Heisman vote is just around the corner

At this time of the season only Auburn and Tennessee have much left to settle in the SEC. But on the horizon is the announcement of college football's biggest award.

At this time of the season only Auburn and Tennessee have much left to settle in the SEC.

As this is written, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will decide which is the best 4-7 team but it's difficult to become very enthused about a 4-7 season. South Carolina ended its year last week in a memorable way, a thrashing from arch rival Clemson and an unsportsmanlike display that kept both teams nursing their emotional bruises over losing a bowl game trip. That on top of their physical hurts from playing the game with their fists instead of in the normal manner.

Admittedly there's still the issue of the BCS and whether or not the Tigers will get a shot at the national championship but, in truth, there will be as much written and said about the Heisman Trophy winner for 2004 as any other aspect of this troubled year.

As a Heisman voter, let me tell you how the system works. First of all, there is not as much hyping as you may have been led to believe, basically because the schools don't know who most of the voters are. As a state chairman I am forbidden to release the list of voters in my state. The schools know who I am because my name is in the annual Heisman Trophy report as a state chairman. I live in Meridian, MS and am employed by WTOK-TV. Every other voter is a secret.

Yes, there are some obvious voters--broadcasters and writers of such national esteem you know they almost must be on the list. In addition, all previous winners of the trophy get a vote. Currently that's 51. Last year the total number of voters, media and winners, was only 922.

The Heisman Committee has developed a system to prevent regional preference, Southern voters leaning toward an SEC candidate or those in the Midwest ganging up behind a player from the Big Ten or the West coast deciding the election by concentrating on a Pac-10 candidate.

To keep that from happening, the country is divided into six areas. The South, Southwest, North East, Mid West, Mid Atlantic, and Far West. Each sector within the United States gets exactly the same number of votes, 145, a total of 870 votes throughout the country. The balance of the 922 are previous winners and a fan vote.

The votes in a sector are split up according to population of each state in the group. For example, most SEC teams are in the Southern sector. It is composed of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. Each state gets a certain number of votes in accordance with its share of the overall population in its group. Obviously, Florida with a larger population would be given more voters than Mississippi but the overall total for our region remains 145 as it does for the others. South Carolina is in the Mid Atlantic with Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

As we said there's one lonely fan vote. In 1999, for the first time in history, the Heisman Committee joined with the American Suzuki Motor Corporation in a special program to allow the public at large to become part of the balloting process by making one fan vote eligible to vote in the overall tabulation.

The Regional Representative for the South, my boss, so to speak, is Jimmie McDowell of Jackson, Mississippi.

Now as to hyping. In previous years I've received everything from giant postcards to a bobble head doll. Neither of those two candidates won. This year there is one school and one school alone that is pushing hard for their man. Utah is backing quarterback Alex Smith with weekly e-mails touting his statistics, comparing them to those of previous winners including last year's Jason White from Oklahoma. I have not received a word from the Sooners about White, even though he certainly is a candidate again in 2004.

I love to look at the ads in the colorful Heisman book sent preseason to all the voters. The ads are marvelous. One of them for a private company is headed "It's not just a trophy, it's an honor." The University of Georgia has a full page which pictures a Georgia player in full uniform wrestling and controlling an alligator. Why would you think Georgia chose a Gator to be manhandled by the Bulldog player?

Ohio State, which has won six times, has a page showing their winners in action, Les Horvath, 1944; Vic Janowicz, 1950; Howard Cassidy, 1955; Archie Griffrin, 1974 and 1975; and Eddie George, 1995.

Penn State honors their winner, John Cappelletti, 1973 and their coach Joe Paterno ESPN. Then so we'll all know why, it says, "Two extraordinary reasons to be Penn State proud."

Auburn ran a full page saluting its two winners, Pat Sullivan (1971) and Bo Jackson (1985). Southern California has had five, Carson Palmer, O.J. Simpson, Mike Garrett, Charles when the announcement is made on ESPN White and Marcus Allen. They are portrayed in a paid ad.

The University of South Carolina bought a half page to call attention to their Heisman winner, George Rogers (1980).

There are a number of schools which have never won a Heisman but still ran an ad to call attention to themselves. Ole Miss is one example. North Carolina State is another. Iowa State would be a third.

There is little doubt that the Heisman is the one most important individual award in not only football but any other collegiate sport. Being a voter carries prestige as well because there are so few of them. The qualifications to be picked, to have that vote, include this standard.

"Each elector is currently covering college football in the capacity as a sports editor, writer, broadcaster or telecaster in your state."

That eliminates a lot of wannabees-- weekly newspapers, employees of a college or university, disc jockies and others. Members of the media recognize the importance of the award. I've never called one yet and offered him or her a Heisman vote but that they didn't accept and usually with the comment, "This is an honor."

On the other hand, just because you've been given a vote doesn't mean you can keep it forever. Heisman has rules about that as well. A state chairman is told voters should be replaced if they did not vote over the past two years or they were late returning their ballot over the past two years or there was a combination of the two, late one year and failed to vote the other.

So now we get down to the inevitable question. Who is going to win this year? I have no idea and neither does anyone else. We'll all have to wait until December 11th when the announcement is made on ESPN from the New York Athletic Club between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. EST.

Until then you know as much as the voters do, which at this point is little or nothing.

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