Friday, October 23, 2009

Defending Tebow's Heisman Consideration

I'm not quite sure I get the premise of Israel Guttierez's wannabe-contrarian, link-baiting column in the Miami Herald this morning about Tim Tebow and the Heisman.

*Is he trying to say that Tim Tebow doesn't deserve the Heisman?

*Or is he trying to say that he shouldn't even be a contender?

It's hard to tell. Both variations seem premature. But the headline is "Tebow not worthy of a second Heisman."

It probably would have behooved Gutierrez to hedge by saying "Through six games, he isn't worthy of being a top contender."

Because that's where things are right now -- it's pretty well-established that Mark Ingram took over the front-runner position after last weekend. (So it's not even a true contrarian angle to say Tebow doesn't deserve the Heisman -- the polls don't suggest he should be either!)

And so by extension, all Tebow is... is a contender. And I don't think that, through six games, it is crazy to call him a contender. Is that really Gutierrez's argument -- that Tebow doesn't even deserve to be a Heisman contender? I'm certainly willing to wait another seven games to make that determination. But let's unpack his argument through six games:

Gutierrez cites Tebow's pedestrian -- by previous Tebow standards -- stats. I don't think it's a bad thing that the Heisman moves away from mere pinball numbers as the key criteria.

Let's set aside the whole "Is Tebow the best college football player ever?" thing and focus on this Heisman-ish question: Is Tebow the best player in college football THIS season?

I think the answer -- as of now -- is "He might be." The point is: He's in the conversation. It's hardly unreasonable to list him as a contender.

And I think that, for better or worse, he (like all Heisman candidates) will be judged on a combination of his stats and Heisman mythology, which has always mattered. (That myth a combo of team success, hype and things like "Heisman moments.")

His individual stats are down -- Florida is still among the leaders nationally in both rushing and passing efficiency. He runs that show.

Florida is still 6-0, with the biggest win of the season so far by any team -- a night win at then-No. 4 LSU, with Tebow coming back from a concussion.

His hype has actually cooled a bit -- the concussion stuff created a bit of a frenzy, but it's not like last week's performance didn't ding him. (See the Heisman leap for Ingram ahead of Tebow.)

And Tebow hasn't had a "Heisman moment" yet. Coming back from the concussion -- the SI cover, I guess you could say -- was OK, but not exactly an affirmative argument. The pass on 3rd-and-10 to Riley Cooper? A great, game-impacting play, but overblown as a "Heisman moment."

And that's OK. Because there are 7 games left for him to have a moment -- or boost his stats, to whatever extent that will matter.

In fact, I'd argue that you can throw out the stats and just sit back until the SEC championship game. As long as Florida is 12-0 going into the game, Tebow's Heisman candidacy will live or die on that game.

Not how he's done against Troy. Or Tennessee. Or LSU. Or Arkansas. Or any of the other regular-season opponents. If Florida loses, he's done as a Heisman contender. Period. If they keep winning, it will all rest on the SEC title game.

Gutierrez dismisses Tebow's "leadership" as a Heisman factor -- I'd file that under "mythology-building" qualities -- because it wasn't enough to carry him to a Heisman a year ago, so why will it work now?

First, last year's Heisman loss was a factor of lots of other things Gutierrez ignores: Bradford's insane stats and "Tebow fatigue" -- particularly from the voters in the Midwest and Far West, who intentionally downgraded Tebow on their ballots to ensure he wouldn't beat out their favored candidates, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy.

Remember: Tebow earned more first-place votes than either Bradford or McCoy.

Second, this season is much different than last season. Rather than rolling to an unbeaten season, it is a struggle -- the narrative couldn't be more different than what had been projected in the summer... except that Florida is still unbeaten. Still: It is precisely because of Tebow's leadership "intangibles" (ugh, hate that word) in the context of how this season has gone for the Gators that is why he is still in contention. Consider that after the LSU slog -- poor stats and all -- Tebow was still in first place in the Heisman straw-polling. Why? "Leadership."

In the end, Tebow is still a Heisman contender because he deserves to be. There's an abstract collection of qualities that make for Heisman contenders -- Tebow has them.

It's not just that Gutierrez is jumping the gun on declaring Tebow's unworthiness -- it is that, on the merits of the Heisman "criteria" (such as they are), Tebow still fits fine as a contender.


  1. Dan, I think that it's part of the hiring rules at the Miami Herald that none of the sports writers is permitted write more than one complimentary article regarding University of Florida athletics per year!! Not sure if Gutierrez has already written his, or if he's saving it for later in the season, but living in "U" country as I do means that I have to find honest evaluations of what's happening with the various UF athletic teams on the Internet! Meanwhile, the Herald writers are STILL discussing the possibility of the University of Miami playing in Pasadena in January. Dream on, guys!

  2. Seeing as Israel Gutierrez went to UF, I'm not sure we can label him a Miami homer off the bat...

    Of course, I went to UF and am a Miami fan, so you never know...

  3. It's not contrarian if it's true. The Heisman is regularly awarded to the player with the most ridiculous and inflated stats; no other factors matter. Using this criteria, Tebow is not a candidate this year, much less a top contender. Look at his Heisman winning season. His leadership and intangibles were nonexistent. 4 loss team (5 with the bowl game); no comebacks when trailing in second half, etc. Can't change the rule for your golden boy.

  4. Tebow does derseve the Heisman.. because whoever he faces in the national champiosnhip he is going to beat like he beat Sam Bradford. And then afterwards they will say Tebow deeserved the Heisman and didn't get it. Just like with Bradford.

    Gutierriez should be talking about how Sam Bradford didn't deserve the Heisman.. not Tebow...

    Why should anyone else deserve the Heisman other than Tebow when they weren't even capable of winning a championship.

  5. Al Niri you are ridiculously wrong. It doesn't go the person with the most inflated stats. If that were the case then Colt Brennan would have won a Heisman. When Reggie Bush, Matt Leinart, and Carson Palmer won the Heisman their stats were not "eye popping". In fact in Tebow's Heisman year he had more rushing TD's than Reggie Bush and more passing TD's than Leinart in the same year.

    I don't know what the hell you've been watching, but the Heisman generally goes to a good/great player on a great team, unless someone does something extraordinary like Tebow did his sophomore year.

  6. Oh yeah and Al Niri, if you are focusing on the year where 9 of 11 starters from the defense went to the NFL why don't you look at the other 3 years Tebow has been in college where he has a COMBINED 2 losses and 2 national championships (so far). I don't know about you, but that screams winner to me.

    I'm a USC student and we wish we had success like that. Even Pete Carroll is jealous. I don't know what type of jealous fan you are, but get real.

  7. Settle down Sohaib. I feel bad for you taking this so personal. You must have a very sad, menial life to be that upset over college football. The fact remains; his leadership and intagibles were not considered the year he put up huge numbers. Now it seems the voters must consider the intangibles. Can't have it both ways. And by the way, I like Tebow and the SEC as a whole; not affiliated with any school.