Bryce Young won the Heisman Trophy

The instructions for the 928 voters who voted for this year’s Heisman Trophy were as simple as ever: no fewer than three nominees for College Football’s Most Outstanding Player.

Members of the media (145 in each of six geographic regions) and former Heisman winners (currently live 58) who submitted their votes electronically by 5 p.m. Monday were not told to consider how valuable a player was for his team’s success, consider whether the player played at the highest level (an Oberlin College player has the same right as an Oklahoma player), or valued one position or side of football over another.

There was no suggestion that academic prowess, community involvement, or issues of moral baseness should be part of the equation.

Just choose the most outstanding player.

Yet while voters in the information age have more data than ever to consider, how they choose the winner of the Heisman Trophy has changed little over the years: quarterbacks dominate, victory matters, and core work must be backed up. the Heisman moment. the more viral the better.

So it was Saturday night, when quarterback Bryce Young became the second consecutive Alabama player — and fourth in the past 13 seasons — to win the Heisman Trophy, finishing comfortably ahead of other finalists invited to New York: the Michigan defense. end Aidan Hutchinson, Pittsburgh defenseman Kenny Pickett and Ohio State defenseman CJ Stroud.

Consider that Young, a precocious sophomore who played behind an often leaky offensive line and produced flawless play in Alabama upset Georgia last Saturday in the Southeastern Conference title game may not even be the best player on his team. Many have given that honor to Will Anderson, a formidable pass rusher who leads the nation with 32½ tackles behind the line of scrimmage. (Anderson finished fifth in the voting.)

The same can be said for Stroud, a freshman quarterback who, after some initial troubles, ran the best offense in the nation, built around three elite receivers who are constantly exposed. Pickett Sr. put up similar numbers on video games and could certainly claim to have influenced the game: the fake slide and touchdown game he used in the Atlantic Coast conference title game was outlawed for weeks.

Hutchinson, who has 14 sacks, including three Strouds in Michigan victory over Ohio State is only the third quarterback to finish in the top four since another Wolverine, Charles Woodson, became the only quarterback to win a Heisman in 1997. Manty Theo of Notre Dame also finished second in 2012.

Yet for one of American sports’ most cherished honors, little has changed in how selectors make their selections. Over the past decade or so, more sophisticated statistical analysis has drastically changed the way baseball awards are determined, with old reserves like batting average and pitcher wins dwindling in favor of other metrics that may even account for ballparks.

And in basketball, points and rebounds have been placed in a more detailed context to detail the efficiency with which they were collected.

“Guys who are underperforming and making highlights were easier to prosecute 10 years ago,” said Ryan Jones, former editor of SLAM magazine, noting that high-volume shooters like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant would be valued slightly less today. favorably.

“You don’t have to be an avid analyst to appreciate Steph Curry or what Jokic – or Giannis did,” he added, referring to the NBA’s top scorer and two of its past MVPs, Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. both have an all-round game. “Some of them are really obvious, but the extended stats sometimes tell you in a different way how impressive some of these things are.”

There has been an even greater reimagining in baseball.

In 1990, Bob Welch, who had a 27-6 record for the Oakland Athletics, won the American League Cy Young Award, comfortably beating Roger Clemens, who was 21-6 for the Boston Red Sox. But Clemens recorded a league-leading 10.4 wins over substitutions, or WAR, a more recent metric that evaluates a player’s value to a team based on more detailed data. Welch, who recorded far fewer strikeouts and allowed far more home runs, had a modest 2.9 WAR, the lowest of the top seven players this season.

Wins have now been so discounted in favor of other measures that Jacob de Grom won back-to-back Cy Young awards for the Mets, posting a 21-17 walker record in the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

The thinner lens also changed how Baseball Hall of Fame voters gave new life to candidates like Tim Raines, Edgar Martinez, and Larry Walker who were passed over because they didn’t hit milestones like 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, or 300 victories.

“They’ve been on the ballot for a long time, but voters have put them on top of everything by looking at the new numbers and giving them more weight,” said Ryan Thibodeau, who tracks Hall of Fame voting as writers build their ballots. public. “Young voters rely on these metrics more than old-school voters.”

Football has taken longer to catch up with other sports in using data to explain performance. Of course, numbers have been part of the fabric of baseball since the scoring system existed, and keeping track of total points has always been elementary in basketball. Metrics that could better explain offensive line performance or linebacker playing ability or the context of a quarterback’s performance in today’s game are far from common currency.

Anthony Trish, who analyzes college football players for Pro Football Focus, said the Heisman Trophy, like other awards, has essentially become a team award. His message to voters: go beyond glasses and what you see online.

“I don’t want to question voter confidence, but do we really have the best information to know who the best players are?” he said. “Keep your mind open to new ideas in evaluating players.”

Until that happens, players like Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum, who has been ranked by Pro Football Focus as the highest Power 5 convention center score in eight years, or Cincinnati cornerback Ahmad Gardner, who has given up 96 receiving yards in 12 games—nearly all. in press coverage – or Anderson from Alabama will have to watch Heisman’s ceremony from home.

And the rare defender like Michigan’s Hutchinson who deserves an invitation to New York will have to be content with using his front row seat to applaud the winner.