Opinion: DeVonta Smith’s Heisman Trophy win is good for college football
For Alabama football fans, there was no need to be convinced. DeVonta Smith did that on the field, and while there may have been split allegiances because of the viable candidacies of quarterback Mac Jones and running back Najee Harris, it was Smith who was the focal point of college football’s most prolific offense.
The sole questions were whether a wide receiver, even one as dynamic as Smith, had a chance against the overwhelming power of statistics. Alabama doesn’t have the only explosive offense in college football. Offenses everywhere have exploded. While that does increase numbers for receivers, it causes potential exponential growth in a passing quarterback’s output.
Even a decade ago, a 4,000-yard passing season at one of college football’s power programs would have netted not only a Heisman, but also a ticker-tape parade all the way from campus to New York City.
This year, Smith was able to win the Heisman Trophy, overcoming passing prodigies like his teammate, Jones, as well as Florida’s Kyle Trask. Trevor Lawrence of Clemson didn’t have quite those eye-popping numbers, although he had the double impetus of career achievement (including a College Football Playoff championship as a freshman) and the endorsement of NFL draft analysts as the best available pro prospect. Ohio State’s Justin Fields was done in by Ohio State’s short season and his own inconsistent play at times, although his performance against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl would have impressed voters had ballots not been submitted a week earlier.
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Next year’s early favorites will probably be quarterbacks like Spencer Rattler at Oklahoma, although being the early favorite hasn’t always paid off recently. The running back crop seems stronger.
Full disclosure: My Heisman vote went to Smith, as we voters can now reveal. He seemed easily the most deserving, and would have seemed so whether he played in Tuscaloosa or Tucson. The greatest argument, for me, wasn’t statistical. The fact that he elevated his game to another level after Jaylen Waddle’s injury, to the point that Alabama’s entire offense didn’t miss a beat, was even more striking.
While Smith is no novelty winner, there also is some fresh air at an interruption of the quarterback hegemony. There will be plenty of quarterbacks ahead, and even Smith’s win – the first for a wide receiver this century – doesn’t change the fact that offensive skill players are overwhelmingly likely to win. We aren’t at the point yet where a dominant defender like a Chase Young (Ohio State) or Jonathan Allen (Alabama), much less an offensive lineman like former Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, can win.
But as the Heisman electorate grows younger, and social media grows more influential, such candidacies can blossom even without the ESPN highlights that are so necessary for winners these days.
We aren’t yet at the point of seeing a Khalil Mack or Aaron Donald or Derrick Thomas at the Heisman podium. But maybe that’s a little bit more imaginable today than it was a few years ago.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt