Various college football conspiracy theorists should have a field day with the Associated Press selecting Stanford utility-man Christian McCaffrey as its 2015 National Player of the Year. Since the award’s inauguration in 1998, 14 of its 18 recipients also won that year’s Heisman Trophy.
The general consensus between Heisman and AP voters for the last two decades reiterates the controversy behind this year’s award. The race between runner-up Christian McCaffrey and winner Derrick Henry, with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson running a distant third, wasn’t particularly close — certainly not like 2009, the last time the AP Player of the Year and Heisman differed (and not-so-coincidentally, one of my biggest Heisman snubs of the last three decades).
However, many of the same gripes prevalent six years ago apply here. First and foremost for those out West is the provincial nature of Heisman balloting, which was readily apparent in Henry’s dominance of Southern balloting.
Heisman votes by region. pic.twitter.com/CA70OHPYlR
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) December 13, 2015
Lamentations of McCaffrey’s loss began well before the ceremony, with the typical complaints of East Coast bias and late Pac-12 kickoff times mixed in with a new, growing din blaming Pac-12 Networks’ accessibility.
The East Coast bias thing doesn’t carry the weight it had in the early 2000s. Days before the Heisman ceremony, ESPN.com’s Heisman Experts panel had McCaffrey winning relatively comfortably, doubling up Henry on first-place votes. No one’s ever accused ESPN of pandering to the West.
But the regional breakdown of votes — particularly Henry’s runaway win in the South — does reinforce the growing complaint of outsiders about the SEC’s self-perpetuating arrogance. I’m reminded of Paul Finebaum’s tweet the week of the 2011 Heisman ceremony, in which he summarily dismissed Robert Griffin III’s Heisman case based on the games Griffin would have played, had Baylor been an SEC member.
Much heat leaving RG3 off my Heisman ballot. Nice player- but SEC defenses would have eaten him alive. Haters get a clue.
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) December 7, 2011
For voters to hold onto that mythology for a season in which the SEC was…well, frankly, not very good speeds past arrogance and drives straight into delusion.
That said, I must apologize in advance for not #EmbracingDebate strongly enough here. I must admit I had no qualms with the Heisman vote, and could understand and even defend the selection of any of the three finalists.
Yes, Christian McCaffrey broke Barry Sanders’ single-season record for all-purpose yards. But similarly, Derrick Henry broke Herschel Walker’s SEC rushing record. To that end, the AP once again snubbing Alabama’s Heisman recipient can be construed as much a slight against the Crimson Tide as it is evidence of SEC arrogance.
There’s a twinge of disrespect at the crux of every boastful “S-E-C!” chant. Whether fueled by Auburn’s omission from the 2005 BCS Championship Game, Charles Woodson beating Peyton Manning for the Heisman, or even deeper rooted, the sting of perceived snubs channel that arrogance.
It’s no (or less) real than the lament of bias against the Pac-12, which has similarly taken to pumping up its own successes in the last few years.