What Does a Heisman Winner Look Like?

To be honest with you, I’ve been involved with a lot of award programs in my life and my observation is that they’re fairly arbitrary. And maybe the Heisman is arbitrary too, 1 but that doesn’t mean it’s any less fun to try to predict the winner. Toward that goal, I recently waded through a sea of Heisman data to try to answer the question “what does a Heisman winner look like?”.


Going back to the year 2000, I looked at the most recent ten Heisman-winning quarterbacks, the ten highest vote-getting running backs, which includes two winners, and the ten highest vote-getting receivers; no receivers won. From there I compared their raw stats, per-game stats, and market share stats to determine the ways in which they were most similar, in terms of relative standard deviation. Also, I looked at team quality and age to try to decipher the profile of the typical Heisman contender at the main three positions. Ultimately, in an effort to project the 2015 candidates, this conversation will focus mainly on per-game and market share stats, as well as team performance.

Universal Commonalities

Across the board, the top running back and wide receiver contenders were from BCS / Power 5 conferences and enjoyed excellent health during their campaigns, rarely missing even one game. The quarterback position, where our focus is on ten winners, was also dominated by major conference players of outstanding health. It should be noted that a few smaller conference quarterbacks like Jordan Lynch and Colt Brennan have finished in the top three, so it’s not impossible for them to finish highly, it’s just the potential for that type of quarterback to win is virtually nil. Corey Feldman reference, anyone?

Pocket Quarterbacks

QBYearVotesMS Rush YdsMS Total YdsTouches/GPass TD/G
Troy Smith200625409.2%54.9%29.52.3
Jameis Winston201422057.7%58.8%33.72.9
Sam Bradford200817261.7%62.2%37.53.6
Jason White20031481-7.3%60.1%35.22.9
Matt Leinart200413251.9%56.1%35.52.5
When I went looking at quarterback winners, I thought they could be grouped into one batch, but it became pretty clear that there were two archetypes. The first that we’ll focus on, the pocket quarterback, accounts for less than 10 percent of his team’s rushing yards and plays for a team that, before the bowl game, goes undefeated or loses only one game. He plays for a team with a balanced offense, rather than an air raid system, and typically accumulates touchdown passes with high frequency. Interestingly, this bunch tends to be older than any of the other positional cohorts (even with the youngest winner, Jameis Winston, lowering their average age of 21.8), which could be tied to being around longer and having more name recognition, or it could be tied to the “team leader” narrative, or both.
  1. I haven’t been involved with that one yet  (back)

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By Jon Moore | @HelloJonMoore | Archive