Could Kyle Van Noy Make A Historic Heisman run?

The simple answer to my question is ARE YOU CRAZY? I assure you I am not crazy, or delusional, for that matter. The first games of the 2012 football season are still a week away, so humor me for a minute. It is still the preseason and several other stories asking just as preposterous questions are being published all over the web. That’s just what we do this time of year.

Editor's Note: If you don’t know who Kyle Van Noy is and have already lost interest in reading, click here to watch his 2011 highlights, they should restore your interest.

Rather than try and dream up some silly scenario that could result in Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Kyle Van Noy winning the Heisman this year, and then arguing till I am blue in my face to justify the silliness, I intend to look at the headline question in two ways:

  1. Why a Heisman Trophy run by Van Noy would be historic;
  2. Why a linebacker like Van Noy could do it.

1. Why would it be historic?

Is it because Van Noy plays for BYU? No, BYU already has a Heisman Trophy winner (Ty Detmer, 1990). Is it because Van Noy plays defense? No, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won the award in 1997, but we’re on the right track.

Think of all the Heisman Trophy finalists (Top 5 finish) you can remember who played defense. Obviously, there is Woodson. You probably quickly remember former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu (5th, 2011) and Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (4th, 2009). If you are like me, you are aware that Pittsburgh defensive end Hugh Green finished second in 1980, and you faintly remember a defensive lineman from Washington in the early 1990s (Steve Emtman, 4th, 1991). Do you notice anything funny about this list?

No linebackers.

I have been an avid college football fan for nearly 25 years. The fact that I couldn’t remember a single linebacker who finished in the Top 5 of Heisman Trophy voting was peculiar, to say the least. As a die hard BYU fan, I have become accustom to the linebackers being the strength of the defense. Watching college football, not just BYU football, as a kid, I regularly heard television commentators say the middle linebacker was the “quarterback of the defense.”

Historically, a quarterback or a running back almost always wins the Heisman. Players who play defense, wide receiver, or offensive line are at a major disadvantage. If the middle linebacker is the defensive equivalent to a quarterback, then outside linebackers are the defensive equivalent of running backs. Therefore, reason suggests that the defensive players with the best chance of being Heisman Trophy Finalists would be linebackers, right?


It has been 20 years since a linebacker finished in the top 5 of Heisman Trophy voting. Marvin Jones from Florida State finished 4th in 1992. Going back 25 more years, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth was the only linebacker to finish in the top 5 (4th, 1986). That makes a grand total of two linebackers in the last 45 years, while six defensive linemen have had top 5 finishes (Suh, 2009; Emtman, 1991; Green, 1980; Ross Browner, Notre Dame, 5th, 1977; Mike Reid, Penn State, 5th, 1969; Ted Hendricks, Miami, 5th, 1968).

If Kyle Van Noy, or any linebacker, was a Heisman Trophy finalist, or even won the award, this year, it would be historic because he is a linebacker.

2. Why could a linebacker like Van Noy be the one to finally win the Heisman?

One lesson I have learned over the last quarter of a century, is that nothing is impossible in college football. Rather than look at the past voting patterns and consent that a linebacker can’t win the award, it seems appropriate to question what it would take for a linebacker to win the Heisman?

My best answer is that Heisman voters would have to feel that a linebacker has as much influence and impact on the outcome of a game as a quarterback or running back. That influence and impact would be evident by gaudy stats and big plays that change momentum, especially when the game is on the line.

When BYU needed a big play on defense in 2011, Van Noy always seemed to be there. In at least four games, Van Noy made a play, or series of plays, that clearly altered the course of the game.

BYU ventured to Pac-12 country to take on Oregon State. As the second quarter started, the Beavers were threatening to tie the game 7-7. Facing a 3rd down and 6 at the BYU 10-yard line, Oregon State attempted a pass. Van Noy stepped in front of the pass, intercepted it, and returned it 43 yards to midfield. The Cougar offense subsequently scored a touchdown. Rather than a tie game, BYU now held a 14-0 lead, and went on to win 38-28.

This play didn’t win the game, but it ended a scoring threat, and gave BYU lots of momentum.

In the Armed Forces Bowl, Van Noy single handedly pushed Tulsa out of chip-shot field goal range. With 7:34 left in the third quarter, BYU trailed 14-10. Cougar quarterback Riley Nelson had just thrown an interception that set up Tulsa nicely just 35 yards away from a commanding 21-10 lead. The Golden Hurricane picked up 21 of those 35 yards on the first play. Sensing the magnitude of the moment, Van Noy made three straight stops that moved Tulsa back 15 yards. On 4th and 25, Tulsa lined up for a 46-yard field goal attempt. It missed.

Thanks to Van Noy, momentum was back on BYU’s side. The BYU offense immediately drove down the field and scored a go-ahead touchdown to make it 17-14. It was BYU’s first lead of the game just 1:34 before the end of the third quarter. Van Noy’s big stops completely changed the complexion of the game.

Going into game four last year, BYU was 1-2 and could not afford to fall to 1-3. The Cougar offense was having an off night, but with 10:29 to play in the 4th BYU took a 24-17 lead. It was up to Van Noy and the Cougar D to protect that lead. With three minutes left, UCF was knocking on the door at the BYU 17. On back-to-back plays, Van Noy made a stop for no gain, and tipped a pass that was subsequently intercepted.

The BYU offense could not get a first down and run out the clock, so UCF got another chance with 1:10 to play. On 2nd and 8 near midfield, Van Noy dropped into pass coverage. When the UCF quarterback started to scramble, Van Noy abandoned the flat and made a break for the quarterback. Using incredible closing speed, Van Noy dropped the UCF quarterback for a 5-yard loss. Two plays later the game was over.

To open the season, BYU played an SEC foe for just the fifth time in school history. The BYU offense was having trouble finishing drives, and even gave Ole Miss a touchdown. Nevertheless, with under six minutes to play in the game, BYU trailed by just six points. Ole Miss faced a third down at their own 21-yard line. Van Noy lined up over the Rebels’ right tackle. With the quarterback in shotgun, Van Noy pinned his ears back and, on the snap of the ball, came after him. Van Noy blew past the tackle and set his sights on the quarterback. The quarterback saw him and tried to scramble away. It was too late.

Van Noy forced a fumble at the 9-yard line, got up, recovered the fumble at the 3-yard line, and stumbled into the end zone to score a touchdown. The score put BYU up 14-13, with 5:09 to play. The touchdown was, literally, the game-winning touchdown, as the final score was 14-13.  

Besides one opponent being an SEC team and another a Pac-12 team, these were not what you would call “high profile games” and definitely not highly ranked opponents. The point was to provide examples of how a linebacker can impact a game similar to a quarterback or running back on offense. To really attract Heisman attention and to sway voters, a linebacker would need to make these types of plays on a “big stage.”

Kyle Van Noy achieved a rare feat in 2011 by recording a stat in 10 different, meaningful categories: tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks, interceptions, pass breakups, quarterback hurries, forced fumbles, fumble recoveries, punt blocks, and touchdowns. He was the only player in the nation to rank in the top 50 for tackles-for-loss, forced fumbles, punt/kick blocks, sacks, and interception return yards. This stat analysis demonstrates Van Noy’s rare versatility, ability to play sideline to sideline, and do whatever it takes to win.

Where Van Noy’s 2011 stats fail to be Heisman worthy is the gaudiness. His complete stat line looked like this:

68 tackles
15 tackles-for-loss
7 sacks
3 interceptions
3 pass breakups
10 quarterback hurries
1 fumble recovery
3 forced fumbles
1 punt block
1 touchdown

Heisman voters would prefer to vote for a linebacker ranked in the top 10 of three stat categories, as opposed to Van Noy’s top 50 in five. Dominance trumps diversity.

What kind of stat line would be impressive enough? Here are my minimums, and preferred amounts.

Minimum: 100
Preferred: 120

Minimum: 20
Preferred: 25

QB Hurries
Minimum: 20
Preferred: 25

Minimum: 4
Preferred: 6

Forced or Recovered Fumbles
Minimum: 4
Preferred: 6

The minimums are enough to catch anyone’s eye when looking at the season totals, and they would suffice if the linebacker has an inordinate number of games (approximately eight) where he made high impact, game changing plays.

The preferred stats will catch anyone’s eye as season totals and as per game averages. How impressive is it to average 10 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 QB hurries, 1 sack, 0.5 interceptions, 0.5 forced or recovered fumbles every game? It would still be necessary to influence the outcome of four games, preferable three or more high profile games.

As a point of reference, Marvin Jones had 111 tackles and 7 tackles-for-loss in 1992.

Van Noy shared reps a lot in 2011 as a sophomore with three other senior outside linebackers on the roster; therefore, the potential exists for his stats to increase as he plays more in 2012.

Will any linebacker ever make a historic run and win the Heisman Trophy? I don’t know, but this is what I think it will take.

The Editor appreciates all feedback. He can be reached via email at


  1. I honestly think this is an absolutely absurd question.

    However, you made a great case that Van Noy really is a playmaker like no other, and he has a different feel for the game. One BYU fans haven't seen in a long time on his side of the ball. Not even with the amazing linebackers that have come through this school.

    So I do appreciate you bringing to light what he accomplished last season. When he turns into beast mode, it seems like nobody can stop him.


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