 touchdowns, while also catching 25 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns. He played on an Alabama team that won the SEC while playing one of the hardest schedules in the country and became the first SEC team to win in the Swamp, a game in which Alexander was unstoppable. The award was instead won by Ron Dayne, who ran for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns, while catching exactly one ball for nine yards. Dayne did not break 100 yards against Michigan (Wisconsin's albatross at the time), he did not play Penn State, and Wisconsin played their typically ludicrous non-conference schedule.

So let's see: Alexander totaled 1,706 yards and 23 touchdowns against a very difficult schedule and had a huge performance in Alabama's biggest game of the year, while Dayne totaled 1,843 yards and 19 touchdowns against a relatively easy schedule. If you apply the rationale that was used to defeat Peyton Manning's Heisman campaign - Florida was Tennessee's bete noire and his poor performance at the Swamp killed his chances - then Dayne had no business winning the award after gaining 88 yards on 22 carries against Michigan (including a big fat goose egg on eight carries in the second half) and his team lost 21-16 with Wisconsin's last touchdown coming against a prevent defense in the final minutes. Alexander then went well before Dayne in the NFL Draft and had a far better pro career, a fact that I mention only because any reasonable person could have looked at the two of them at the time the Heisman vote was conducted and predicted that result. Alexander was a great runner and Dayne was a fat tub of goo who was great at running through giant holes at top speed like a giant boulder, but lousy against defenses that could force him to change direction. If Heisman voters couldn't figure out that Dayne was a product of his system and that Alexander was a far better player, then the award isn't worth much. Which it isn't.

HP, please mention the idea that Dayne won the award as a career achievement reward. Please please please.


Ed said...

Wow, HP really showed you with those Namath and Stabler stats. Ouch.

I imagine Andy Kelly, Heath Shuler and Peyton Manning put up similar numbers with those primitive Tennessee offenses in the early to mid-90s?

Griffin Caprio said...

re: "The fact that Heisman voters fall for ruses like Javon Ringer putting up numbers because he gets the ball 30+ times every game "

Ironically, this could be mentioned as the reason Tebow won his Heisman. He accounted for a huge percentage of touches on that UF team. Not only passing ( 26.9 attempts / game ), but rushing ( 16.15 attempts / game ) too. His rushing attempts put him in a virtual tie for 7th most among all players in the conference that year.

Heismanpundit said...

Do you really want some more of this debate? You've already been destroyed by the stats I brought up. You are the one bringing up the notion of 'sophisticated offenses', a phrase I did not use in my original post.

Oh, by the way, the Wishbone didn't seem to harm Billy Sims' Heisman hopes. So much for 'dispersing' the yards.

Yes, Dayne won the Heisman cus he was the all-time rusher that year. His team also won the Big Ten and finished 4th in the country. Alabama? Oh, right. Not so much. Whatever the case, only in your world do you think Heisman voters add up rushing and receiving yards to come up with a total. Maybe if Alexander had rushed for 1,900 yards, he would've won, but then that's just impossible in the SEC, isn't it?

Heismanpundit said...

Oh, I almost forgot your beauty of a statement:

"SEC defenses do not permit opponents to run up huge numbers. Ask Sam Bradford."

Why ask Sam Bradford when we can just ask Tim Tebow, the first guy to run and pass for 20/20. Those weren't gaudy numbers.

Funny how when an SEC player puts up gaudy numbers...he wins the Heisman.

Just as pointed out.

To be kind, I will not bring up your latest idiocy. You've had enough.

Michael said...

Griffin, Tebow didn't just get a lot of opportunities; he made a lot of those chances. On a per play basis, he's a great QB. Ringer just piled up big aggregate numbers because he got the ball a ton.

HP, the day I lose an argument with you is the day I put on a leprechaun outfit and sing the Notre Dame Victory March.

1. Congrats, you found one player who won the Heisman in the wishbone. Are you seriously going to dispute the notion that a running back will pile up the same numbers in the wishbone as he can in the I? Really?

2. Really, I've been killed by the stats you brought up? I'll give you credit for the Namath and Stabler stats, but I'm still waiting for an explanation on the stat that I put at the center of my first post, which is the magical coincidence that the two SEC teams in the top ten in all-time winning percentage happen to be the two without Heisman winners. You've now had two chances to explain and you've punted both times, except to bumble around on the Alabama topic.

3. Alabama was ranked #5 in the country when the Heisman was awarded, a whopping one spot behind Wisconsin. They had just destroyed Florida in the SEC Title Game. If they had played a horrendous Stanford team in the Rose Bowl (ah yes, the year that the Pac Ten champ finished 8-4 and unranked) instead of a very good Michigan team in the Orange Bowl, then they would have finished in the top five.

3. You know, you're pretty hilarious. You go on and on about how important it is for a running back to be a receiving threat. Now, you admit that the voters for the award that is your reason for being don't care about a RB's receiving stats at all. So I guess Heisman voters are idiots and you are wasting your time writing about the award.

4. The fact that an SEC QB is capable of putting up big numbers doesn't mean that SEC defenses don't make it hard to do so. Ask Urban Meyer about that. How else do you explain the fact that SEC runners don't put up huge numbers in college, but they are consistently more successful in the NFL than Big Ten runners?

Black Mesa Publishing said...

Excellent blog -- man, you said that very well. And hey, since I'm a Gator fan and all, I get to pull for Tebow to win a third BCS title and a second Heisman this year, right??

Jack said...

People still give a crap about the Heisman? Seriously? Are you sure?

Anonymous said...

It seems like this argument has drifted away from its original claim - that SEC offenses are too conservative and don't pass enough to win the Heisman.

There is probably some truth in that statement, but HP ignores that it may be done out of necessity to winning games in the SEC (as you point out Michael).

I thought it might be interesting to look at how Heisman winning QB's have fared against the SEC in their campaign winning years. I just did the last 10 years...

2008 - Sam Bradford
26-41-2, 2 TD, 256 yd, loss 14-24 to UF

2007 - Troy Smith
4-14-1, 0 TD, 35 yd, Loss 14-41 to Florida

2003 - Jason White
21-35-0, 2 TD, 259 yd, win 21-14 v Alabama

13-37-2, 0 TD, 102 yd, loss 14-21 v LSU

2002 - Carson Palmer
23-32-2, 0 TD (1 yd run TD), 302 yd, win 24-17 v Auburn

2000 - Chris Weinke
23-44-2, 3 TD, 353 yd, win 30-7 v Florida

Combined for the year, the five Heisman winners averaged 285 ypg, 64% completion, 2.76 td/g, and 0.64 int/g

Vs. SEC defenses they averaged 217 ypg, 54% completion, 1.33 td/g, and 1.50 int/g.

They finished these games 3-3.

That's a substantial negative increase in every statistical category.

Those are some pretty pedestrian numbers versus SEC defenses for Heisman winning offenses. This lends statistical credence to the thought that SEC defenses have a great impact in dictating SEC offensive passing figures.

Anonymous said...

In 1999, Alexander averaged 4.6 per carry, Dayne averaged 6.0. Alexander played against better competition, and certainly after the Heisman voting he had a much better day against their common opponent. However, that's an awfully large YPC discrepency, and its certainly enough for a reasonable Heisman voter to hang his hat on.

As for previous Heisman slights, I won't listen to a single one about the time period before the full integration of the SEC (the early 70s?). SEC teams should have been vigorously discriminated against before that. They deserve every negative thing that happened to them.

Griffin said...

"Griffin, Tebow didn't just get a lot of opportunities; he made a lot of those chances. On a per play basis, he's a great QB. Ringer just piled up big aggregate numbers because he got the ball a ton."

Not to beat the horse, but I never understood the rationale in saying a QB "made a lot of those chances". The QB starts with the ball in his hands and the coaches call plays. So either they called his number with a huge frequency or a large number of plays broke down and he had to improvise. I'm sure the answer lies somewhere in the middle, but still. One would have to admit that Tebows gaudy numbers that year were pumped up a bit because his number getting called more often than most other QBs ( and some RBs ) out there. Not that I could blame the UF staff. He's still a freak player and he wins you games.

Heismanpundit said...

Start getting out your green outfit and loosen your vocal chords.

1. Eh, yes, I did find one Heisman winner who was from the Wishbone. He wasn't the only guy, though, who put up big numbers in the wishbone historically. There were a ton of 1,000-yard rushers out of the wishbone from many teams. Except, apparently, Alabama, as I pointed out. I guess the Tide tried to make sure no one got the yards. Bear Bryant: "Ogilvie is approaching 1,000...make sure we stop pitching to him". Facts are facts and no Alabama player from the 70s did squat statistically.

2. Yes, killed. I mean, you brought up two guys as examples and I obliterated both examples. Who is punting on the Tennessee and Alabama examples? I told you OVER AND OVER that the reason those schools haven't won Heismans is that they haven't had anyone put up big offensive seasons recently (outside of Manning, who finished second). Get it through your skull--you seem to think it's some kind of conspiracy and I'm telling you it's because they ain't producing. Again, please tell me which Alabama player really deserved the Heisman and which Tennessee guy (outside of Manning, who i admit has a case), deserved it in the last 30 years or so. I'd LOVE to hear it.

3. Well, look. Alabama was a one-year wonder that year and Wisconsin had had a good run. If voters saw fit to think Wisconsin was better than Alabama, why is it such a stretch to choose Ron Dayne as the Heisman winner, who had 500 more rushing yards than Alexander and broke the NCAA record? It's not like Dayne was bogus or not worthy, even if you think he wasn't the most deserving.

4. You have just never come to terms with me being right about offenses way back when, have you? It just clouds your thinking. Surely, you realize that my personal attitude on what constitutes an effective back in an offense can be different than what Heisman voters think, don't you? I don't think Heisman voters are idiots, but I do think that in this case you are being one.

5. The whole issue isn't whether SEC defenses make it hard for numbers to be produced. For argument's sake, let's just say that the top 12 defenses every year are from the SEC (I know you really think this anyway, but let's go with it). That still won't change the fact that to win the Heisman you have to produce impressive statistics. I am not arguing the "why", I am arguing the "what". You are confusing the two.

As for SEC backs in the NFL being more successful than they were in college, I attribute it to the fact that they perhaps are finally being properly utilized.

In the end, the root of this whole thing is that guys from your favorite team never win the Heisman, at least not in your lifetime. This is why Southern fans always claim to hate the award. I had the very same discussion with a Florida fan around 2003 about the Heisman and he thought it was a joke. Then Tebow hit the scene and he was alllll about it. Maybe one day Urban Meyer will coach at UGA and you can enjoy a nice Heisman season.