Trent Richardson for Heisman

I’m a college football fan, and a Alabama fan, but I’ve never made the case for an Alabama player being worth of the Heisman trophy. It is not decided yet, but in my opinion Trent Richardson is the most deserving candidate at the moment.

The Heisman trophy is awarded to “most outstanding player in collegiate football“. The Heisman seems to factor in not just the player’s statistics, but how outstanding a player he is (the best players don’t always have the best statistics), and how outstanding his team is. The Heisman trophy has completed ignored many record setting players, because their performances while excellent were against inferior competition or did not lead to outstanding performances by their teams. The Heisman trophy does favor offensive players because their performances are easier to measure.

Trent Richardson didn’t start the season off as a leading Heisman candidate. Between Alabama playing below expectations, splitting time with Ingram, and missing a couple of games he didn’t build on his freshman season and get much momentum for a Heisman candidacy. Andrew Luck on the other hand rode a lot of hype. Trent has marched by candidate after candidate to place himself beside Luck as a top Heisman candidate. His statistics are quite impressive, he’s sixth in rushing yards per game, but the players ahead of him have a lower average per rush and less touchdowns. He’s tied for second in the NCAA in scoring, and both the running back tied with him and the running back ahead of him not only have less yardage, but they have a lower average per rush. To sum it up, statistically speaking he’s the best runner in the FBS and when you factor in how well Alabama has performed and the fact that he’s doing it playing an SEC schedule and there’s ample justification for his Heisman candidacy.

Trent vs Luck
If neither team loses and neither player gets injured it is nearly a sure thing that one of these two players win the Heisman. While Luck might be the better player, his performances are not nearly as excellent in my opinion. Let’s take a look at the level of competition:
Opponent’s passing defense ranking
73 San Jose St.
102 Duke
114 Arizona
88 UCLA
85 Colorado
103 Washington St.
110 Washington
Average=96.4

How do you even evaluate Luck’s performances? He hasn’t even faced an above average passing defense as of yet (there are 120 FBS teams). All you can really take away from that is that he’s done well against horrible competition. He’s 22nd in total passing yards and 12th in points, and in each category he’s below 2 PAC-12 quarterbacks. So, unlike Trent who is running away from his SEC competition, Luck despite horrible competition has not put himself ahead of his peers. He is 5th in passing efficiency (below RG III, Russell Wilson and Kellen Moore), but even against inferior competition he has not (statistically speaking) shown himself to be the best quarterback in the FBS. He does have a chance to prove himself against slightly better competition coming up, as he faces three (barely) above average passing defenses, but even then, these are not good passing defenses: 104 Southern Californi, 90 Oregon St., 59 (tie) Oregon, 46 California, 59 (tie) Notre Dame. These teams bring the average up to 86, but if Luck still hasn’t distanced himself from the other FBS quarterbacks by then I don’t see him as being worthy assuming everything else remains the same.

Stanford is playing bad teams, period. According to Sagarin, Stanford has a 92 strength of schedule. This tells us that not only has Luck’s play not been as outstanding, relative to Trent but that Stanford has not been as outstanding relative to Alabama. By contrast, Alabama’s current SoS sits at 35 and we know that’s going up. The quality of run defenses he has faced is also higher as well:
Opponent’s rushing defense ranking
50 Kent St.
19 Penn St.
64 North Texas
88 Arkansas
32 Florida
45 Vanderbilt
115 Ole Miss
63 Tennessee
Average=59.5

LSU is fourth in rushing defense so things won’t get easier. Trent, unlike Luck has had a chance to prove himself against a good defense, as he rushed for 111 yards and 2 TDs against Penn State, making him the only player to rush for 100 yards and the only player to rush for 2 TDs against Penn State. Against Florida, Trent rushed for 181 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The next match-up for Luck is against USC, who is 104th in passing defense with 265 passing yards allowed per game (followed by 90th Oregon St.). By contrast, Trent will go up against LSU next, who gives up a meager 76 rushing yards per game. If Trent is productive at all against LSU he’ll prove more than two great games by Luck. Based on the competition and Luck’s inability to distance himself from the pack, I think Trent thus far, and if things continue will remain deserving of the trophy.

Trent vs Ingram
This is an interesting comparison. They played alongside each other, both played on excellent Alabama teams and logic is that if Mark deserved a Heisman for his performance, Trent has to be deserving at the moment as well. I have to start with the Tennessee game as I saw someone that was critical of Trent’s performance. Trent rushed for 77 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. By contrast, Mark rushed for 99 yards on 18 rushes against UT in ‘09. However, there is a major difference. Mark’s fumble against UT was crucial, and while Trent hasn’t fumbled this year (to my knowledge), he also scored 2 touchdowns, and had three catches against UT while Mark did neither. I am not bashing Mark, but by comparing the two performances, Trent did better.

One has to keep in mind the other roles Trent plays. For instance, UT was playing the run (much like Auburn did in ‘09 against Ingram, holding him to 30 yards) but on the crucial, tie breaking drive to start the second half, AJ passed to Trent (while under pressure), and then faked the hand-off to Trent every play of the drive after (four times), including the final play of the drive which was a touchdown run by AJ. While he didn’t get a single rush, Trent was vital to this drive.

At this point in ‘09 Ingram has 1,004 rushing yards on 153 carries for an average of 6.6. Trent has 989 yards on 149 carries for an average of 6.6. If Trent gets 4 more carries against UT, it’s likely he breaks 1,000 rushing yards and there’s a fairly good chance he sets the Alabama record for consecutive 100 yard rushing games. Mark has the slightest lead in yards. This is opened up a bit when you factor in that Mark had a couple more receiving touchdowns. However, at this point in 2009 Mark accounted for 11 touchdowns and Trent has accounted for 18 touchdowns. This puts Trent well ahead of Mark, and to me gives Trent the chance to have some down games and still have a Heisman worthy season.

Trent vs Everyone
The last weekend of football saw two viable candidates drop out as Russell Wilson and Landry Jones both lost. Considering the number of undefeated teams, this seemingly takes them out of the running. In terms of the SEC, Lattimore got hurt (although at that point he was still behind Trent statistically), and Tyrann Mathieu got caught doing something rather un-outstanding so Trent is the only SEC player with a viable candidacy. Regarding running backs, LaMichael James got hurt and missed a couple of games taking him out of the running. The fact that the other top two RB candidates got injured also speaks to the difficulty of the position. There are still viable candidates at quarterback, as Kellen Moore has put up great numbers but he’s hampered by the lack of competition and he doesn’t have Luck’s popularity to fall back on. Tajh Boyd is looking great as well, but he’s arrived kind of late to the party and I don’t see anyone passing up Luck and Trent unless they drop the ball.

Summary
Trent’s touchdowns and his performance relative to his peers (in the SEC and at running back) make him the best candidate at this point. It is also worth mentioning that he is third in receiving yards at Alabama, and tied for second in receptions. While I think he’s earned a mulligan, if teams do pack the box against Trent, there’s a chance he has some big receiving games (if AJ finds him when he’s open). If Alabama stays undefeated, and Trent stays healthy and has a couple more productive games (finishes with 20+ rushing TDs and a 6+ average), I think he deserves the trophy. However, if Alabama loses Trent’s play will really have to be excellent, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.

Don’t forget to vote for Trent! http://promo.espn.go.com/espn/contests/nissan/heisman/

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