Heisman Trophy

How Ameer Abdullah Can Win the Heisman

So, you may have read/heard that I’m on record saying Ameer Abdullah will not win the Heisman Trophy.

I believe and will stand by what I wrote, but if I’ve learned anything being a college football fan it is this:  you never say never until the game is over.  Ameer could win (or, more realistically, be invited as a finalist), but it’s not as simple as just playing up to the very high standard he has shown throughout his Nebraska career.

And no, the answer is not blowing up Twitter with the #FearAmeer hashtag, sending out another batch of AA batteries to voters*, or another marching band formation.  The Heisman Trophy cannot be won by social media savvy alone.  Ameer Abdullah and the Athletic Department’s media folks will need to follow this six point plan:

*But first, let’s take a quick moment to recognize the simple brilliance of the battery giveaway.  Ameer Abdullah.  AA.  He provides the power to the Nebraska offense (if not the entire program), and lasts a long, long time (a certain 1980’s advertising icon might say he “keeps going and going”).  He wears number 8, so send them eight of them, all with clean, beautiful branding.  I mean, it’s so brilliantly perfect that I fear by describing it I’ll cheapen the genius of the idea.

If there was a Heisman Trophy for promotional items sent to trophy voters, these batteries would be a unanimous winner.

As cool as this was, it will take more than the Pride of All Nebraska to get Ameer to the Heisman Trophy.

1.  Put up big numbers.  
Nebraska probably won’t have the top ten ranking that most Heisman finalists enjoy, so Abdullah will need to get attention in other ways.  This starts with his individual stats, and breaks down into three key categories:

  • Yards, yards, yards.  Ideally, Abdullah gets close to 200 yards rushing every game, as he’s already done four times in 2014.  But when he struggles to break 100 in rushing (Michigan State, McNeese State) he needs to get over 100 all-purpose yards.  With the exception of the Purdue game (where he left with an injury), Abdullah has been over 100 all-purpose in every game, including an obscene 341 against Rutgers.
  • Touchdowns.  Heading into the Wisconsin game, Abdullah has already scored a total of 19 touchdowns.  Keep giving him the rock near the goal line.
  • School records.  Abdullah can still surpass Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier’s school record for rushing yards.  He also has a shot at the Big Ten record for all-purpose yards.  While the Heisman is typically not a “lifetime achievement” award (which is partially why Peyton Manning never won), breaking those two records would definitely open some eyes.

2.  Just win, baby.
As I noted in the other piece, Heisman winners simply do not play on teams that lose.  For Abdullah to have any chance at winning, Nebraska needs to be 12-1 when the award is announced.  That would mean wins against Miami, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and (likely) Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship.  Assuming Abdullah is putting up big numbers, it might be enough to get him to New York.  His candidacy cannot withstand another loss, even if he has a big statistical day.

3.  Did you see that?
In addition to putting up big numbers, Ameer can help his cause by having one or two “oh wow” moments in each game.  I’m talking about things like his 58 yard reception for a touchdown that won the McNeese State game, his long touchdown runs against Fresno State, or his big kickoff return against Rutgers.

Thirty carries for 150 yards and two touchdowns is very nice, but regularly showing up in highlight packages bouncing off tacklers, hurdling defenders, or running free will help show voters how special he is.  Memo to Husker coaches:  design a trick play for him (ala Eric Crouch’s famous 41 Black Flash Reverse) or turn him loose to block a punt.

As an added bonus, these highlights are very easy to send via YouTube, GIF, Tweet, Facebook, or email with the #FearAmeer hashtag.

4.  Be the best of the B1G.
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is an elite back.  He’s so talented that I would not be at all surprised to find a Gordon-centric version of this “How to Win the Heisman” post on some Badger website.  There are a multitude of reasons why two running backs from the Big Ten will not both be Heisman finalists, so Abdullah must clearly be considered the best back in the Big Ten.  Dominating the head-to-head battle would be a big step.

5.  Ndominate like Ndamukong in the conference championship.
For Ameer’s Heisman run to have a chance, Nebraska must get to the Big Ten Championship game.  Not only does this help Nebraska’s W/L total and national ranking, but it gives Abdullah a nationally televised showcase.

In 2009, Ndamukong Suh took advantage of the big stage in the Big XII Championship.  He toyed with the Texas offensive line and sacked Longhorn QB (and Heisman contender) Colt McCoy all night long.  One could very easily make the argument that Suh’s play in that one game is what punched his ticket for New York.

If Abdullah gets a similar opportunity, he needs to take full advantage of it.

6.  Share his story.
Ameer Abdullah has wonderful back-story.  Being snubbed by his home state SEC schools.  Deciding to come back for his senior season primarily so he would not be the only one of his nine siblings without a college degree.  Giving the keynote address at Big Ten Media Days.  Being a finalist for several national off-the-field awards.

NU needs to push to have Ameer on national shows and let them highlight how impressive he is.  With the antics and legal issues of recent winners Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, some voters may consider character more than ever to help restore the luster of the Heisman.  That helps Ameer, as he is overflowing with class, character, and integrity.

Bottom line:  The deck is stacked against Ameer Abdullah winning the Heisman Trophy, but he has put together a legendary Husker career out of proving people wrong and exceeding expectations.  It won’t be easy, but if anybody can do it, it’s Ameer.

Ameer Abdullah Will Not Win the Heisman

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:

The Heisman Trophy of Rashaan Salaam on a whit...

The Heisman Trophy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Bottom line
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.

Greatest Huskers, By the Numbers: 9 – 1 (Z)

This is my countdown of the greatest Nebraska Cornhuskers to wear each jersey number, 1-99.  For background on the project, click here.  We’re going to start at #99 and work our way down to #1.  For each number, I’ll list the best player to wear that number, some of the other memorable Huskers to don that jersey, as well as a personal favorite of mine.

This is it.  The final ten*.  The single digit club is made up of quarterbacks (including a Heisman Trophy winner), cornerbacks, I-Backs, and a miscellaneous blend of wingbacks, receivers, and kickers.

*Actually, there are only nine.  My research could not uncover any Nebraska football player who ever wore the number 0 or 00.  

And more than probably any other group in the countdown, 9 – 1 contains guys who despite solid (if not outstanding) careers, were never fully embraced by Husker fans, cautionary tales, and talk of a curse.

9

Best Player:  Steve Taylor, Quarterback, 1985 – 1988
Other notables:  Gary Russell
Personal Favorite:  Taylor

Comments:  Throughout the countdown, we’ve talked about players who were ahead of their time.  Guys who could be lifted out of their era and land successfully in today’s game.  Steve Taylor is one of those guys.

Taylor had good speed and elusive moves as a runner (over 2,000 career rush yards and a then single game record 157 yards against Utah State in 1987).  But Taylor does not always receive enough credit as a passer.  Certainly, many remember his impressive line against #3 UCLA (10-15, 217 yards, five touchdowns).  But having been away from an option offense for more than ten years, can we really appreciate what a five passing touchdown day would have looked like in Osborne’s ground offense?

In case you thought the UCLA game was a fluke, Taylor added a four TD performance against Mizzou in the same season, which helped him earn All America honors.  I’d love to see what somebody with Taylor’s skill set would look like in one of today’s spread offenses.

8

Best Player:  Tyrone Williams, Cornerback, 1993 – 1995
Other notables:  Ameer Abdullah, Tyrone Byrd
Personal Favorite:  Ameer Abdullah, I-Back, 2011 – 2014

Comments: Tyrone Williams was an excellent cover corner. Strong and fast, he matched up against some excellent receivers during his NU career and usually came out on top. He received honors after each of his three seasons at NU: Big 8 Defensive Newcomer in 1993 and All Big 8 in 1994 and 1995.  He may not be in the first tier of great Husker cornerbacks, but he’s definitely in the next group.

Ameer Abdullah is everything you could want in a college running back. Breakaway speed, raw power, good vision and agility, and a warrior-like toughness to play through injuries. When Abdullah arrived on campus he was not as highly regarded as fellow recruits Aaron Green and Braylon Heard. Yet, Abdullah is poised to finish his Husker career near the top of the all-time rushing chart. Off the field, Abdullah is a bright kid who understands the importance of education. His statement announcing his decision to come back for his senior season should be required reading for all student athletes.

7

Best Player:  Eric Crouch, Quarterback, 1998 – 2001
Other notables:  Scott Frost, Demorrio Williams
Personal Favorite:  Crouch

Comments:  Nebraska’s most recent Heisman Trophy winner is one of the most electrifying athletes to ever play at Nebraska. Sprinter fast, Crouch was a threat to score from anywhere on the field. He carried the 2001 team to the National Championship game (Seriously. Crouch almost has as many rushing yards at team leader Dahrran Diedrick and his two best receivers were Wilson Thomas and Tracey Wistrom. Not exactly Rozier and Fryar – or even Phillips and Muhammad).

One of the themes within this set of numbers is talented players who were never fully embraced by Husker fans. The number 7 has two primary examples in Crouch and Scott Frost. The primary reason, in my opinion, was a perceived lack of loyalty to the program. Frost famously chose Stanford and Bill Walsh over Nebraska out of high school, before coming home. Crouch had to be convinced to return to campus during a heated QB controversy with Bobby Newcombe. Personally, I think these reasons are stupid.  I’d wager at least a third of the guys in this countdown have been homesick, changed their mind, or reacted poorly to disappointing news. I care more about their on-field production (a National Championship for Frost and a Heisman for Crouch) than a harmless decisions made by a teenager.

6

Best Player:  Keith Jones, I-Back, 1984 – 1987
Other notables:  Sammy Sims
Personal Favorite:  
Darin Erstad, Punter, 1994

Comments:  The original “End Zone” Jones, Keith was a very successful back at Nebraska.  An injury to Doug DuBose made him a starter his junior season, and he never looked back, leading the Big 8 with 830 yards and 14 touchdowns en route to All Big 8 honors.  The speedy I-Back, another product of the Omaha Central pipeline, had a big encore as a senior.  He put up 1,232 yards and another 13 TDs, picking up all conference honors again.  Jones left NU third on the all-time rushing list.

I remember hearing that Darin Erstad was going to join the football team as a punter.  At the time, I thought it was odd that the best baseball player at Nebraska was going to be a punter and not a “skill” player, but Erstad proved quite skilled.  He averaged over 42 yards a kick, made some PATs, and a couple of field goals.  I wholeheartedly believe he does not receive nearly enough recognition for his role in the 1995 Orange Bowl.  But let’s be honest, he’s on this list for one reason:  Double Extra Point!

5

Best Player:  DeJuan Groce, Cornerback, 1999 – 2002
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  
Jammal Lord, Quarterback, 2000 – 2003

Comments:  DeJuan Groce was a good cornerback.  Not great – or at least not as great as some of the others on this list – but good enough to be a multi-year starter and second team All Big XII selection as a senior.  But make no mistake, DeJuan Groce is not on this list for his work in the secondary.  Groce is here because he is one of the best return men in school history, trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers in punt return yards and touchdowns.  In his senior year, Groce racked up a school record 732 yards on punt returns and scored four touchdowns, including two against Troy State.  For his efforts as a return man, Groce was named All Big XII and All America as a return specialist.

I liked Jammal Lord.  I thought he was a talented athlete who made a pretty decent quarterback.  Unfortunately, he is another player whose career is not fully appreciated by Husker fans.  Why?  Lord had two big strikes against him:  1) he followed a Heisman Trophy winner, and 2) he was the quarterback of the 2002 team that broke the 9-win streak.  Like many Husker QBs in the Osborne/Solich era, Lord was definitely more of a runner (1,412 yards rushing in 2002) than a passer (48% career passer, more interceptions than touchdowns).  Lord racked up big numbers (234 rushing yards against Texas), but did not always make the play in crunch time (he threw an interception that ended that Texas game).  Regardless, I believe that had he been surrounded with better talent, Lord would be remembered more fondly.

4

Best Player:  Lavonte David, Linebacker, 2010 – 2011
Other notables:  Larry Asante, Troy Dumas, Tim Jackson
Personal Favorite:  
David

Comments:  One of the best linebackers in school history, Lavonte David is on the short list with Mike Rozier for the best Junior College transfer in school history.  David appeared to be as fast going sideline to sideline as he was going straight ahead.  Combine that with his ability to detect plays before anybody else, and it is no wonder he racked up so many tackles in his two year career.  As a junior, he set a single season record with 152 tackles.  He followed that with 133 more as a senior.  To put that in perspective, Lavonte David played in 27 games as a Blackshirt.  In 14 of those games, he recorded ten or more tackles.

David racked up the honors in his two years.  Big XII Defensive Player of the Year, Big XII Defensive Newcomer of the Year, All Big XII, All Big 10, Big 10 Linebacker of the Year, All-American, and finalist for the Butkus, Lott, and Bednarik  Trophies.

In my years of watching Nebraska football, I’ve seen some outstanding linebackers.  Barrett Ruud.  Ed Stewart.  Demorrio Williams.  Trev Alberts.  Terrell Farley.  But I’m not sure if any of them were better than David.  He always seemed to either make the tackle, or be within 5 yards of the ball carrier.  And he had a knack for making a big play when Nebraska needed it the most – especially his stop, strip, and recovery of Braxton Miller in the 2011 Ohio State game.

3

Best Player:  Keyuo Craver, Cornerback, 1998 – 2001
Other notables:  Matt Davison, Tyrone Legette, Taylor Martinez, Daimion Stafford, Dean Sukup
Personal Favorite:  
Taylor Martinez, Quarterback, 2009 – 2013

Comments:  Keyuo Craver was another terrific cornerback from an era of great secondary players.  Craver wasn’t especially big (he was listed at 5’11”, 190 pounds), but he was fast, athletic, and always around the ball.  He ended his career second all time in pass breakups and first in career tackles among cornerbacks.  Craver was also a special teams standout, blocking four kicks and scoring two touchdowns.

As a senior, Craver was All Big XII, All-America, and was a semi-finalist for several national awards.

Ah Taylor Martinez. Has there been a more polarizing player in Nebraska history? The freshman phenom who burst onto the scene with long touchdown runs was a sight to behold. Then injuries hit, and he was arguably never the same. His image probably took a bigger beating than his body, as he took heat for calling his dad from the locker room during a game, being careless with the football, body language that made him appear aloof, and his interesting relationship with the local media. And yet, he holds darn near every record that a NU quarterback can hold – including some involving turnovers.  He was a player who could make you say “Oh my God!” for both good and bad reasons.

There will probably never be another T-Magic.  While I’m guessing that’s okay for many fans, I think it is a little sad too.

2

Best Player:  Jeff Krejci, Safety, 1978 – 1981
Other notables:  None
Personal Favorite:  
T.J. Hollowell, Linebacker, 2001 – 2003

Comments:  Jeff Krejci is poster child for the Nebraska walk-on program.  A Nebraska kid from a small town (Schuyler), he walked on to Nebraska in 1978, and was buried on the depth chart.  Through hard work and perseverance, he worked his way up and saw enough playing time to earn a couple of varsity letters.  As a senior, he became a full time starter at safety and was good enough to be named All Big 8, and earn a shot at the NFL.  A Nebraska football history site named Krejci to its All Time Walk-On Team.

I’ll admit that Hollowell is a bit of stretch as a personal favorite.  That is no disrespect to T.J., who was a part of one of Nebraska’s greatest linebacking trios (Hollowell, Barrett Ruud, and Demorrio Williams).  But when I think of Hollowell, I remember him more as a #17 (his number for his first two years in Lincoln) than a #2, but my other options for the duece were limited.  Regardless, T.J. was a good player whose career I enjoyed watching.

Number 2 is littered with guys who came in with hype but never made a significant impact:  Major Culbert, Mike Demps, Aaron Green, Lazarri Middleton, Patrick Witt, just to name a few.

1

Best Player:  Lawrence Phillips, I-Back, 1993 – 1995
Other notables:  Dale Klein
Personal Favorite:  
Phillips

Comments:  Lawrence Phillips stands alone in Husker history.  Many have said he is the best I-Back to ever play at Nebraska – even ahead of Heisman winner Mike Rozier.  But he also stands alone as the person who did the most damage to Nebraska’s reputation.  Let’s start by focusing on his on-field accomplishments.

Phillips had a strong freshman year, contributing in a number of games.  But 1994, his sophomore season, was something special.  With Tommie Frazier and Brook Berringer out with injuries, everybody knew L.P. was Nebraska’s biggest threat.  Playing at #16 Kansas State, with walk-on Matt Turman at QB, Phillips had 31 carries for 126 yards and a touchdown – all while nursing a thumb injury.  In 1994, he racked up 11 straight 100 yard games, was All Big 8, and finished 8th in the Heisman voting.  His 1995 season got off to an even better start:  359 yards on 34 carries (10.5 yard average) with seven touchdowns in two games.

But when you talk about Lawrence Phillips, you have to talk about his off the field issues. The arrest. The suspension. The impact his reinstatement had on Osborne and the rest of the program. His additional legal issues in the NFL and beyond.  Bernie Goldberg digging for dirt and painting Nebraska as a “win at all costs” school.  We can debate if Nebraska has ever gotten past the damage Phillips did to the program’s reputation.  I think they have, only because the losing in the Solich and Callahan years became a bigger story.  But you know that should a Husker ever be arrested for violence against a woman, the name Lawrence Phillips will be brought up.

I have watched every Nebraska I-Back since the early 80s, and there have been some greats: Rozier, Ahman, Helu, Abdullah, Keith and Calvin Jones, and so many more. And yet, I truly believe the greatest back I have ever watched – regardless of team – is Lawrence Phillips. I also have no doubt that had the night of September 9, 1995 gone differently, L.P. would have won the Heisman Trophy over Tommie Frazier and Eddie George.

Also, no discussion of the #1 jersey at Nebraska would be complete without mentioning this brilliant (and extremely well-researched) piece where Dirk Chatelain of the Omaha World-Herald explores the curse of the #1 jersey.

Previous:  19 – 10

Start Over:  99 – 90

 

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

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