The name I put at No. 1 on my Heisman Trophy ballot this year had no chance of winning. And I knew it.
Dismayed by questionable, if not indictment worthy or suspension worthy behavior by some of the leading candidates for college football’s highest individual award, my choice this year was an attempt to make a statement with my first-place vote.
Here’s how the ballot I turned into the accounting firm counting the Heisman votes looked: 1. John Urschel (Penn State). 2. Jameis Winston (Florida State); 3. Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois).
Winston, the winner of the award, was accused of sexual assault by a Florida woman, but the state’s attorney refused to pursue the case. Still, there was evidence of contact between the Florida State quarterback and the woman.
Maybe keeping Winston on my ballot but dropping him one spot was similar to what Urban Meyer did when he suspended Carlos Hyde for three games but kept him on the team. The accusations against Winston were far more serious, but the comparison is that there was a price to be paid for putting yourself in questionable situations.
Last year’s winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel skated past accusations of selling hundreds, maybe thousands of autographs earlier this season though there was a good bit of suspicion something outside the NCAA’s rules might be going on.
Also, I was uncomfortable with the idea of Manziel joining Archie Griffin as a two-time Heisman winner.
So, Urschel got my No. 1 vote.
Next question: Who is John Urschel?
Urschel is a senior offensive lineman from Penn State. He is a good enough football player to have been voted first-team All-Big Ten the last two seasons.
But that’s not what made him my statement candidate.
What got him to the top of my list is that he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in three years with a 4.0 grade point average, came back to get a master’s degree with another 4.0 and is knowledgeable enough that he taught an undergraduate math class at Penn State last spring.
There are no reported clouds over him. Realistically, who could find time to get into trouble while combining playing big-time college football with a 4.0 in a difficult major?
Last week, Urschel won the William V. Campbell Award, sometimes called the “academic Heisman,” which is given to the college football player who best combines academics, service and football accomplishments.
Until Bowling Green beat Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference title game, Lynch was spectacular. But he was never going to be any higher than No. 3 for me because of the Roethlisberger rule.
What is the Roethlisberger rule? In 2003, I voted Ben Roethlisberger No. 3 on my Heisman ballot. What that means is that it will be incredibly difficult for me to rank any other MAC quarterback higher than third.
Roethlisberger simply was one of the best college quarterbacks I have ever seen. Nailed that one from Day 1.
I also liked my vote for Vince Young as No. 1 in 2005, based on his final season at Texas. And that was before it came out that eventual winner Reggie Bush was breaking NCAA rules as often as he was breaking tackles.
Not all of my votes were that good. On my first Heisman ballot in 2000, I put Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke No. 1 over Drew Brees.
It wasn’t much better in 2004 when I went with Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart as my top choice. The runner-up on my ballot? Adrian Peterson.
Some years I get it right, some years I don’t. This year, nothing felt right until I decided to try something different. Then everything kind of fell into place.