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December 12, 2008

Yeager: Touchdown Club Travesty of 2008

As travesties go, this one is not up there with the first O.J. Simpson trial, China's continued suppression of Tibet, or even the United States versus Soviet Union basketball game in the 1972 Munich Olympics. But Graham Harrell's absence from the Heisman Trophy award ceremony will be a travesty nonetheless.

Harrell, by any and every reasonable standard, had a 2008 season that was worthy of the very deepest consideration for the Heisman. His statistics, of course, are eye-popping, and arguably surpass those of Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy, the three quarterbacks who will have the limelight and the honor all to themselves.

Harrell threw for 4,747 yards (2nd best in the nation and best among BCS conference quarterbacks), completed 72-percent of his passes, threw 41 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions. His quarterback rating was 163. Salty statistics, any way you parse them.

Perhaps more impressive than those raw numbers, however, is the fact that Harrell led his team to an 11-1 record and a current BCS rating of No. 7. Eleven and one and No. 7 are nothing earth-shaking at Texas, Oklahoma, and Florida, traditional football factories where the roster is usually little less than an NFL team in waiting.

But Texas Tech is not yet an NFL farm team. Never has been. Therefore, Harrell was compelled to work his magic with less surrounding talent, on offense, defense and special teams, than McCoy, Tebow and Bradford. Nevertheless, he guided the Red Raider vessel to eleven regular season wins (best in school history), a No. 2 ranking at one time (best by far in school history), and a victory over McCoy's then No. 1 ranked Texas Longhorns. That was Tech's first ever victory over a No. 1 team.

Thus, not only were Harrell's statistics equal to or better than the players who will be in New York for the ceremony, but he produced them with fewer advantages in the surrounding talent department, and he was instrumental in authoring several historical milestones. One cannot honestly say that about Bradford or Tebow, let alone McCoy.

These facts do not mean that Harrell should win the Heisman. Indeed, if I had a vote, it would be Tebow, Bradford and Harrell in that order. But what the above should prove beyond any reasonable doubt is that Harrell is exactly in the same category as the three Heisman finalists. He is a quarterback of the very same caliber as Tebow, Bradford and McCoy.

But the Heisman invitations are doled out only to the players who get the lion's share of the votes. Once a major vote gap appears between two players, the gap constitutes a cut-off and the player on the short end of that gap is the first player on the ballot tally who does not get an invitation. Therefore, Tebow, Bradford and McCoy not only received more votes than Harrell, they received considerably more votes.

That is insupportable.

Now Bradford has had an almost faultless year leading a steamroller of an offense and the nation's No. 1 team. Tebow, the winner of last year's Heisman, has come on strong and essentially willed his Florida Gators into the national title game. One can see those quarterbacks having a fairly clear advantage over Harrell.

But McCoy? Sheerest absurdity.

He is an exceptional quarterback to be sure, and his completion percentage of 77.6 is phenomenal. Nevertheless, in head-to-head competition between McCoy and his Longhorns and Harrell and his Red Raiders, Harrell came out on top for all the college football world to see.

Indeed, Harrell led his team to an improbable victory by manufacturing a last-gasp drive and throwing a miraculous touchdown pass on the game's final play. That touchdown pass is the single most iconic play of the 2008 college football season. And it came at the expense of McCoy's team.

There is no logical reason, none whatsoever, why McCoy should enjoy an advantage over Harrell in the Heisman balloting so overwhelming as to keep the Tech quarterback at home. The fact that he does speaks to the ignorance, the shallowness, and the mendacity of the Heisman voters.

In the absence of hard data to make a case for including McCoy and excluding Harrell, one is left with no choice but to assassinate the character of the voters. To all appearances, those voters were swayed by Texas' tradition as a football powerhouse, and the greater willingness of McCoy, Longhorn coach Mack Brown, and the University of Texas, to prostitute itself to the media.

Voters with greater strength of character, of course, would have ignored those irrelevant factors and blandishments and voted based upon the actual performance of the respective players. Instead, they rewarded the stroke. And because of the moral corruption of the voters, an entirely deserving player will be denied the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend the Heisman ceremony. An opportunity he earned on the field of play.

And that, my friends, is the very definition of a travesty. I hope the voters are proud of themselves.


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