Young makes case for defender to win Heisman

Rob Oller
Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young (2) pumps of Buckeye fans during the third quarter of the Big Ten Conference Football Championship between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday, December 1, 2018 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

Win a pair of Heisman trophies and you earn the right to display vanity license plates proclaiming 1PLUS1.

But Archie Griffin is not that guy. The former Ohio State tailback is humble, without pretense. No surprise then that when I called to discuss his double bronzes, collected in 1974 and 1975, we instead talked golf. Griffin, technically retired at age 65 but still “a little too busy at times,” scored his first hole-in-one this summer on the 14th hole at the Lakes. The ace lightened his wallet at the 19th hole, per golf tradition. But it was worth it. Pay it forward. Spread the wealth. That’s Arch.

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Given his down-to-earth attitude, I knew college football’s only two-time Heisman winner would not sugarcoat his feelings about the award given annually to the nation’s most outstanding player.

So I asked, “What about Chase Young?” The Ohio State defensive end leads the nation with 13.5 sacks, including four against Wisconsin on Saturday, and with Maryland and Rutgers coming up after a week off, the junior could move within range of the national record of 24 in a season set by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State in 2002. (Note: The NCAA did not begin collecting defensive statistics until 2000, which explains why Derrick Thomas’ 27 sacks in 1988 are not recognized as the record).

Griffin played tailback. Defensive players were the bad guys. But no hard feelings, at least not where the Heisman is concerned.

“I don’t see any reason why a defensive player can’t win it,” Griffin said.

Here’s a reason: No strictly defensive player has won. Michigan’s Charles Woodson did it 1997 while flashing as a cornerback, wide receiver and punt/kick returner.

Griffin rejects the “never done it before” reasoning.

“He’s got to have a phenomenal season,” he said of defensive players winning college football’s most prestigious award, before focusing his comments on Young. “Chase is having that kind of season. If he continues to play well, I think he has a good shot because people are talking about him now.”

Beyond that, Griffin thinks the time might be right for a defensive player to finally break through.

“It might be that time where voters say, ‘Maybe someone from the other side of the ball should win the trophy,' ” he said.

I’m with Archie. My job is not to campaign for Young — Ohio State has sports information people for that. But while I don’t have a Heisman vote, I do think it’s time to shake things up. If the Heisman is supposed to go to the most outstanding player, then an argument can be made that Young is proving to be that.

Of course, the 870 Heisman voters, which include 57 prior winners, may define “outstanding” differently. Does it mean most impacting? Most valuable? If the latter, Young wouldn’t even be the MVP on his team. Quarterback Justin Fields deserves that title, because without him the Buckeyes do not rate as elite. Young dominates on defense, but Ohio State would still be mighty good without him.

Griffin stopped short of speculating on who tops his list this season, offering only that Ohio State’s best candidates — Young, Fields and tailback J.K. Dobbins — could split the vote. But he revealed that he would have no problem voting for Young or any defensive player.

“I’ve always felt that way,” he said. “Some may not.”

Clearly, some absolutely do not, or else a defensive player would have won the Heisman by now.

Ryan Day weighed in on the matter.

“There’s been a history of offensive guys getting it, so you’d have to almost change the mindset a little bit of what you’re voting for,” the Ohio State coach said. “Are you voting for the most production? Are you voting for the best player? Are you voting for the most valuable? But I know that if Chase is not the most dominant player in college football right now, then he’s close.”

Young improved his chances against Wisconsin, but there remains a default mentality in favor of quarterbacks and running backs.

Cory McCartney, who wrote a book detailing Heisman history, spoke with Dispatch beat writer Joey Kaufman this week on the BuckeyeXtra podcast about the difficulty of defensive players winning.

“The reality is there are so many voters, and the vast majority fixate on the offensive side of the ball,” McCartney said. “The glass ceiling is a true freshman and strictly defensive player winning.”

Oddsmakers rank Young behind four quarterbacks. The Westgate SuperBook has Young at 20-to-1 to win, behind LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (even), Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts (7-4), Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa (4-1) and Fields (10-1). Dobbins is listed at 40-1.

Would Day give Young some plays on offense, perhaps as a tight end, to add promotional zip?

“It sounds fun, but we’re not going to take any risks with Chase. We’re not going to do that,” he said.


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