In a season dominated by quarterbacks, it would seem fitting that the Heisman Trophy race has largely been relegated to a showdown of Big 12 passers.
Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford on 1-2-3 in SI.com's and Heisman Pundit's lists, and despite the recent charge by Florida's Tim Tebow, it's likely one of the three Big 12 QBs will be named the winner Dec. 13 in NYC.
Bradford has more touchdowns than anyone (38), McCoy boasts the nation's best completion percentage (77.9 percent) and Harrell has racked up the most passing yards (4,077). But as impressive as the trio has been and as much as they've been the posterboys of the conference's placement in the national title conversation, neither Bradford nor Harrell nor McCoy will be appearing atop my ballot, barring some major turn of events in the final weeks.
I'm voting for Michael Crabtree.
The Red Raiders sophomore wide receiver fits the Heisman's own criteria as "the most outstanding player in college football." He should be the one holding up that fabled trophy. But as we all know, "the most outstanding player" doesn't always take home the hardware.
From Adrian Peterson in 2004 to Larry Fitzgerald in '03, Marshall Faulk in 1992 to Raghib Ismail in '90, the award hasn't always gone to the best player, simply the top quarterback or running back on a team that's in national title contention.
It's also rarely gone to a wide receiver -- Desmond Howard ('91) and Tim Brown ('87) are the only players from the position to win. Fitzgerald's runner-up finish in 2003 and Randy Moss' fourth-place in 1997 are the highest a receiver has finished in voting since Howard's win.
Crabtree, this season, is that rare player that is both the nation's best individual player as well as the best player on a team in the title race, regardless of his position. With 78 receptions for 1,010 yards and 18 scores, his numbers are down from his record-setting freshman year in which he caught 134 balls for 1,962 yards and 22 TDs. But unlike Brown and Howard before him, whose quarterbacks did not finish in the top 10 of their Heisman balloting, Crabtree is also competing for exposure and votes with Harrell, hence the ingenious election-themed Harrell-Crabtree commercials.
Harrell's numbers (4,077 yards and 36 TDs) are on line with every Red Raiders quarterback before him. He is on track for 4,892 yards and 43 scores, which would be just the second time since 2003 that a Texas Tech QB has not eclipsed the 5,000-yard mark. But despite those gaudy numbers, none of those former passers have ever finished higher in Heisman voting than Kliff Kingsbury's ninth-place finish in 2002.
The fact that we're even considering not one but two Texas Tech players for arguably the most prestigious award in American sports shows just how far this program has come of late. Mike Leach's offense had long been seen as a system that piles up passing yards, hence the 16 NCAA records set in Leach's previous eight seasons in Lubbock. But something has changed and it's not just a show of respect for Red Raiders' 10-0 record and ascension to No. 2 in the polls.
The change started last season, and it started with Crabtree. In winning the Biletnikoff last season, he became the first Red Raider to win a major award under Leach's watch for being seen simply as an elite player, system or not.
Crabtree's freshman season, when coupled with the unparalleled success and balance of this Texas Tech team, has further helped to remove the stigma that has followed Leach's teams and been a major reason why Harrell has been able to leap to the front of so many Heisman polls.
It's a common perspective: the quarterback on the dominant team gets the adoration. But this year it's the wrong perspective, because Crabtree is the only player on the ballot with a true Heisman highlight: his game-winning touchdown against Texas. Harrell delivered the ball, but it was Crabtree who managed to stay in bounds, pull away from the defender and break into the end zone. You can't have the end without the means, but this was ultimately Crabtree's moment.
Barack Obama won the presidential election running with the slogan "Vote for Change." We saw that change with last year's honoring of Tebow, the first sophomore to win the award. It signaled a shift in the voting, a trend that can continue with Crabtree. While his win wouldn't be as monumental as Tebow's, it would still illustrate that "most outstanding" actually means most outstanding.
Ultimately, the Year of the Quarterback will likely end with another passer joining the Heisman fraternity. But just because it's the popular choice doesn't mean it's the right choice.
Vote for Crabtree. Vote for Change.