Heisman

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.

*   *   *

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.

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