Babb Bits: Heisman Good, Butkus Bad

To no one's surprise, USC running back Reggie Bush ran away with this year's Heisman Trophy. But when Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny won the Butkus Award over OSU's A.J. Hawk, some eyebrows were raised. Charles Babb talks about the vote in the latest edition of his opinion column Babb Bits.

Butkus = Bubkus

When I first heard the news my initial reaction was, "What? It must be a mistake or a false report. Let's wait a bit to see if they correct this story."

My second reaction when I realized it was for real was, "You can't be serious? How embarrassing for the Butkus and its voters."

Before we go any further, it should be noted that this is not about some homer Ohio State guy shooting off his mouth on the Internet for the entire world to read. It isn't about favoritism. This is about fairness.

By any method of measurement A.J. Hawk was more deserving of this award than Paul Posluszny. That is not to say Posluszny is not a fine linebacker. He is. He is a whale of a football player and a terror for any offense. He simply isn't the primeval force that was and is A.J. Hawk.

For a better measurement (and a way to take this from the realm of opinion to something more concrete), let's compare the two first on an individual and then on a team basis.

Individually:

 

Solo Tkle

Asst Tkle

Total Tkle

TFL-Yds

Sacks

No-Yds

Int-Yds

BrUp

QBH

FRcv Yds

FF

S

Pos

60

51

111

11-38

3-21

0

2

1

0

0

0

Hawk

60

49

109

13-68

7.5-56

1-24

3

0

1-0

2

0

Please peruse those statistics and explain Posluszny as the more deserving player. He had two more solo tackles on the season, but that is a pittance and perhaps even a negative for him when you consider the number of games the Buckeyes pulled their first stringers off the field in the fourth quarter. Hawk had two more tackles for loss, 4.5 more sacks for 35 more negative yards, an interception return against Texas for 24 yards, one more pass broken up, a fumble recovery, and two forced fumbles.

Frankly, there isn't even any comparison when looking at these two head to head.

So what about their teams? Perhaps the voters opted to examine the overall records of the two clubs and determined the Lions' defense was more dominant. How did these two lead their respective defenses? How do these two units as a whole compare?

Team:

Team

Score
Def

Pass Def

Rush Def

Total Def

Pass Def Eff

Opp 1st Down

Opp 3rd Dn

Opp 4th Dn

Sacks

Red Zone Def

OSU

14.8

200.8

74.5

275.3

115.8

166

28.5
%

38.5
%

39
-250

78.6
%

Big Ten Rank

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

4

1

5

Nat. Rank

7

36

1

4

32

NA

4

26

5

NA

PSU

16.5

207.5

99.1

306.5

106.3

197

35.8

52.9
%

38
-254

75
%

Big Ten Rank

2

3

2

2

1

2

2

7

2

3

Nat. Rank

11

45

12

17

16

NA

38

72

7

NA

So if it isn't because he had better statistics head to head, and his defense as a whole was not as dominant as that of Ohio State, tell me again why Posluszny won.

Is it because Penn State beat Ohio State by the slimmest of margins in a night game at Happy Valley in Troy Smith's third start back from his suspension? If so, then I have to point out it was neither Posluszny nor Hawk that scored the winning touchdown. I feel further compelled to note on a neutral field Ohio State would be favored over the Lions and that this was Posluszny's first win over the Buckeyes in his entire career.

Maybe it's because of the happy story in Happy Valley this year. Personally I can buy that this is the major reason, but I don't believe it holds any water. Why you ask? I'm personally thrilled for the Nittany Lions and their venerable head coach Joe Paterno; they have taken a beating in recent seasons. However, that they are a feel good story for winning 10 games is actually troubling; it implies Penn State has not been at the top of college football where they belong. It means while Ohio State was winning 19 games in Hawk's first two seasons as a full time starter, the Lions won just 14 games in Posluszny's. It means while the Buckeyes have a national title, two Big Ten titles, a 42-8 record, three bowl wins, and three BCS Bowls during the last four seasons the Lions have one Big Ten title, a 26-21 record (17-17 in Posluszny's tenure), no bowl wins, and a single BCS Bowl. That begs the question of whose defense has been better overall. Which linebacker has helped his defense make the necessary plays to give his team the victory?

In the end, this is part of the reason why players don't hope for these kinds of awards or put much weight in them. All too often voters are fickle and pick out a personal favorite instead of truly breaking it down and asking the right kinds of questions. Posluszny is one of those guys who get a linebacker coach noticed, but Hawk is a linebacker coach's dream – the kind who gets them a promotion and a fat pay raise.

If the voters have any paper bags in their closet, they should poke out two eye holes and put it over their head.

In sum, the Butkus should be embarrassed.

The Right Heisman Winner

If there were ever a young man who should have tied Archie Griffin's record for winning two of these awards it is Reggie Bush. By rewarding Bush, A.K.A. ‘the human highlight machine' with a Heisman, the voters managed not to foul this one up again in 2005. I say again because last season the Heisman went to the wrong player in Southern California's backfield.

The sad (and frightening) reality is it took voters and sportswriters nearly 3 years to figure out Leinart couldn't hold Bush's jockstrap. It should have taken just one game – Virginia Tech 2004. With the Trojans appearing to be on the ropes in their toughest road test since losing to California midway through the previous season, they needed an answer. Thanks to a tragically poor call of pass interference on Virginia Tech and two touchdowns by Bush, they were clinging to a 14-13 lead with less than six minutes remaining. What did they do? They dialed up Bush's number 5 one final time to stretch the lead to 21-13 before salting it away with a late field goal. Without Bush their national championship, win streak, and even Leinart's Heisman hopes would have died that evening in Blacksburg.

For those of the slower variety, they should have figured it out watching the 2004 USC-UCLA game. This one was (again) won by the Trojans thanks to another bad officiating call (nullifying a touchdown at the end of the half for the Bruins) and No. 5. While pundits and voters would have you believe Bush's 513 total yards against Fresno State is the first time he has exploded on a national stage, it isn't; he had 335 against UCLA that afternoon to lead his team to a 29-24 victory. He scored 2 touchdowns and totaled 204 yards rushing on just 15 attempts. For good measure, he added 6 receptions for 73 yards (the team's leading receiver on the day) and 58 yards on returns. Bush put the team on his back and weaved through would be tacklers on his way to a win. Meanwhile, Leinart didn't manage a single touchdown pass, tossed an interception, and lost 24 yards on three sacks.

Fast forward to 2005.

With Southern California facing the sisters of poor, i.e., the Pac Ten, through the end of October they played only two decent foes – Oregon and Notre Dame. While neither of these would be confused with a national title caliber team, they were better than the average lot. Bush dismantled them both. He amassed 264 total yards and two touchdowns against the Ducks and 236 yards and three touchdowns (four if you count his illegal assist of Leinart) against the Irish. Once again Leinart struggled in comparison to his more talented teammate going 46-71 for 616 yards but throwing only 3 touchdowns (one of them to Bush) against 3 interceptions.

Two seasons, 19 games, and no defensive coordinator had an answer for Reggie Bush. They had stopped Leinart on several occasions, but nobody could even slow down ‘the other player' in the backfield.

Yet even after this display, Leinart was considered the frontrunner to win his second Heisman. It left me scratching my head. I wondered, ‘Does anyone even watch this team play? Does anyone besides me Tivo the Trojans' late night games or stay up to watch them in the wee hours of the morning? Does anyone have a memory of how Bush plays in the big games when championships are on the line?'

Apparently not.

It took Bush's 513 yard performance against Fresno State in still another game he saved for USC to convince the nation, "Hey, this guy is pretty good. Maybe he is the key to this team and not Leinart."

Yah think?


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