Heisman Hoopla For The Ages

By Rick Sarlat
Updated: November 22, 2005

Reggie Bush and Vince Young

PHILADELPHIA, PA—Almost every year around this time, as Thanksgiving Day approaches and the college football season draws to a close, two Heisman Trophy candidates emerge as sure bets to become the top two vote-getters come December.

This year, University of Southern California running back Reggie Bush, and University of Texas quarterback Vince Young have made it, essentially, a two-man race for the better part of the season. And the pair have sealed their respective envelopes with their latest game-breaking performances.

When Young put up video game numbers against Oklahoma State Oct. 29, (267 yards rushing and 239 passing with four touchdowns, two through the air and two on the ground) he became the first quarterback in the history of Division I-A football to break the two-century mark in both categories in the same game, all but engraving his own name in the sport’s most prestigious individual award. At the time, and for weeks to follow, it was hard to imagine that anyone, even Reggie Bush, could eclipse such numbers.

Fast forward three weeks to Bush’s latest act Sunday against Fresno State that most certainly crashed Young’s Heisman party. Bush rushed 23 times for a career-high 294 yards and two touchdowns, had three catches for 68 yards, and another 151 yards in returns, all adding up to a PAC-10 record 513 all-purpose yards. It was the kind of performance that sways voters, according to pundits, and it came on the heels of a Vince Young outing that many thought wrapped-up the Heisman race.

Some share the sentiment that if Bush does not win the Heisman, it will be through no fault of his own. His electrifying display was televised, but it may as well not have been. By the time the game had reached the third quarter and Bush had broken the PAC-10 mark for all-purpose yards in a game, it was already past 3am on the east coast. Which means if you live east of the Rockies, you probably missed it, unless you happen to be a devout college football fan who enjoys snacking on caffeine pills.

Both Young and Bush have at least one regular season game remaining, the Trojans will host UCLA Dec. 3, and the Longhorns will visit Texas A&M Friday, and then play either Colorado or Iowa State in the Big 12 Championship game the following week.

Barring another miraculous performance from either man, the two will likely be judged on their aforementioned games. But if the term, “Most Valuable Player” holds any weight in the Heisman balloting, Vincent Young should have a leg up.

Pose the question, Could the Longhorns be undefeated without Vincent Young? And the answer is a resounding no. Could the Longhorns have success without him? Possibly. But not nearly as much as with him. Pose those same questions with Reggie Bush and USC, and let the debate begin. Considering that without Bush the Trojans would still have the best quarterback in college football, Matt Leinart, at the helm, a workhorse running back in LenDale White, and a couple of speedy receivers in Steve Smith and Dwayne Jarrett, they would likely still be ranked in the top three and in contention for another national title.

With the last five Heisman trophies having been awarded to quarterbacks, and exactly none of those going to players whose teams finished outside of the top five, the correlation between Heisman-winning quarterbacks and their team’s overall performance is clear. Winning means everything. For running backs who’ve won the Heisman in recent years, individual statistics have played a much more significant role than winning percentage. The last five running backs to win the award played on teams who ended their seasons absent from the national championship picture.

Another obvious consideration is numbers. On the season, Young has completed 156 passes in 255 attempts for 2,414 yards for 22 TD’s and 8 INT’s, and rushed 117 times for 796 yards and 8 TD’s. Bush, meanwhile, has carried 163 times for 1,423 yards and 15 TD’s, and caught 31 balls for 383 yards and 2 TD’s.

It could be argued that both Young and Bush have Heisman-like numbers, but which is more deserving than the other? For fans and critics alike, that’s a question that can’t wait to be answered.

Finally, a year in which the Heisman Trophy race has actually lived up to its billing. And a dramatic finish has been all but assured.