SAPAKOFF COLUMN: SEC is about to annex the Heisman Trophy
Bret Bielema recently led the Wisconsin Badgers to a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl, only a little less recently known as “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
But he took a pass on Pasadena.
He quit, trading Big Cheese status in the big-time Big Ten for a chance to do battle in the wild SEC West.
“I'm excited to work with the caliber of athlete the SEC can bring,” Bielema explained this week upon his introduction at Arkansas.
The Southeastern Conference has won six consecutive national championships (and counting) and parlays its monster TV contracts to lure top coaches. Bielema nailed the key to success from Columbia to College Station: talent overflowing.
Heisman Trophy winner Johnny “Football” Manziel is the exception, a redshirt freshman not mentioned in preseason All-SEC chatter. But as the SEC has ruled the BCS championship game and salary escalation, Heisman dominance comes next.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said of Manziel this week.
Manziel spoke, too, jumping through Q&A hoops all week.
“I just can't believe I'm mentioned with all these other Heisman winners,” he said.
Better get used to it.
Manziel, and Clowney
A 2013 Heisman preview:
Favorite — Johnny Football.
Better watch out — Now that Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o has paved the way for game-changing players on defense, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a leading Heisman contender on his way to first-overall NFL draft pick status.
Outside the SEC: Tajh Boyd, Clemson.
Looking ahead to the 2014:
1. Johnny Football, Johnny Heisman. “John” to friends.
2. Todd Gurley, running back, Georgia
3. T.J. Yeldon, running back, Alabama
Darkhorse: No-huddle Fancy Stats Passer Guy from Auburn or wherever Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris winds up as head coach.
Officially, the Heisman Trophy goes to “the outstanding college football player in the United States.”
Unofficially, it's titling South.
Before anyone ever heard of Manziel — that is, last August — SEC players had captured three of the previous five Heismans (Florida's Tim Tebow in 2007, Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009 and Auburn's Cam Newton in 2010).
It wasn't always this way.
The SEC was missing from the national championship winner's circle for most of the 1980s and 1990s, and the SEC almost went 0-for the Heisman for 21 full years. The only SEC Heisman winner from 1986-2006 was quarterback Danny Wuerffel, star of Steve Spurrier's 1996 national title team at Florida. Wuerffel barely beat out running back Troy Davis (1,363 votes to 1,174).
Davis' woeful Iowa State Cyclones went just 2-9.
There were four winners during that stretch from current ACC schools (Miami's Vinny Testaverde in 1986 and Gino Torretta in 1992, Florida State's Charlie Ward 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000).
The tide can turn (though probably not the Tide).
Historical research only has to extend to 2005 to see the Atlantic Coast Conference apparently ready to hold its own with the SEC, at least.
Last week, ACC championship game tickets were going for $2.77 on the secondary market.
Bielema will get $3.2 million per year at Arkansas, or $600,000 more than Wisconsin paid.
South Carolina flexed some of its SEC football money this year — to hire basketball coach Frank Martin away from Kansas State.
What a feat for K-State's Collin Klein to make it from one Manhattan to another for the Heisman presentation; he's an overachieving quarterback on an opportunistic team. But teams like the Wildcats don't get the showcase stages SEC stars enjoy at one “GameDay” stop after another.
Handicapping an electorate always is iffy. There are 900-plus Heisman voters, including 24 media types plus former winners Spurrier and George Rogers in South Carolina. There might be an anti-SEC backlash.
But whether comparing quarterbacks or bagel shops, it's difficult to argue with superior performance.
Bret Bielema knows.