Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Toby Gerhart for Heisman

I'm not a Heisman voter and have no intention to ever become one. For what it's worth, I think it is possibly the most overrated trophy in all of sports.

But I've been asked to cast a blogger vote - similar to my weekly ballots in the BlogPoll - for the Heisman this year by the Blue Work Horse. So I'll bite. And there is actually a reason for me to care this year. I feel very strongly that Stanford's Toby Gerhart should win the Heisman.

Let's get this first part out of the way. Gerhart went to Norco High School, which happens to be my alma mater (Class of '87). And his daddy is the Cougars' football coach. Yes, I have to admit, it'd be kind of cool.

But Gerhart deserves the trophy, and my admiration, for much more than that. If you're still clinging to the myth of the "student-athlete" in big-time college sports, then he's your Atlas. Besides gashing Oregon and USC on the field, he also carries a mean GPA - not in kinesiology or general studies - but a 3.25 in management science and engineering. At Stanford, where its motto is Die Luft der Freiheit weht.

If you want numbers, Gerhart has those, too. He leads the nation in rushing yards (1,736) and touchdowns (26), and did that against stout competition. In Stanford's five games against the nation's top 40 rush defenses, he averaged 140 yards and three touchdowns per game. (In contrast, Alabama's Mark Ingram played just one game - Florida - against a top 40 rush defense team.)

But will he become the first Heisman winner from Stanford since Jim Plunkett (1970) or the first non-USC player from west of the Rockies since Ty Detmer (1990)? Don't count on it. The SEC media machine has all but locked it up for Ingram after his 30-yard performance against Auburn was quickly erased from the voters' memory (think Minority Report).

So in a bit of exercise in futility, here's my Heisman ballot:

No. 1 Toby Gerhart (RB, Stanford) - Without him, Stanford wouldn't be tied for second in the Pac-10 and playing in the Sun Bowl. He had 10 100-yard games and 3 200-yard games. And he's carrying 20 units and on course to graduate in December. He's a beast.

No. 2 Jeremiah Masoli (QB, Oregon) - The Ducks bounced back from the opening game disaster to win the conference, thanks to Masoli's brilliant consistency. Over 2,000 yard passing, 650 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns.

No. 3 Ndamukong Suh (DT, Nebraska) - Probably the most dominant interior defensive lineman in a generation. Who knows what Nebraska could've gone if it just had a little bit of offense.

Honorable mention - Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama), Case Keenum (QB, Houston).


Anonymous said...

Mccoy should AT least be on your honorable mention. Dude has 45 wins. More than any QB in college football history. He's also the only QB to have at least 10 wins 4 straight years. He just finds ways to win. He's done it with his arm... Kansas game. With his legs... A&M game. Or with his PUNTS! 4 punts all within the 20 this year.

No real problem with Gerhardt making the list. I just don't think he should be first. Ever heard the phrase, "to the victor goes the spoils?" Dude has lost 4 games this year. They are 4th place in their own conference.

Alex said...

Gotta love the insane Pac-10 bias. Let's take a closer look at the rushing defenses each guy played shall we?

Washington St. - 5.9 ypc 23 carries
Wake - 4.6 ypc 17 carries
SJSU - 6.1 ypc 24 carries
Washington - 4.5 ypc 27 carries
UCLA - 4.1 ypc 29 carries
Oregon St. - 3.8 ypc 20 carries
Arizona - 3.8 ypc 28 carries
ASU - 3.4 ypc 27 carries
Oregon - 3.4 ypc 38 carries
USC - 3.7 ypc 29 carries
Cal - 3.5 ypc 20 carries
Notre Dame - 4.8 ypc 29 carries

VT - 3.8 ypc 26 carries
FIU - 5.4 ypc 10 carries
North Texas - 4.8 ypc 8 carries
Arkansas - 4.0 ypc 17 carries
Kentucky - 4.6 ypc 22 carries
Ole Miss - 3.8 ypc 28 carries
South Carolina - 3.8 ypc 24 carries
Tennessee - 4.2 ypc 18 carries
LSU - 3.5 ypc 22 carries
Miss St - 4.0 19 carries
Chattanooga - 3.8 ypc 11 carries
Auburn - 4.3 ypc 16 carries
Florida - 3.1 ypc 28 carries

Now obviously that's a lot of numbers to take in, but let me simplify it a bit. Gerhart's expected yards based on his carries against a team multipled by that team's seasonal ypc is 1321 yards at a 4.2 ypc clip. Even after adjusting Chattanooga's defense upwards by 2 yards a carry since they're a FCS team, Ingram's expected yards are just 1006 at a 4.0 ypc clip.

By actually looking at the entirety of each player's schedule, the amount of playing time against each team, and the opponents' rate stats instead of counting numbers make it clear that Ingram actually did have the tougher road to his numbers. This is why you don't set an arbitrary cut off point and look at raw numbers when determining something like this.

The Guru said...

@Alex- Whoa, hold on there, cowboy, this is some fuzzy fancy math here. Just a quick look and there's something that doesn't jive.

Mark Ingram had 30 yards on 16 carries against Auburn. My abacus tells me that's 1.9 ypc. He was a non-factor and wasn't even the best back on the field that day.

Alex said...

I listed the seasonal yards per carry each defense gave up. I guess I could have made that more clear, but I thought my statement following the numbers made it obvious. I just multiplied the two numbers listed to get the expect yards and then divided by carries to get the expected yards per carry. Basically its just a weighted average of the defenses each guy played based on the actual number of carries against each defense. Really nothing more than a simple analysis to refute your point that Gerhart played tougher rushing defenses.

Jack said...

In response to Alex. First off, I like your idea of using this stat as a benchmark for success of a running back. As a life long Oregon fan, I was curious to see what our RB, LaMichael James would compare to these two Heisman Finalists.

Boise St. - 3.93 ypc 2 carries
Purdue - 4.41 ypc 9 carries
Utah - 3.76 ypc 27 carries
Cal - 3.5 ypc 21 carries
WSU - 5.95 ypc 13 carries
UCLA - 4.06 ypc 20 carries
Wash - 4.52 ypc 15 carries
USC - 3.69 ypc 24 carries
Stan - 4.49 ypc 18 carries
ASU - 3.39 ypc 22 carries
Ariz - 3.76 ypc 19 carries
OS - 3.84 ypc 25 carries

Again using your statistical reasoning, (although somewhat flawed because that players statistics are used in the computation of that ypc allowed stat) this would mean that LaMichael James would have an expected output of 860 yards.

Actual yards for James - 1476
Total difference for James - +616

More than both Ingram and Gerhart!

Now I'm not advocating for LaMichael James for Heisman, all I'm saying is that this stat is just as relevant as other total statistics. The fact that Toby Gerhart was able to carry the ball and his team as much as he did is astonishing. If the coaches at Alabama thought they would be able to give the ball to Ingram as much as Gerhart and still maintain success, they would have! Fact Gerhart was more of a positive contributing factor simply because he was able to maintain consistency at a level unparalleled in college football in 2009.

Gerhart for Hesiman in 2009!
James in '10 '11 '12!

Victor said...

Alex - That's a good basis for comparison, but I don't think you've used that particular stat properly. There are a few glaring problems. The most obvious, as Jack pointed out, is that the numbers you've posted include the yards that Ingram/Gerhart ran up. That effectively means that Gerhart running up more yards makes his "expected" value much higher - a penalty for doing better.

The other most glaring problem is dealing with SJSU/FIU/North Texas and Chattanooga, who have played against an entirely different beast in terms of competition. Arbitrarily adding a couple of yards as you did doesn't make much sense... it's not like you can really scale that linearly. Even McElroy beat the 3.8 ypc listed for Chattanooga.

I think it would be a good way to compare success if you unbiased the data,'s really not fair to accuse the Guru of an insane Pac-10 bias when your own calculations are so heavily skewed for Ingram.

This isn't a "best player" or "best stats" award, else quarterbacks like Case Keenum would be blowing away the competition. Both backs have similar rush + receiving totals against similar competition. They both have talented teams. Ingram carried his team to the NC when they needed him - even when his QB forgot how to throw mid-season. Quite simply, Gerhart didn't. Steal back even 1-2 of Stanford's losses, and he would be the runaway favourite. I love that he's a genuine student-athlete, though.

mike said...

As the Heisman has typically also included team success, I can't argue with Ingram this year, though I'd like to see McCoy get it just for completeness. Ingram is the most deserving player on a top tier team, which generally is the criteria (see Crouch, Eric and White, Jason). The most outstanding player on a lesser team generally comes in a bit behind (e.g. Fitzgerald, who was clearly a better player than White). I have no problem with this as it commemorates both the player and an outstanding team.

Gerhart would have won going away if he was on an undefeated team. Unfortunately he didn't get much of an opportunity against Wake, and never got a carry when Stanford got in scoring range at the end of the game vs. Cal. (Didn't see the Oregon St. and Arizona games.) If his team had an easier schedule (e.g. a game or two against North Texas, FIU, etc) his team might be 10-2, going to a BCS game, and he would probably win.

Gerhart made Andrew Luck a good quarterback. He was the focal point of the Stanford offense, the whole Pac-10 knew it, and he still carried them. He didn't get the most yards per carry but played a much tougher schedule with opponents who played better teams. He had his biggest games in the team's biggest games, which is what's important (NOT how few carries Ingram got against FIU, North Texas, and Chattanooga, which is what really makes Alex's point; Gerhart was the one closing out games).

Masoli I don't think deserves to be there. A Heisman contender doesn't go 4/16 passing in ANY game. And he probably wasn't the best player on his own team.

Again, no problem with Ingram winning. He didn't have the best season, but his team did.

Alex said...

Wow did some you miss the point. That wasn't me trying to make a case for Ingram, just trying to provide a quick and dirty comparison of the defenses each guy played that was better than Sam's asinine comparison of number of defenses faced that ranked in the top 40 in total rushing yards allowed. Just a note to the Pac-10 homers out there, SEC teams run the ball more times per game than Pac-10 teams, so of course they are going to give up more total rushing yards on average. Whether Sam knew this or not, it obviously makes the stat he made biased in a statistical sense, and Sam made the problem worse by choosing an arbitrary cut off point that barely excludes a few SEC teams.

I'll admit that not removing Ingram's and Gerhart's stats against each opponent may make the numbers slightly less reliable, but it more than cut the work I needed to do in half and it penalizes both guys about equally as the only important stats here are YPC and actual carries. Because Ingram has a significant advantage in the 1st, while Gerhart has a significant advantage in the 2nd, both are going to drag up the numbers of opposing defenses by a similar amount.

As for adjusting team defense for the level of competition they played, that would just add an exponential amount of work that I'm not ready to get into. I adjusted UTC because they played in the FCS and posted really good numbers, so I basically tried to adjust them down to make them as bad against the run as the worst teams on Gerhart and Ingram's schedule. Other than that I just looked at it as all the other teams played in the FBS and the bad teams still had bad defensive numbers even if they didn't play the toughest competition. When it really comes down to it, the actual difference is rather minuscule as Ingram had just 29 carries against FIU, North Texas, and UTC, while Gerhart had 24 against SJSU. Even with all that added work, we wouldn't really get anywhere as the differences would essentially cancel each other out.

Seriously though, I don't appreciate the accusation that my calculations are heavily skewed towards Ingram (Victor) as they are really just simple calculations where I didn't feel like taking extra hours to remove Gerhart's and Ingram's stats from their opponents overall stats (which would have made a similar difference for each) and adjust for level of competition their competition played (why stop there? I could go back to the competition played by the competition that played each guy's opponents). The only real skewing I did the entire time was against UTC in order to hurt Ingram. How anyone could come to the conclusion that I'm skewing data in his favor is beyond me.