Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Aug 2005

Heisman Winner White Done with Football

I don't mean to be insensitive, but contrary to the suggestion of this article, it's not his bad knees that are ending Jason White's football career. It's his bad arm. I've always hated the way the quarterback for the best team in the country always gets too much credit in college football, and I don't know if that's ever been more true than at Oklahoma. I'm sure he's a nice guy who will go on to do fine things, but when I think of White I'll think of a guy who won the Heisman because he had great teammates around him.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 11 Aug 2005

29 comments, Last at 13 Aug 2005, 1:52pm by Trogdor


by Derek (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 3:47pm

Kind of odd...Heisman winner Jason White is done with football while USC's BACKUP quarterback, Matt Cassel, continues his career with New England after throwing all of 33 passes in college.

What a bizarre award. I guess the new "Race for the Heisman" feature in NCAA 2006 should give players the option of moving onto the CFL or selling insurance.

by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 3:48pm

I completely agree. The biggest indication of the quality of the team around him: his top three wide receivers at Oklahoma were drafted this year in rounds 1, 2, and 3. I don't know that that has ever happened before. Nevertheless, although his arm kept him from getting drafted, it was indeed his knees that made him retire.

by Mike L (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 4:57pm

The Heismann Hype isn't really fair to people like Jason White or Eric Crouch. All of these false expectations are created for the player, and they're treated like failures when they aren't successes in the NFL. Stupid sports media. Seems like they try to build these guys up to tear them down.

by Carl (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 5:21pm

Uhhhh, I would humbly suggest that the sports marketing firms hired by large universities (often on the taxpayer's dime) to boost the Heisman prospects of a player have a far larger effect on determining the so-called "best player in college football" than a bunch of reporters.

Full disclosure: Although not a Heisman voter, I do elect other top-whatever players for various meaningless awards. In 2003, I voted for Ben Roethlisberger (Miami of Ohio). Ironically, I opted for Clayton over Roethlisberger for rookie of the year.

by Vinny (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 5:25pm

When I think of White I'll think of a very good college QB whose teammates let him down in the biggest games of his career.

by jack (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 5:38pm

Just another example of how much poorer the overall quality of play in college football is compared to the NFL.

by Tim (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 5:51pm

I think it's not so much a sign of the poorer quality of college play as of its unevenness. Some teams (like Oklahoma) have so much talent that their lesser players look like world beaters, but when they get to the NFL where every player would excel at Oklahoma, they suddenly look extremely ordinary. Of course I'm not saying that the talent level isn't higher in the NFL; the very best players from all 117+ college teams are condensed into 32 NFL teams. But Jason White's fall from grace is more of a sign that he was on a poor man's NFL team already, and the teams he looked so good against weren't fair competition at all.

by Jerry F. (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 6:06pm

I don't see why it's such a problem that the media will write an article about a Heisman winner retiring. Few people have any real expectations for these guys, and I don't see anybody treating them like failures. But when a really famous football player retires, it's worthy of a story. Here, as is usually the case, the story is pretty positive.

by B (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 6:19pm

Even during his Heismann season, was there really any consideration that White would be a successful NFL QB? I'm not saying that the Heismann should go to the guy with the best NFL potential, but shouldn't it at least go to the best athlete on a team?

by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 8:07pm

Was White the first Junior to win the award, since Archie Griffin, and then stay to play his senior season? (Leinart being the second.)

by carl s (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 8:43pm

It's the most common problem for these MVP-type awards: idiots voting for the guy on the best team who has a lot of stats, in baseball RBI and in football passing TDs. Did anyone actually believe that Oklahoma wouldn't be at least as good with Eli at QB?

by Vinny (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 8:44pm

Good question. From Heisman.com, it looks like Billy Sims won the Heisman in 1978 as a junior and came back as a senior to finish second to Charles White. Ty Detmer won the Heisman in 1990 and came back as a senior to finish third behind Desmond Howard and the infamous Casey Weldon (FWIW, one of the toughest QBs I've ever seen play).

by Jersey (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 9:42pm

I never understood what made White so worthless ot the NFL. Honestly, he's done a lot in college and there are plenty of QBs who have done less. What is the huge difference between him and Lienhart (besides the last game of the year last year). He wasn;t considered a NFL QB before that, so don't mention that game. Someone tell me why he isn't worth even an atempt. Plenty of guys have had great WRs and teams.

by SteelerBill (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 10:51pm

I agree - best player on best team does not equate to NFL success....

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Thu, 08/11/2005 - 11:46pm

It is weird though. I mean, even before he injured his knee before the Big 12 championship game in 2003, NFL scouts were being very public about the fact that they didn't see him as having any real NFL chance. Here's a guy that, yes, had some 1st-round talent at other positions on the field, but still, up until that point, he had been a beast at his position. Yet he wasn't even getting a glance from the Powers That Be.

I can see a case where he gets injured and suddenly scouts aren't as interested in him as they were before but they had no interest in, and there was zero excitement about, him before his injury.

That's unusual for a quarterback that was having the kind of season he was having in 2003.


by King Kaufman (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 1:19am

I’m not saying that the Heismann should go to the guy with the best NFL potential, but shouldn’t it at least go to the best athlete on a team?

It goes to the best quarterback, running back or, occasionally, wide receiver on a major conference team that goes to a big bowl, provided that player got sufficient Heisman publicity prior to the season. It's very, very similar to the way figure skaters are awarded Olympic medals, but with a team aspect added in.

by Erasmus (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 4:23am

Heismans are only given to the cool kids.

by Russell (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 7:16am

White's NFL potential (or lack thereof) was always about arm strength (or lack thereof). He put up huge numbers because he threw the ball a ton on a dominant team. He's a smart QB who knew the offense, but never had the arm strength to throw balls into coverage in the NFL. And a complete lack of mobility certainly doesn't help.

Of course the overall level of play in college is far below the NFL, but the real reason why guys like Jason White are able to succeed at top college programs is because they play on dominant teams, whose opposition isn't talented enough to expose their weaknesses they way an NFL defense would.

by Jersey (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 10:57am

I agree the opposition is soft at times, but Oklahoma's 2004 schedule was not soft, in fact CONSIDERABLY harder than Lienhart's 2004 schedule. Like I said, I just understand why this guy can't get a look while Lienhart's backup gets a roster spot. Blows my mind. Arm strength can be developed, and lack there of has been the critism of MANY Qbs who turned into all-stars when given the chance.

I'm not a white fan, dont get me wrong. I actually dislike Oklahoma. But I can't help but feel like he should be able to make some team as a 3rd stringer.

by Catholic Samurai (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 11:59am

RE #19:
"I’m not a white fan..."


by Tarrant (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 12:05pm

Considerably harder?

Revisionist history perhaps?

Oklahoma's 2004 schedule:

Bowling Green
Texas Tech
Texas (neutral)
@ Kansas State
@ Oklahoma State
@ Texas A&M
@ Baylor

USC's 2004 schedule:

Virginia Tech (neutral, although on east coast)
Colorado State
@ Stanford
Arizona State
@ Washington State
@ Oregon State
Notre Dame

Oklahoma - 11 games (not including Big 12 championship), 6 home games, 4 away, 1 neutral, all nonconference games at home

USC - 12 games, 6 home games, 5 away games, 1 neutral, 1 away nonconference game, 1 neutral nonconference game


Sagarin: USC 7, OU 13
ColleyMatrix: USC 18, OU 9
TeamRankings: USC 70, OU 67
NCAA: USC 18, OU 11

We're not exactly talking a tremendous difference here (note that in most of these rankings, save the NCAA's, which only takes into account wins and losses, and not opponent's opponents, Auburn is quite far down from both these teams).

And the more important stat - Leinart won when it mattered most and when the pressure was on. White had his worst games when it mattered most.

That said, it's White's injury that forced his retirement, but the complete lack of interest prior to the injury is still unusual.


by Steelersin06 (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 2:48pm

RE #19
I think that post highlights why NFL scouts had little interest in White, and why so many "good" college QBs face the same apathy. White had/has no "upside." At best he is interchangable with many other 24-29 year old QBs bouncing around the league. NFL teams look for three things in back-up QBs: (1) enough talent and ability to start so the team does not miss a beat if the starter is injured (harder to get in these salary cap days; (2) a solid experienced back-up that knows and can execute the offense; (3) young (sometimes old and troubled, ala Jeff George) guy with talent upside that could eventually be a star or at least a starter.
White obviously is not ready to start, and he certainly is not number 1 or 2. And I have never heard anyone, even White's most fervent fans, say that they believe that White could be anything more then adequate (if that) in the NFL.
Most (all) NFL teams would rather have their third string QB be raw and talented (with the supposed potential upside) then a solid player whose perceived talent level is third-string.

by rk (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 3:05pm

Everyone keeps saying that no one even gave White a chance. But I remember someone (maybe the Chiefs) signing him after the draft then cutting him after a couple practices because he wasn't good enough.

by Jersey (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 4:10pm

Fair enough, I just thought I had remember reading a lot about how Oklahoma's schedule was a lot harder than USCs. I guess I should have done my homework alittle more. I dunno, until last year I did not see much a difference between White "College's "GReat team system quarterback just wins" and Tom Brady (same arguments, lack of arm strength, but wins, blah lbah blah). Now White has disappeared in the big games, while Brady certainly hasnt, so that no longer holds, but at one time I think it did, yet it wasn't perceived that way. Well the world will never know now will it. White certainly couldn't have been any worse than leaf :p.

by Vinny (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 6:06pm

I always viewed the "lack of arm strength" knock on Brady as off the mark. He showed very good arm stength in college and has done so in the NFL as well. I'm not saying he has a Marino/Favre type arm, but he can certainly force a tight spiral into traffic when needed.

It just seems like an easy cop-out by scouts/front office folks when they don't like a college QB and they can't articulate their reasons. Especially since they can tell a sportswriter some kid lacks arm strength and the sportswriter always goes for it hook, line and sinker.

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 08/12/2005 - 6:40pm

That's a really good point, Vinny. I wish just once a sportswriter who repeats something about a quarterback's arm strength would actually give some evidence, like "he had a receiver open 40 yards downfield but badly underthrew him."

by Trey (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 12:44am

For teams like Oklahoma & Florida State, you often have what I call "Quarterback Hiding", the surrounding team is so good the media does not know if the quarterback is any good. Russell explained this concept well in #18. If a team like Florida State or Miami has a quarterback that is struggling like Chris Dix or Berlin then you know he really sucks. People wonder why Florida State quarterbacks are a joke year after year, hell they face little adversity until they make the NFL.

I strongly believe NFL scouting knew White's knees were really, really bad. His arm strength is good enough to be a backup.

As far as White losing the last two big games keep in mind he played with a broken throwing hand versus LSU suffered versus Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game. White also broke his foot during the LSU game. Plus Oklahoma had no chance to establish a running game versus LSU's tremendous run defense. See how well a polished NFL quarterback plays when your running game produces the expected 50 yards?

Oklahoma's problem versus USC was their secondary.

I detest people that rate NFL quarterback greatness with Superbowl rings. Outside of specials, 22 guys all play a role. I guess Elway would be rated much lower if the other elements of his team did not improve to allow him to win a few rings. White, like the younger Elway, was a great player stuck on a flawed team (03- running game, 04-pass defense).

by apocalipstick (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 1:34am

White's arm strenght is terrible and his mechanics are deficient. He's sub-Detmer in that department, and anyone who's watched a Detmer play for any length of time in the NFL knows that's bad. Brady, on the other hand, always had a fantastic stroke. Good mechanics will enable a QB to maximize arm strength. White's ball is a floater. Any NFL safety would be licking his chops after one series watching White loft that beach ball.

by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sat, 08/13/2005 - 1:52pm

I always thought the important thing with arm strength (on the NFL level) is not the ability to throw it 85 yards, but the ability to zip it to a receiver through seams in coverage, or on an out. Even the weakest-armed college QB can throw it 'long' and let it float, but if you float it on an out route in the NFL it's 6 for the defense. Watching White over the past few years, he did really float his passes, and never really seemed to be able to zip it in there. Combine that with two knees that could fall apart at any moment, and I'm not the least bit surprised he wasn't deemed NFL quality.