"I just feel blessed to be in this opportunity,” the Ohio State junior said. “Being able to compete for the Heisman, it's surreal. It's a blessing and I can't do anything but thank God and my boys for giving me the opportunity to experience all this."
After giving those usual platitudes, Elliott was asked if he thinks it’s a good bet to take him for the Heisman.
"I think it would be a good one,” he said with a big grin.
Unfortunately for Elliott, history disagrees.
It’s a quarterback’s game now when it comes to the top award in college football. Signal callers have won the award every year since the year 2000 but two – 2009, when Mark Ingram captured the trophy for an unbeaten Alabama team that won the national championship, and 2005, when Reggie Bush captured the trophy he’d eventually return based on violations committed during his time at USC.
Chris Weinke, Eric Crouch, Carson Palmer, Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota have all won it since then. It makes sense. Quarterbacks have the ball in their hand every play, and with the rise of spread-option offenses, they are often asked to make a decision on every play as well.
As such, the game has developed to the point where the QB is the most dangerous weapon on the field for most plays and is thus able to rack up nearly unheard of statistics. It’s reached the point where Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett was on pace to become the first player in college football history to pass for 3,000 yards, rush for 1,000 more and rack up 50 combined touchdowns – and he was no lock to even capture the stiff-arm trophy.
Last year, Mariota combined for 5,224 yards and 57 touchdowns in 15 games. The year before, Winston had 4,276 yards and 42 touchdowns. Manziel combined for 5,116 yards and 47 touchdowns, while Griffin piled up 4,992 yards and 47 scores.
Compare that to Leinart, White, Palmer and Weinke, Heisman winners in the early 2000s who each racked up impressive passing numbers but were pure pocket passers. Of the above group, all but Winston ran for at least 600 yards and 10 TDs in their Heisman year; Leinart, White, Palmer and Weinke each finished with negative rushing yards because of sacks during their Heisman seasons.
So with quarterbacks now able to rack up even more impressive numbers, it’s gotten more and more difficult for running backs to pick up the award like they did in the 1990s when Ron Dayne (1999), Ricky Williams (1998), Eddie George (1995) and Rashaan Salaam (1994) won the trophy in a span of six seasons.
Just look at last year, when Melvin Gordon nearly turned the college football record book on its ear. Gordon broke the NCAA single-game record for rushing yards at one point and made a run at Barry Sanders’ all-time single-season record. When the Heisman voting was completed, Gordon had 2,236 rushing yards and 26 TDs but finished a distant second to Mariota, not even pulling in half the votes of the Oregon QB.
Of course, all is not lost for Elliott, who impressed observers when he ran for 696 yards and eight touchdowns in playoff wins vs. Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. Healthy after finally getting his wrist back to 100 percent, Elliott could improve on last year’s totals that included 1,878 rushing yards, the second-most in Ohio State history.
He could follow the path set by Ingram, who ran for 1,658 yards with 17 TDs in 2009 (he added 334 receiving yards and three touchdowns as well).
First, Elliott would have to be on a national championship contender, which seems likely given the talent Ohio State has returning. He would also have to be the most productive skill position player on the team, which could also happen as the Buckeyes return four starting offensive linemen, have three QBs and a bevy of wideouts who seem likely to split catches at the top.
Ingram also won the award in a year in which there wasn’t an obvious choice at quarterback to bring home the bacon. Stanford RB Toby Gerhart actually finished second, while the top quarterback was Texas’ Colt McCoy in third. McCoy led the Longhorns to the title game as well but had just 27 passing TDs against 12 interceptions and ran for 348 yards. The next QB, Tebow, finished fifth with 3,805 combined yards and 35 TDs but also saw his team lose to Alabama in the SEC title game in the final week before the voting.
The top quarterbacks behind Elliott at the moment are Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and TCU’s Trevone Boykin. Good players, yes, and each posted impressive numbers in 2014 (4,435 yards, 41 TDs for Prescott and 4,608 yards and 41 TDs for Boykin, who was fourth in the Heisman race last year). But neither is a household name nor a guaranteed national title contender.
So time will tell how the Heisman race will unfold in 2015. If anyone will buck recent trends, it could be Elliott, but history shows that a big arm and not strong legs will likely earn the trophy of a ball carrier noted most for his extended arm.