Author’s note: I had most of this completed prior to Ameer Abdullah getting injured early in the Purdue game. Since he likely will return to action against Wisconsin – and I’m optimistic that he’ll be close to his old self – I’m going to publish it.
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Ameer Abdullah is not going to win the 2014 Heisman Trophy.
There. I said it.
Husker fans, before you get out your cyber pitchforks and start spewing hot fire at me, know this simple, undisputable fact:
I love and respect Ameer Abdullah. He is an amazingly talented player with a gift for slipping through the smallest of holes and accelerating into daylight. He has a toughness – both for playing injured, and for fighting off tacklers – that few backs possess. And it is highly likely that his talents on the field are surpassed only by his intelligence and class off of the field. He is truly a once-in-a-generation player, and has undoubtedly earned himself a spot on the Mount Rushmore of Nebraska I-Backs. Period.
But he’s not going to win the Heisman.
Why? Let’s look at some of the reasons – both in and out of his control:
Running Backs don’t win the Heisman anymore.
Oh, but they used to… Back in the 1970’s, seven of the ten Heisman winner were running backs. In the 1980’s, there were six ball carriers who carried the trophy home. By the 1990’s, it was down to four (including that scoundrel Eddie George, who as we all know, stole Tommie Frazier’s Heisman).
But since 2000, there have only been two running backs to win the stiff-arm trophy: Reggie Bush in 2005 (since vacated) and Mark Ingram in 2009. The other 12 Heismans since Y2K have been quarterbacks.
Simply put, the Heisman is a quarterback award now. That hurts Abdullah.
Nebraska may lose too many games.
In the last 25 years, only three players have won the Heisman when their team lost more than two games. Can you name them?
Over than 25 year span, the Heisman Trophy winner’s team has been an average of 11-1 when the award is handed out. As I write this, Nebraska only has one loss, and realistically could be 12-1 or 11-2 when the final votes are tallied. But if Nebraska gets to early December with three losses, Ameer Abdullah would need video game numbers just to get an invite. With four losses, he probably doesn’t even get an invite. Oklahoma’s Steve Owens was the last Heisman winner to play on a team with four losses in the regular season. Owens won 45 years ago.
Those three Heisman winners whose teams lost more than two games? I’m guessing you’ve heard of them: Ricky Williams. Tebow. RGIII. With all due respect to Ameer Abdullah, he doesn’t have nearly the hype or name recognition as those guys to overcome three losses.
ESPN has an SEC bias
Whether or not you actually believe that is irrelevant to the bigger point: Heisman winners are usually household names long before they are announced as a finalist. College football players become household names by the love, attention, and mentions they get from various media outlets – especially those based in Bristol, CT.
For those of you who subscribe to ESPN conspiracy theories, it’s worth noting that ESPN broadcasts the Heisman Trophy presentation, so building up certain guys as stars would certainly be “in their best interest”. But in reality, it is just ESPN doing what ESPN does: devoting a large portion of their time to discussing the top teams and the top players on those teams.
Therefore, this point goes hand in hand with the last one. If Nebraska is considered to be a contender for the College Football Playoff (or even the Big Ten championship), Abdullah will get more mentions. But if Nebraska loses another game or two, ESPN will focus on star players from one of the other top teams.
The Big Ten sucks
Again, it doesn’t really matter if that statement is true or not. Right or wrong, the national perception is the Big Ten is a weak conference full of bad teams, with players who are not nearly as good as those in other conferences. Sure, he put up 600 yards and 10 touchdowns in three conference game, but those efforts were against Illinois, Northwestern, and Rutgers. Therefore, some feel Ameer’s numbers are tainted (“He wouldn’t get those yards if he played SEC defenses”).
Abdullah’s lackluster performance against one of the top teams in the league (24 carries for 45 yards at Michigan State) only enhances this argument.
Ameer Abdullah may not be the best back in the Big Ten
As Husker fans are about to find out firsthand, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is a damn good back. Now, whether he is truly better than Abdullah is a completely separate debate. (For my money, Gordon is an amazing talent, but Ameer is a far more complete back. I’ll take Abdullah every day and twice on Saturday).
We’re seeing some of the same themes recurring: The Heisman being a QB award, national perception, media mentions, wins and losses. Simply, it breaks down like this: I think either Gordon or Abdullah has a good chance to be invited to New York as a finalist. But there is almost no way two backs from the same weak conference make the trip. If Gordon has better numbers (or if his Badgers have a convincing win over Nebraska) he will be perceived as the better back.
I feel that I should stress how much I like Ameer Abdullah. I think he’s a helluva player and an even better person.
I firmly believe that Ameer should be a leading contender for the Doak Walker (best running back) and other national awards, (and if somebody else wins, they better have a damn good resume).
However, there are just too many strikes against him to be a legitimate candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The 2014 Heisman will almost definitely be won by the quarterback of a team in the College Football Playoff.