From the mid-1970s to the early 1990s, BYU quarterbacks were a regular on Heisman ballots. It all culminated in Ty Detmer winning the award in 1990. Following his graduation after the 1991 season, BYU completely dropped off the map of Heisman voters.
Since Detmer’s third place finish in 1991, no BYU player has finished in the Top 10. It is not like BYU hasn’t had worthy candidates since then. At least three Cougars could make a case for a top 10 Heisman finish in the last 20 years, especially considering what other players were top 10 finishers those seasons.
In the podcast below, I state their case for a Top 10 Heisman Trophy finish.
Note: This podcast was originally recorded in August with the intention to post immediately. After recording, but before publishing, I decided to wait until the week of the Heisman Trophy announcement.
In a quest for an answer to why haven't BYU players received the same attention the last 20 years as they did before Detmer won the award, BLUE COUGAR FOOTBALL reached out to the Heisman Pundit. He is well recognized and respected nationally as the authority on all things Heisman. Via email, the Heisman Pundit responded:
The 1980s were a great decade for BYU's Heisman fortunes. In fact, [BYU] scored more Heisman points in that decade than any other school.
I think the reason why BYU hasn't been as prominent since is rooted in the changing offensive styles of the past 20 years. In the 1980s, the Doug Scovil/Norm Chow offense was cutting edge and it resulted in some pretty remarkable numbers being produced, as well as some very successful teams. BYU was able to compete with more talented programs because it had this equalizing system. Ty Detmer's Heisman year was the culmination of that style and offensive philosophy.
But since then, we've seen the introduction more productive offenses in college football based on spread principles. What BYU did was caught up to by defenses and it resulted in less successful seasons over time. When a school like BYU isn't winning at an elite level, it's going to have a hard time producing Heisman candidates.While I don’t disagree, but I think there is more to it. As the podcast pointed out, these three BYU players had “remarkable numbers” and played on “some very successful teams.” There has been an ideological shift in college football that started in 1992 and has grown ever since with the first attempts to separate the haves from the have nots.
The Bowl Coalition started in 1992 and subsequently became the Bowl Alliance and BCS. What started as a method for determining the national champion created a paradigm shift in college football that has influenced all areas of the sport—scheduling agreements, television contracts, and even voting for national awards.
The Heisman Trophy isn’t the only award where BYU players can build a case that they were jilted to one degree or another. Dennis Pitta and the Mackey Award in 2009, Austin Collie and the Biletnikoff in 2008, and Riley Stephenson and the 2012 Ray Guy Award (more on that tomorrow).
The BCS and its precursors have created an undeniable bias against any player from a school not in one of the “power conferences.” If BYU players like Steve Sarkisian, Luke Staley, and Max Hall have not been able to overcome this bias and finish in the top 10, how can we ever imagine that a future BYU player will ever win the award?
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