Casting a Heisman ballot is complicated this year
Times college football reporter Bud Withers voted for Cam Newton, but it wasn't an easy call.
Seattle Times colleges reporter
Heisman show, 5 p.m., ESPN
Back in the day, the Heisman Trophy vote used to be easy. You tossed a candidate into your mental Cuisinart, factored in his impact, how his team did and maybe allowed for a smidge of character assessment, and sent your ballot to New York.
Suddenly, things changed. And not because it's all done electronically.
The debate over Cam Newton altered everything. Now we're baseball writers, voting for the Hall of Fame, wrestling with whether players connected to steroids belong in Cooperstown.
A few weeks ago, indulging my contrarian side, I decided to opt for Andrew Luck of Stanford. He's had a magnificent season on a team that's just a breath away from the Oregon-Auburn echelon, and if anybody wants to assail that logic, how can you fault going with the guy assumed to be the No. 1 choice in the next NFL draft?
About then, the muck around Newton, the Auburn quarterback, was thickening — the shopping by his father of the son's talents to Mississippi State, the leaks at Florida of his supposed academic malfeasance. And we already knew about Newton's theft of a laptop while at Florida, before he left for Blinn Junior College.
That made picking Luck easier. For a while, at least.
But this was a race that evaded the easy conclusion. Perhaps the intense scrutiny of Newton even helped his case; it helped crystallize the debate.
As murky as the water is around Cecil Newton's pimping his son in the SEC, and as hard as it might be to picture Cam Newton not knowing it (and that he ends up at Auburn without so much as a hint of an NCAA indiscretion), I don't think you can withhold a Heisman vote on the inference of cheating.
Forget the Reggie Bush saga here. Surely nobody expects voters to be so prescient as to foretell what might happen once the NCAA does more than go through the drive-through window on the Newton issue. As much as I don't want to vote for a guy who gets the trophy stripped, I really don't want to presume Newton's guilt.
But then, there's a troublesome word in the Heisman trust's mission statement: We're supposed to factor "integrity" into the selection. If you're inclined not to vote for Newton, there's your opening. While there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding him, one thing we do know about is the pilfered laptop at Florida.
Ultimately, I concluded "integrity" to be such a sweeping description as to render it hard to be the pivot point on a conclusion. Even if you can define integrity, we're not instructed as to how deeply it's supposed to influence the vote.
Then Nov. 26 happened: Auburn at Alabama. The Tigers fell behind 24-0. They were done, down four scores essentially, on the field of their old rival 'Bama. This wasn't Middle Tennessee State, it was the Tide.
Of course, Newton led Auburn back to a 28-27 victory for the ages that rescued a spot in the national-title game.
That was a staggering win, one that seemed to shove to the background the sideshow over him.
He's eligible, he's playing, he rushed for an SEC-quarterbacks record of 1,409 yards and he led the nation in pass efficiency. Three hours before the deadline, I voted for him.
I went with Luck as No. 2. He was, and will be, ridiculously good. No doubt, he's giving his offensive line its due, because he was sacked only five times, helping result in his crazy, 8.6-yards-per-carry average.
No. 3 is Kellen Moore, the Boise State quarterback. Enjoy Times Square, kid. You're a long way from Prosser, where nobody in the Pac-10 recruited you seriously.
Do I feel good about it all? Not even close. In a quarter-century of voting, it's the most conflicted ballot I've ever cast.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
About Bud Withers
Bud Withers gives his take on college sports, with the latest from the Huskies, Cougs, and the rest of the Pac-10.
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