We use the term “popularity contest” in negative contexts only. When we describe something that way, it’s generally not because we support that thing or agree with its premises.
So when we say the college football awards process is a “popularity contest”, it means numbers and statistics and productivity aren’t nearly as important as name recognition. It’s used as a slam to the whole kit and kaboodle, but there’s another side to this.
It actually ends up being a good thing.
Let’s be clear: Every school wants to be able to tout award semifinalists, finalists, and winners. Every coach wants to recruit the next Player X whose name will almost certainly (he hopes) go up on the wall after he leaves. Coaches also like to use those distinctions in trying to leverage a new contract every so often.
Fans certainly want to be able to crow about individual talents within different programs as well. But fans and media types don’t need awards to judge the value of a season. We have two eyes and a brain, so we can judge for ourselves.
It’s no secret that this Heisman field is absolute weak sauce (that’s a technical term, folks). Jameis Winston has very good numbers and has played well this year, but he’s not the most outstanding college football player ever—even though he is projected to receive more Heisman points than anyone in history.
Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins aren’t being invited to New York. Just like with C.J. Spiller and Woodrow Dantzler before them, Clemson fans are outraged about this snub of the skilled future pro studs in the program. It seems there’s always an excuse why Clemson’s players are overlooked for national honors.
Boyd didn’t play well against Florida State or South Carolina. That’s a fair point, a convincing reason to leave Boyd off your Heisman ballot. But Jordan Lynch didn’t play anything close to that level of competition all year long, and he got a Heisman invite out of pity for the little guy.
Other than passing efficiency, where Jameis Winston is poised to have the best season ever for a collegiate quarterback, Boyd’s numbers are remarkably similar to his. Yet Boyd will be watching Winston hoist the Heisman Trophy on Saturday because Florida State’s defense is more dominating than Clemson’s and individual awards (for some reason) are based largely on team success.
No one knew how to spell Tre Mason’s first name until last week, yet he’s in New York. No one knew Andre Williams was having a 2,000-yard season until he got there, yet he’s in New York. No one knows A.J. McCarron’s numbers at all, but he’s in New York because “all he does is win”—or something like that. Johnny Manziel gets the “Yeah, I guess we probably should” selection as defending champ.
Do you see the ridiculous nature of this process? It extends down to the awards lists, where Vic Beasley’s competition for the Ted Hendricks Award for defensive end prowess includes a player from Montana State and not arguably the best player in college football at the position, Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
Our good friend Jadeveon Clowney is a first-team all-conference player this season in spite of the fact that there are 20 SEC defensive linemen with more sacks than him and seven with more tackles for loss. That’s not a national list, that’s just in his own conference.
Because this process is so convoluted and seemingly rigged to favor whoever Sportscenter’s interns think deserves inclusion into highlight packages, we must define greatness and achievement in ways that don’t include trophies and accolades. Otherwise, we would all go insane.
As awards season kicks off, keep this in mind: By many standards, Boyd, Watkins, Beasley, and many other individuals on Clemson’s football team had incredible years. Don’t let any committee or panel of voters change that reality.