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The Heisman Team Award

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The Heisman in the CFBMatrix

An Excerpt from the nation’s #1 interactive preview magazines in college football.

The Heisman trophy. I have avoided it. I have never talked about it in my work. Individual player accolades and individual player rankings are areas that I don’t get into with the CFB Matrix. The focus for my work is always on team talent, coaching and stadium strength. That is until I find a pattern in the Matrix web that ties an idea to those factors. The Heisman is definitely tied into those factors.

I start the CFB Matrix each year with Roster Talent Rankings. This is a simple sauce of recruiting, attrition and experience blended to create the CFB Matrix rankings. While the Heisman is an individual award, it is truly the personification of team talent, effort and results. My annual talent rankings do not extend past the turn of the century; however, I eyeballed the teams over the last 40 years and the Heisman Trophy winners came from the CFB Matrix top 20 talented teams 80% of the time. If you are looking for a super dark horse outside the top 20 ranked teams, you are looking at 1:5 odds just playing the field (more on picking from the field later). Take a look at this century. You might have been able to pick out Eric Crouch from Nebraska in 2001 at the beginning of the season but not likely Robert Griffin from Baylor in 2011. 11 of the other 12 guys this century were on top 10 CFB Matrix talented teams. The only exception was Johnny Mandel with no. 16 Texas A&M. That makes 12 of 14 from top 20 talented programs.

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A common thread amongst the winners, at least this century, is positive CFB Matrix Coach Effect and Coach Result. The winners come from teams with above average coaching. This is especially true of teams with less than top 20 talent rankings. It is pretty obvious that you need good coaching, but not just good game coaching. You need a coach, talent and schedule that produces the last critical metric. If you feel a coach is sub par, cross that team off your list. Coaches that start off their first few year below average, generally stay below average. As much can be said about above average coaches.

Players taking home the Heisman are not on teams outside of the top 25. To be a top 25 team the minimum number has been nine wins (unless you are an SEC team). To get there you need above average team talent and/or an above average coach and maybe even a little luck. When you are making your Heisman list, if you cannot see a way a team gets to nine wins, cross them off your list. The odds are nearly 100% against any random player winning the Heisman without a top 25 team.

Early Entries – The Career Achievement Heisman
We are seeing the pattern of an increased number of early entries into the NFL draft. This is starting to affect the Heisman Trophy race in the last 10 years. Only one senior in the past decade, Troy Smith, has won the Heisman Trophy. This early entry pattern has also cut down on the guys from a top 20 talented team that is potentially earning a ‘lifetime achievement award’ Heisman. These are guys that have been around for many years setting team records maybe setting NCAA records. These are winners that you feel are awarded the trophy not only for their performance on the field that season but partially in part for the performance over the previous seasons as well.

Unknown Wildcards
I don’t know if this plays a factor, but look to the returning starters for offense of lineman, quarterbacks and running backs. Teams with four and five returning starters are going to have an edge in performance, at least early in the season, over the same guys having two or three guys back on the offensive line. It is still very much talent based so look at the quality of the line when picking your selections for guys that are your favorites for the Heisman this year.

I can tell you that pace of play does matter.  Take away the career achievement Heisman winners (you know who they are) and nearly every player is from a team that runs a faster paced offense. Why? Stats of course. It is really hard to rack up WOW stats when your team is playing very slow and methodical on offense and defense.

The CFBMatrix Breakdown 2014 (or for any Season)

First, I eliminate the talented teams with new head coaches (yes please collectively scream Manziel/Sumlin and Williams/Brown). This would be Texas and USC. In the first year for head coaches, teams and normally take a step back. Both teams have top 20 rosters. USC could still be very interesting here because they I get four of five of their offense of lineman back and it is a very talented team with a favorable schedule. These are still outliers and go against the odds.

Side Bar: 81% of all major conference teams, since the advent of the 12 game regular season, land +/- 2 games within their previous season total (see Total Wins Matrix). A team on the fringe of nine wins is Texas A&M. They project to eight wins and with a true freshman QB, they need all the breaks to get another first year starter into the Heisman winner’s circle. Tennessee is another team not likely to see anything close to nine wins with the loss of their entire O-line and a brutal schedule.

The next group of teams I’d eliminate are those that have had under performing coach in the CFB Matrix during their tenure. The next cut takes out Florida, Notre Dame, Miami and Michigan players. These are all top 20 CFB Matrix talent teams, but they have not performed to the level of the talent and wins projected in their schedules.

Group I
This knocks the list down to 12 teams. None of them have ‘career achievement’ guys so no need to focus on that kind of player. With 10 of the last 13 winners coming from top 10 talent ranked teams, I will start with that group of six. Nick Marshall of Auburn, Jameis Winston of Florida State, Todd Gurley from Georgia and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller would be my favorites from this group. I put the Alabama and LSU players, most likely Yeldon and Fournette beneath these four in odds. They play on offenses that do not rack up stats, Fournette is a true freshman and Yeldon may not be the best back for the Tide.

Group II
This is the teams with talent ranks from #11-#20. Like Group I, I favor ordering guys on teams with the fastest pace and potential to win the most games. They are Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Trevor Knight of Oklahoma (12 game cap), and Brett Hundley of UCLA. South Carolina’s Mike Davis and Stanford’s Kevin Hogan are at the bottom of this group due to slower pace of play and tougher schedules. The last team in this group is Clemson and I have no idea who they are trotting out there to complete passes or run the ball.

Ultra Dark Horses
The first two groups have about 80% odds on producing the Heisman winner . Nevertheless, on average, once every five years, a team ranked in the #20-#40 range of CFB Matrix talent, finds themselves having the Heisman winner. Outside of the talent rankings, these teams need the same things, wins, good coaching, big stats, to produce a Heisman winner. Many of the teams in this group I cross off for what I see as poor coaching and a lack of good odds to get to nine or more wins. I have isolated a handful by good coaching, win potential, returning starters and pace of play. These are my five super, dark horse dart throws. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska. Bryce Petty, Baylor. Christian Hackenberg, Penn State. Davis Webb, Texas Tech. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin.

Great Players, Wrong Team
Every year there are a bunch of guys with a ton of talent but have the odds clearly against them. These are players on teams that have a profile that has not produced a Heisman winner in the last 30+ years. They cannot get enough wins, pile up enough solid stats, have the schedule to get attention or not enough talent around them. Here are a few guys that are on teams that have never had a Heisman winner with their talent profile in the last 40 years.  Rakeem Cato, Marshall. Shane Carden, ECU. Matt Johnson, Bowling Green. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State. Taysom Hill, BYU and Sean Mannion, Oregon State.

That all being said, watch Sean Mannion go out and a Heisman for the Beavers.

OSU_FB_Mannion_Sean_Throw1_CAL (Karl Maasdam)

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