Thursday, December 11, 2008

Graham Harrell's lack of invite a flaw of Heisman Trophy system


For those of you disgusted with the 925 members of the media, and maybe even the past Heisman Trophy winners, for not allowing Graham Harrell a free trip to New York, I'm with you.

But understand this — it's not the voters' fault that Texas Tech's super-sensational quarterback won't be on stage alongside fellow brilliant QBs Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow Saturday night.

Rather, it's the system's fault. (A college-football theme, right?)

As it stands now, the number of Heisman Trophy candidates invited to the Big Apple is determined by the number of points players get from voting. Unfortunately for Harrell, voters only choose their top three candidates.

And according to Heisman coordinator Tim Henning (Lubbock Avalanche-Journal): "We have had as little as three finalists and as many as six finalists in the past. The finalists are determined by the natural breaking point in the voting."

In other words, Harrell may easily be the fourth-best player in the country. But unless a good portion of voters thought he was better than at least one of the aforementioned invited players, he wasn't going to receive the plane ticket, hotel room and chance to meet past winners.

If I had a vote, I'd take Tebow, Bradford, then McCoy. So I don't blame the voters one bit for Harrell not getting the opportunity in the spotlight. They had to pick their top three, and most college-football analysts are in agreement when it comes to the sport's trio of most-deserving players.

Harrell had a great season, but he wasn't quite on the level — just barely — of the trio of finalists. And his team's loss, unlike theirs, was an embarrassing blowout at the hands of the Sooners. So if only three of the nation's four premier signal-callers could go to New York, the correct players are packing their bags.

Of course, it shouldn't have to be this way.

There needs to be a rule stipulating that there should be four finalists each season. Not three, not five — four. That's been the case most of the years I've watched the presentation.

And it's the right number. Big enough that no player as notable as Harrell is left off. Small enough to avoid turning the ceremony into a three-hour affair when you know three of the candidates are simply there for the handshakes with former winners and free food.

In truth, a trip for Harrell would have been just that. Even before being voted off the island, no one believed the senior had a chance. In fact, the Red Raiders became an afterthought following the No-Show in Norman. They had a phenomenal season, won the greatest game of the year, surprised a whole bunch of people who couldn't locate Lubbock on a map and were always fun to watch.

But, unfortunately, schools like Texas Tech have a very slim margin for error and can't afford a loss, especially a 65-21 beatdown on primetime TV. Once that happened, the Red Raiders' national-title hopes were dashed along with Harrell's Heisman campaign. Fair or not, it's reality.

His numbers, however, can't be ignored (and, no, he wasn't just a "product" of Mike Leach's system). Normal quarterbacks, regardless of where they play, don't throw for 4,747 yards and 41 touchdowns. Yes, the Big 12 defenses weren't exactly SEC-tough. But they were still challenging to play against, particularly on the road, and Harrell passed every test but that one in Norman.

And, it should be mentioned, he threw for the second-most yards (15,429) of any major-college player. And that player, Hawaii's Timmy Chang, faced far worse defenses.

So just because he won't dress up in a fancy suit and shake hands with Archie Griffin, let's not forget Graham Harrell. Let's not forget the memorable last-second drive he engineered in Texas Tech's thrilling win over Texas, which culminated with Harrell throwing a perfect timing patter on the sideline to the nation's best wide receiver, Michael Crabtree.

Let's remember the great season, and career, Harrell had while we watch the three finalists smile for the cameras at the presentation.

And let's hope that the BCS isn't the only college-football system that is modified in the years to come.

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