It appears that, for the second consecutive year, a Stanford player will finish second in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. Quarterback Andrew Luck, who set a school record for most touchdown passes in a season on Saturday and who completes over 70% of his passes, will almost surely be a Heisman finalist, will almost surely not take home the trophy, and has a very good chance to end up right where Stanford running back Toby Gerhart found himself in December 2009: the Heisman runner-up.
We know that much because, on the field, current Heisman front-runner Cam Newton has persuaded the majority of the nation that he is the most outstanding college football player in the nation. Newton has thrown for fewer yards and touchdowns than Luck, but the Auburn quarterback sports a higher passer rating than Luck and serves as the Tigers’ primary weapon in the running game. On an average Saturday, Newton is responsible for 122 yards on the ground and another 205 yards through the air. That’s 327 yards on average–or 67% of his team’s total offensive production. Newton also plays for the #1 team in the country according to BCS rankings, and has on several occasions willed his team to winning. In case you didn’t watch last week’s Iron Bowl between Auburn and Alabama, you should watch the highlights. Without Newton, Alabama would have smacked Auburn.
The rationale for Newton’s candidacy runs something like this: he’s the best player in the country, he plays on arguably the best team, and he runs the squad as a quarterback, the most important position in football. That gives him all the makings of a shoe-in for the trophy.
Before even considering the off-field controversy surrounding Newton, his candidacy, and his very NCAA eligibility, take a look at Luck’s production this season. Newton is responsible for 327 yards per game on average, but that barely puts him in front of Luck, who produces an average of 317 yards per game. Stanford’s more conservative offensive scheme gains fewer yards per game than Auburn does, so when we calculate the percentage of team offensive production that each quarterback gains, Luck actually comes out slightly ahead of Newton, averaging 68% of Stanford’s offensive yardage during a given game.
Newton completes his passes at a less impressive rate than Luck does (Newton completes 68%) and throws touchdowns relative to interceptions at the same 4:1 ratio as Luck. Luck, however, has thrown 4 more touchdowns than Newton has. And for all the talk about Newton’s mobility and stunning capacity to avoid defenders, opposing defenses have sacked Newton more than 4 times as many times as they’ve gotten to Luck in the backfield (Newton’s been sacked 21 times, Luck has been sacked 5).
Let’s recap: Luck produces a larger percentage of his offense’s yardage, completes passes more frequently, has thrown for more yards, has thrown more touchdowns, and has stayed on his feet over 400% more than Newton has.
Even the loss that mars Luck’s resume shouldn’t be viewed as a mark against him. Stanford’s only defeat came against an Oregon team that is #1 in the polls, #2 in the BCS, and the favorite to win the national championship. Plus, Luck led Stanford to 31 points in that game, while throwing for 341 yards and scoring 3 touchdowns: 2 by air and 1 by turf. Had the Cardinal defense not fallen apart in the second half in Eugene, Stanford could have been the #1 team in the nation right now.
And then there’s the character issue. Cam Newton might be a nice guy. Who knows. But his multiple accounts of cheating while at the University of Florida and the allegations that his father accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence Cam’s (second) college decision (he left Florida and went to junior college before re-entering big time college football this year for Auburn) indicate that even if the reports aren’t true, Newton doesn’t exactly run an ethical ship. To read more about the Newton scandal, try the excellent Pete Thamel, who first broke the story early in November. Or just Google “Cam Newton”–there’s a new development seemingly every day.
Luck, on the other hand, genuinely does seem to have the right idea. He has a real major–Architectural Design–in an era in which many big-time athletes study far less relevant and demanding subjects. He’s also interminably self-deprecating. He told The Sporting News earlier this fall that “People [at Stanford] have way better things to worry about than who the quarterback of the football team is. There’s a lot of brilliant people here.”
Newton, on the other hand, parades around the stadium after wins.
To quote Paul Myerberg of Pre-Snap Read:
You can’t have [excellence] without [integrity], it seems, and each should be valued evenly. There’s no questioning Newton’s excellence; he’s the best player in college football, the player most vital to his team’s success in college football. When considering the circumstances surrounding Newton’s eligibility at Auburn, however, I’m not sure if integrity is on an even level with Newton’s excellence.
Class isn’t a requirement for the Heisman, and it shouldn’t be. But NCAA eligibility and some level of integrity are required. If Newton wins, he almost surely will not have the Heisman 5 years from now: the NCAA will rule him ineligible in a matter of months (or less) and he will have to return the trophy to the Heisman Trust, Reggie Bush style.
There’s no such problem with Luck.