Is it even possible in this era for a defensive player to contend for the Heisman? Especially if there’s a stud quarterback in play? Ed Oliver’s named has been tossed around as a dark horse Heisman candidate since the Heisman show ended last year. But for Ed to be in the conversation, and not just filler for sports writers in the off-season, the Heisman would need to return to it’s roots.
It’s time for the trophy to be about more than the best QB or running back. Since 1972, the award for the ‘best player’ has been limited to just the offensive backfield: just 3 times in 45 years has the award gone to a position other than RB or QB. That’s the most obvious stumbling block for an ‘outsider’ campaign.
It’s time for the The Heisman to return to going to the player “whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity” as the Heisman Trust proclaims. Character counts.
It’s time for the Heisman to meet a defensive superstar like Ed Oliver, Jr. A humble, high-octane player with an ability that few can match. But the fact remains that a defensive lineman hasn’t finished in the top 3 in the last 45 years.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. What would it take for Ed Oliver to shock the world and walk away with the 2018 Heisman?
1. An Open Mind: Recent Heisman history has shown that voters are willing to overlook some things: they chose a guy with nagging issues both on and off the field (Baker Mayfield), a player on a 9-3 team that had lost his last 2 games (Lamar Jackson), a freshman facing sexual assault claims and other off-the-field problems (Jameis Winston), and of course, Johnny Football. Would they be able to overlook offensive numbers and find the best player in the game?
2. A Little Luck: Ed would definitely need some luck. The Heisman is a national award but voting tends to be regional. The Cougar great would need there to be no consensus – especially in the south. According to oddsmakers, SEC quarterbacks Tua Tagovailoa, Jake Fromm, and Jarrett Stidham are the southern favorites. Three SEC QBs. Even with great years, they could each cancel out the others.
Oliver would also greatly benefit from Wisconsin RB Johnathan Taylor and Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins muddying the waters for each other. The same is true for Bryce Love (Stanford) and Khalil Tate of Arizona. Ed would also need the race to stay tight until the end – no presumptive winner like Mayfield last year.
3. The Media: He also needs the media on his side. And by media, I mean ESPN. The Worldwide Leader starts hyping their TV show, the Heisman presentation, in August. They set the early leader board and plug those guys all season. But the ESPN kingmakers have also shown they are willing to change the narrative when the need arises.
In 2011, Robert Griffin III had his coming out party against TCU in Waco on Friday of opening weekend. The next morning, Griffin was on-set for College Gameday in Fort Worth (for the LSU-Oregon game). ESPN fell in love with RG3 and he eventually rode it to Heisman glory. When no one pulled away late in the season, Griffin was in the right spot at the right time (the same can be said for LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, whose coming-out party in the Oregon game at JerryWorld on ESPN helped him get to New York City as well). Ed will need the preseason hype to neutralize the fact that UH doesn’t play any marquee games this year.
This would also require Major Applewhite to become Ed’s most ferocious salesman, taking more opportunities to promote his player. Major isn’t terribly comfortable doing that but, to his credit, he’s been better at it in 2018.
4. Dictate: But more than anything, Ed Oliver Jr. has to dominate. With better defensive players around him in 2018, he should have more opportunity to get in the backfield and agitate the offense. He needs to have gaudy TFL and sack numbers and be plain disruptive in the middle. Heisman voters understand the game and can appreciate Ed’s giant talent.
He’s also going to be given more chances to run the ball at the goal line and score some TDs. That will give him much-need publicity and some interesting stats for voters to ponder. Will we see him at receiver? Will he line-up outside, be flipped a reverse and throw it to a streaking D’Eriq King down the sideline? I think Kendal Briles will be quite creative with this fortress of a man.
Ed Oliver is the best player we’ve seen on Cullen in quite some time. National experts agree that he’s among the best players in the country, too. If Big Ed dominates the point of attack, has big games against Arizona and Texas Tech, and no national consensus pick is “chosen” by the media, then there’s a chance that Ed Oliver, Jr, can bring the 2nd Heisman home to Houston.
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