No hope for Heisman

Rob Oller
Defensive end Nick Bosa (97) celebrates with his Ohio State teammates after sacking Artur Sitkowski of Rutgers on Saturday. A disruptive force on defense, Bosa has three sacks and five tackles for loss in two games this season. [Jonathan Quilter/Dispatch]

The Heisman Trophy presentation is still three months away, but you would think it happens next week the way it gets talked about this early in the season.

The award has changed that way. Once a quiet little affair, it has morphed into an overproduced pregame show that teases the big reveal.

You might like the way the Heisman currently is hyped — I do not — but there is no going back. Different is here to stay. So why not go all the way and make the Heisman really different by giving the trophy to the best player in college football, regardless of position?

Offensive skill positions dominate the voting, which began with the first Heisman in 1935. Since then, only one of the 83 winners — cornerback Charles Woodson of Michigan — played mostly defense. Otherwise, just 17 defensive players have finished in the top five of the voting, and only three — Alex Karras of Iowa in 1957, Hugh Green of Pittsburgh in 1980 and Manti Te’o of Notre Dame in 2012 — finished as runner-up.

The case against awarding the Heisman to defensive players centers on two arguments: Offensive players put points on the board and defensive players already have their own awards, including the Lombardi (lineman or linebacker), Thorpe (defensive back) and Nagurski (best defensive player).

Never mind that defensive players effectively keep those precious points off the board, and that offensive players also have their own awards, including the Doak Walker for best running back and Davey O’Brien for best quarterback. Doesn’t matter. Offense wins.

Sorry, Nick Bosa. You don’t stand much of a chance. The Ohio State defensive end arguably is among the top five players in the nation, joining an elite group that includes Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary. For any of those three to win would require a subpar season out of the handful of offensive players selected for Heisman candidacy, including West Virginia quarterback Will Grier and Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.

I am not pushing Bosa for the Heisman; that’s a job for the Ohio State athletics marketing department. My point is when watching Bosa (or Oliver and Gary), it is hard to see how their performance has substantially less impact than a running back or receiver (a quarterback who touches the ball on every snap may be a different story, but he still relies on running backs, receivers and his offensive line to make him shine).

Bosa, a 2017 All-American and reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year, has three sacks and five tackles for loss in two games that really amount to one; he played only 35 snaps against Oregon State and another 35 against Rutgers. His ability to disrupt every play makes him a handful for offensive coordinators.

Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano knows what it’s like to account for a player of Bosa’s game-changing stature.

“As an offensive coach, you’re going to know where he is all the time,” Schiano said.

Where he is now — and where he will be come December — is in the Heisman discussion without being the center of it.

Steve Emtman understands. In 1991, Emtman was a beast of a defensive lineman at Washington but could manage only fourth in the Heisman voting, behind winner Desmond Howard and quarterbacks Casey Weldon and Ty Detmer.

“Offensive players always are going to get more credit, because everyone understands touchdowns but not what it means for a defensive lineman to control the line of scrimmage,” Emtman told me Tuesday. “The Heisman is supposed to be the best football player, whatever that means.”

It means Bosa needs to play some tailback.


Listen to the Cheap Seats podcast: