For many, the issue of who wins this year’s Heisman Trophy is settled.
Collin Klein and Kansas State whipped up on Geno Smith and West Virginia in a head-to-head battle a little more than a week ago, and that was that. Most felt those two had separated themselves as the best candidates, and Klein’s play was so superior that it will be difficult for a lot of voters to consider anyone else from here on out.
At this point, Klein is an easy choice. He also is the wrong one.
If I had a vote (for the record: I do not) I’d say the one to beat is Alabama’s Barrett Jones.
That’s right, an offensive lineman. No one at that position has ever been awarded the game’s most prestigious individual prize, but there is nothing to say such a player can’t be “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
It would be easy to fill this column several times over recounting Jones’ accomplishments, so let’s just touch on a few of the big ones. Already in his college career he has won the Outland Trophy (college football’s best interior lineman), the Jacobs Blocking Trophy (SEC’s top offensive lineman), the ARA Sportsmanship Award (sportsmanship on and off the field) and the Wuerffel Trophy (community service and academic achievement). He has been a unanimous first-team All-American and an Academic All-American.
Get the picture? This 6-foot-5, 302-pounder from Germantown, Tenn., not only satisfies the criteria of the award (more like he exceeds it by a wide margin), he also meets all the practical requirements that voters tend to value these days.
Voters like versatility. Charles Woodson famously edged Peyton Manning in 1997 because he contributed on offense, defense and special teams. Four of the last five quarterbacks to win the Heisman were dual-threat types, including Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III, as is Klein.
Jones is the starting center for the Crimson Tide. That is after he was the left tackle in 2011 and the right guard for 25 games in 2009 and 2010. Ask anyone who has played offensive line, and they will tell you no two spots are alike, which makes Jones’ ability to move that much more impressive.
Voters also tend to focus on the best teams when it comes to this award.
Over the past 12 years, nine Heisman winners also played in the BCS title game that season. It is a group that includes such notorious choices as Nebraska’s Eric Crouch and Oklahoma’s Jason White.
In addition to the fact that Alabama has been a dominant team through the first two months of this season, it also has won two of the last three BCS title games. Jones of course started — and starred — in both of those contests.
The case for Jones is enhanced by the fact that the last six BCS champions have come from the SEC, which is undeniably the pre-eminent league in all of college football.
What sets it apart from all of the other top conferences is the caliber of its defensive linemen, who mix unusual athleticism with frightening size.
As an offensive lineman, therefore, Jones goes against the sport’s most significant difference-makers on every snap — and he excels. With him on the line one Alabama running back (Mark Ingram) won the Heisman and another (Trent Richardson) was a finalist. This season the Tide’s quarterback (A.J. McCarron) has emerged as a candidate.
Klein and Smith undeniably have put up big numbers but have done so in the Big 12, where it often seems defense is optional.
Offensive linemen typically are ignored. It’s part of the deal.
One look at Barrett Jones and all he has done, though, is all it takes. Give him the Heisman.