Campaigning for a Heisman

In between watching my beloved Chicago Cubs get blasted once again and trying to shed a few pounds this summer, a quick blurb in The Oklahoman made me think about one of the most prestigious trophies in all of college football.

In the newspaper article, Justin Harper reported that Sooner star tailback Adrian Peterson had a conference call recently with almost 50 members of the national media. Peterson, who is entering is junior season under head coach Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, is one of the pre-season favorites for Heisman Trophy and this communication with the media certainly was a move to keep the buzz going.

Harper went on to write that the Sooners don't plan to do much more than conference calls. This case is familiar to Notre Dame football because the Irish have there very own Heisman candidate in Brady Quinn. Coincidently enough, the senior quarterback also had a recent sitdown with invited press members from around the nation. Some critics of Notre Dame, always ready to pounce whenever they feel the Golden Dome is acting high and mighty, were taken aback by this move. Funny, I don't hear the small uproar when Stoops and company perform the same action.

That debate is for another day. The debate here is whether or not campaigning for the Heisman by a school or institution is a wise move. The public relations movements for the trophy have been as common in recent years as soccer players flopping and flaying in the 2006 World Cup. They are a part of present-day college football. But are they right?

Absolutely. There are many reasons for a university to pump up their player to media members. First of all, every college football fan remembers the Heisman Trophy winner. They're immortal and players and fans alike can remember about that one special year (in Archie Griffin's case, it was two spectacular years). Ask any die hard Irish fan who won the award while playing at Notre Dame. Without skipping a beat, they recite, "Bertelli, Lujack, Hart, Lattner, Hornung, Huarte and Brown." One cannot erase history and these names are indelible parts of Irish football history.

Another reason is more obvious: recruiting. I can bet all the money in my pocket that when Pete Carroll tries to entice a four or five-star athlete out to sunny Southern California, one of his major pitches (along with the biggest: two national titles in three years) is the fact that three of the past four Heisman Trophy winners have been Trojans. For Notre Dame, it's going on 19 years since an Irish football player has hoisted the award in New York City. It appears that the fierce work ethic of head coach Charlie Weis and the resume the man has put together has been enticing top talent to South Bend. A Heisman Trophy winner in Quinn, along with the Super Bowl rings, creative offensive mind and helping turn Tom Brady into one of the top quarterback in the NFL, is one more feather in the hat for Weis.

The Notre Dame head coach has said repeatedly that he could care less about individual statistics. If he has to run the ball 50 times, he'll do if it means a W in the win column. There might be games where the run will play better than the pass. But a look at the first two games, Georgia Tech and Penn State, both on national television, and they should give Quinn some nice momentum. The Yellow Jackets lost three of four starters in the secondary while the Nittany Lions did them one better: they don't bring back any of their 2005 starting defensive backfield. I smell mismatch galore and big numbers early on for Quinn.

The hard fact is that Quinn's candidacy depends not only on the performance he puts up this season but the performance of the Irish in 2006. Nine of the past 14 Heisman Trophy winners have been on teams that played for national championships in the bowl season. Translation: your numbers better be astronomical if you're watching the national title game this January 8th, 2007 on television. If Quinn throws for 35 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards (numbers that would surpass last season before the Fiesta Bowl contest albeit with one more game played) but Notre Dame is 9-3 or 10-2, it'll be an uphill task to bring the Heisman home.

Should a university pump up their player to Heisman voters? Certainly. The good outweighs the bad. Quinn appears locked and loaded to handle the onslaught of media that's coming his way. Should they go overboard? Never. That could turn off voters and dust up the image that the critics have of Notre Dame. Will Weis give opportunities for Quinn to post huge stats? Not if it's to the detriment of the team winning. But with so many weapons, the Irish offense should be able to do whatever they please. Quinn will get his numbers. But for a Heisman to come home to South Bend, the team, along with Quinn, will have to perform at an elite level.


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