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EQBS: Predicting Who Will Win the Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy is awarded to the best player in college football. In recent history, “best player” has typically translated to best quarterback. Only four non-quarterbacks have won the award over the past 20 years: Ron Dayne (‘99), Reggie Bush (‘05), Mark Ingram (‘09) and Derrick Henry (‘15).

While quarterbacks dominate the award, there has also been a trend in younger players winning the coveted trophy. This decade, only 10% of Heisman winners have been seniors.

Today, it is much more likely for it to be awarded to a sophomore or junior.

It is also highly unlikely the Heisman will be given to a player who doesn’t play for a Power 5 school. Over the past 50 years, it has only happened twice: Houston’s Andre Ware (‘89) and BYU’s Ty Detmer (‘90).

Read More: Three Wide – Week 1: Defense Optional

Introducing the Elite Quarterback Score

We wanted a way to identify and predict the Heisman winner as the season progresses. To do this, we analyzed the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks from this decade to see if there were consistent trends in their stats. Not surprisingly, the best indicator for a quarterback to win the Heisman is how their stats compare to the rest of the players in college football. Essentially, the more dominant a player is compared to his peers, the more likely he is to win the Heisman — pretty common sense. But which stats were the best predictors of a Heisman win?

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We identified the most correlated stats within three main categories:

  1. Passing
  2. Rushing
  3. Total Yards/TD Volume

Within each of these, these were weighted, providing a score for each of the three categories. These three categories were then weighted, giving each player a EQBS (Elite Quarterback Score). Here is how the QB winners since 2010 have fared (lower is better):

When EQBS Has Worked

Since 2010, if you were to go only by EQBS, you would have clearly identified the Heisman winner 6 of the past 9 years.

Even though a quarterback didn’t win the Heisman in 2015, the EQBS arguably could have identified that a quarterback would not win. In 2015, there was little separation between #1 and #4. The quarterback with the highest EQBS – Trevone Boykin – lost the two biggest games at the end of the year. These two factors opened the door for a non-QB to win the Heisman.

When EQBS Hasn’t Worked

While EQBS identifies the top quarterback in a given year, it doesn’t take into account “Heisman Moments.” These are games or moments within a game that elevate a player beyond his stats. This was the case in 2012 and 2013, when the top quarterback by EQBS did not win the Heisman.

Neither Manziel or Winston were the best quarterbacks the years they won the Heisman. In 2012, Manizel was elevated by his performance in the November win against #1 Alabama. Because of that, and the slight separation between Boyd and Manziel, Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman.

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In 2013, Winston didn’t separate himself from the other quarterbacks, ranking 5th in EQBS. Manziel should have won again in 2013, as he improved nearly all his stats over his Heisman winning season, but the apparent stigma against a 2x Heisman winner was not working in his favor. Like Manziel in 2012, Winston was elevated beyond his stats with dominant wins against top 10 teams.

Through Week 1 – Different Year, Same Story

In the history of the Heisman Trophy, only five times has a school had back-to-back winners:

  • Yale (Larry Kelly – ‘36 & Clint Frank – ‘37)
  • Army (Doc Blachard – ‘45 & Glenn Davis – ‘46)
  • Ohio State (Archie Griffin – ‘74 & ‘75)
  • USC (Matt Leinart – ‘04 & Reggie Bush – ‘05)
  • Oklahoma (Baker Mayfield – ‘17 & Kyler Murray – ‘18)

No school has ever had three straight Heisman Trophy winners. Oklahoma and Jalen Hurts are looking to change that.

Through Week 1, Hurts has the best EQBS and it isn’t even close. Hurts has an impressive EQBS of 3.5. The next highest player is Washington State’s Anthony Gordon at 13.5. It’s just one week, but Hurts’ 6 touchdown game against Houston put him in a very good position to be the third straight quarterback — all of them transfers — from Oklahoma to win the Heisman.

Throughout the 2019 season, we will be tracking EQBS to see if a quarterback can separate himself to become the ninth Heisman winning quarterback this decade. 

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