Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

11 Dec 2005

USC's Bush Wins Heisman

I know people have mixed feelings when discussing Bush as the Next Great NFL Running Back, but he's now a Heisman Trophy winner. The two biggest surprises of the proceedings were that Matt Leinart finished a distant third to Vince Young, and 11 people cast third place votes for Bush.

Posted by: P. Ryan Wilson on 11 Dec 2005

44 comments, Last at 14 Dec 2005, 2:11pm by Mr Shush


by Catfish (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 12:50am

Wow! No one could have predicted this! Who would have guessed?


by andrew (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 1:00am

And apparently 1% of the voters didn't put Bush on their ballots at all.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 1:02am

One thing about the Heisman, how come the best college football players have some doubts about them? I mean as impressive as Bush and Leinart are, there are doubts about them. Also Vince Young isn't exactly Mr. Productive Passer (a la Mike Vick). And looking at the past Heisman winners (Crouch and White) looking at their prospective careers (? and ?), maybe winning the Heisman is a bad omen.

by Matthew Furtek (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 1:30am

Because most of the time the Heisman is given to the best player on the top ranked team... at least that's how it seems for the past 15 years.

I'd like to call it the "Barry Sanders Curse", he's the last guy to win it on a bad team.

Look at 1998:
1) Ricky Williams
2) Michael Bishop
3) Cade McNown
4) Tim Couch

2000 Heisman voting:
1) Chris Weinke
2) Josh Heupel
5) Damian Anderson (RB, Northwestern)

Because this is so entertaining...

1) Eric Crouch
2) Rex Grossman
3) Ken Dorsey
4) Joey Harrington
5) David Carr

2002: They got it right!
2) Brad Banks
5) Ken Dorsey
7) Jason Gessar
9) Cliff Kingsbury
10) Quentin Griffin

by ajn (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 1:31am

the idiots at espnradio tonight were going on-and-on about how amazed that nine people didn't put bush, young, or leinart at the top of their ballots (seven for brady quinn and two for michael robinson) and that eighteen cast first place votes for leinart.

the big problem i have with this is that they're arguing that bush should have been the automatic choice because of his exposure ("no one could not have know what he did this year!") and even if you didn't get to see all those usc games (on at midnight on the east coast) then you certainly should have seen the highlight shows and voted accordingly.

am i being stupid or does anyone else like the fact that all nine-hundred ballots didn't look exactly the same? (i guess i'm thinking of this more like the way they do tv ratings - get information from a lot of people who don't necessarily pay attention to the same exact things and look for the most popular choices among them). espn seems to think that everyone who follows college football should watch highlight shows exhaustingly and only pay attention to teams that are highly ranked and play on television every weekend.

by Kevo (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 1:36am

It's because the college game differs so much from the NFL game.

Successful players in college don't necessarily have the tools to be successful in the pros. QBs in college run simpler offenses and tend to have weaker arms in favor of accurate ones. A lot of running QBs are successful because of the availability of the option in college, which doesn't work in the pros because the defenses are just too fast.

A guy like Ron Dayne can rack up tons of yards in college because the defenses can't tackle as well as NFL ones.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 2:01am

Kevo, there's definately a different skill set that it takes to succeed in college to the NFL.

But, I am definately thinking and seeing a total different (or lack of) use of the option in the current game. I think defenses are getting better and faster. College offenses are adjusting (especially I-A) by using the spread more and are scrapping the idea of the option offense. Right, Urban Meyer?!

by tunesmith (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 2:28am

It's pretty funny, it's as if some folks are treating the ballots like they are picks or predictions. People do that in political voting too; vote for the candidate that they think has the best chance of winning. People need to be told that they don't exactly get a prize if their first-place choice ends up being the winner.

by Richard (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 2:45am

isn't the point of having so many ballots to minimize the effect of outlying votes? Else, why have more than one ballot?

by Becephalus (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:18am

Yeah I think the voting for a lot of sports awards suffers from a real "vote for the winner mentality". Of course I also am highly annoyed that it is always QBs and RBs who win the award. They should just make different awards since this seems to not be a "best overall college football player" award anymore. Usually winning the Hiesman tell me nothing other than he racked up huge numbers at a large school and is a QB or RB. Sound more like an MVP award than anything else to me.

Oh well, not like it matter anyway.

by Kevo (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:23am

Ryguy, I agree with you--at least on the defensive side.

I'm not quite sure, however, that college quarterbacks are adapting so well. It seems that for every successful pro-style quarterback, there is a successful scrambling quarterback. It really all has to do with the conference in which the team plays, I think. Urban Meyer isn't exactly setting the world on fire in the SEC with Chris Leak as his QB.

My point is that in college, the players have to fit the system (rather than the other way around) for a team to be successful. Therefore, it's hard to compare teams or players from different conferences--yet another case for a playoff system rather than just a 1 vs. 2.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:36am


I don't really agree. Speed doesn't beat an option - discipline and sure tackling do. Heck, option runs often times make a defense's speed work against them. See the Texas-Texas A&M game for an example. There, Texas A&M was using the option - to consistent success! - even when they had to switch to a running back who's more power than speed.

I don't really see the option going away in college, because you're never going to get a defense full of sure tacklers and disciplined enough in college. The only real reason I think it's declining is that college teams are becoming able to run spread offenses, and so now there's one more choice for them to make.

As for the Heisman voting - I think the thing that ticks me off is that they only invited 3 guys. To me, the person who wins the Heisman isn't that important. You've got well over a thousand players in Division I-A, and only one person is going to win it. Saying "eh, there's only 3 guys who could win it" is flat insulting. Even if you think there's no chance they could win it, to them it's an honor just to be there.

There were 10 people who received votes. No way only 3 people deserved to be at the ceremony.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:44am

Pat I disagree about the Heisman finalists.. when you have players who total up the highest percentage of vote points and Quinn has about 145, I don't think he's worthy of standing there in fourth place for a guy ahead of him who had 785 or so. Plus Quinn had no chance anyway.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:59am

So what? It's not about winning. It's about recognizing more than just one person out of one thousand.

Quinn didn't deserve to stand there? What? Getting any votes at all places you in the 99.9% percentile in college football.

The Heisman voters aren't random, or fluky. They'yre sponsored and chosen. They're supposed to be knowledgeable people. If even one of them thinks you're one of the top players in college football, I don't see how you can possibly say they don't deserve to be acknowledged.

To me it's just another example of the "only winning matters!!" mentality. C'mon, that's just silly.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 4:04am

Ok, time to end up on the bad side of another argument:

Am I the only one who things Bush has the potential to be really awful in today's NFL? Sure, "he's alot like Barry," with his sweet moves, but in all the highlight reels, I've NEVER seen him plow a guy over. Never, not once, ever. Someone who watches USC more closely, can you tell me; does he have the ability to knock between the tackles?

If not, Bush will be like Chris Perry, a First-round 3rd-down back (which is funny, b/c Perry was a between-the-tackles guy when I was at UM).

If this is the case, a.) what a Janikowski-esque waste of a first-round pick + millions of money robbed from established veterans; b.) why all the hype? To quote TMQ, it's a lot of fun to run when everyone in front of you is knocked to the ground, or is too slow as a college LB to catch you.

As usual, I just ain't buying
Bush as being a #1 or even top-10 (first round might be a bit much, but only if I already have a power back).

by Kevo (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 4:18am

I dunno about that--Reggie Bush might be the quickest RB in the draft since Sanders (or at least it looks that way), but I think he can bowl over people like any good power back.

His vision is tremendous--he'll find seams that turn what would turn an extra 2 yards into an extra 20. The only questionable thing about him, to me, is what kind of team he's playing for. It's been said before, but I think the Texans get more out of trading him than they do drafting him. If they could swing a deal with Tennessee, New Orleans, or Cleveland (who by this site's numbers don't have terrible offensive lines), he could be looking at a hell of a career.

by DJAnyReason (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 4:19am


I have a lot of the same suspiscions about Bush... to me, being six feet (i.e., 2 inches too tall) and 200 pounds (i.e., 25 pounds too light) doesn't spell pro running back, let alone #1 overall pick

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 4:33am

*amend my first post: "thinks," not "things" (duh); and instead of "really awful," how about "in comparison to his hype."

I agree with Kevo, that it all depends upon his line, but I think that's a lot to ask of a $40M, 5-year contract #1 pick. And any GM who can be suckered into signing him will be one who commands a team with a failing line.

Last note before bed: one of my buddies wants the Broncos to trade up for him, so he can be the first running back in history to run for 5,000 yards in a season...

by Kevo (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 4:37am

I want my Eagles to draft him so he can be relegated to catching passes out of the backfield.

by Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Person (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 7:28am

And why was Leinart #2 and not Quinn? What a silly exercise, the actual vote is a formality. Quinn has superior numbers everywhere!

by little red tractor (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 9:30am

Kevo, we don't need Bush. We've got Reuben rumblin'!

Just as query, when was the last time an offensive lineman, on either side of the ball, won the Heismann?

by little red tractor (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 9:32am

Yeah, or a defensive lineman, on either side of the ball!!!!
What a dope.
Ban me.

by Tarrant (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 11:03am

Leinart was #3, of course, but you were being sarcastic anyway :)

I was surprised they did not invite Quinn. Not only did he have a great year (and better overall numbers than Leinart, although Leinart had the number that mattered - a head-to-head win over Quinn) but you can't tell me the Heisman Trust isn't salivating over the prospect of Quinn's Heisman run for next year - and what better way to kick it off than inviting him to this year's ceremony?

It stuns me that Bush got a greater percentage of #1 votes than any winner in history. I know there was a huge shift towards him in the last few weeks after the Fresno State game (which was followed by Young's lousy performance in the Texas A&M game - but Bush had some stinkers earlier in the year too) but I didn't think it swelled so high. I mean, Young had a great year too.

As for NFL potential, if Bush has a good offensive line (which he has at USC), he'll be amazing (and I was happy that, in his acceptance speech, he thanked his offensive line, saying that nothing would be possible without them). Unfortunately, as we all know...as the first pick, he may be saddled with a terrible line in perpetuity.


by sippican (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 12:08pm

Unless I'm mistaken, the Heisman is not a trophy awarded for the person most likely to succeed in the NFL. Making a list of people who won it and did nothing in the NFl misses the Heisman point, I'm afraid. Charlie Ward won it, and couldn't get a job. That doesn't mean he didn't deserve it for what he did in college.

I don't follow college ball closely. I was at a friend's house, out of earshot of the TV, and saw a clip of Bush in action. I didn't know who it was, but I went and got everybody, and told them I'd just seen the most amazing college running back I'd ever seen. They all snickered and said it's Reggie Bush, man, without even seeing the clip. I watched until I saw it again. Reggie Bush.

Give him two trophies.

by asg (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 12:34pm

#3: How is Vince Young not a productive passer? He has a 64% completion percentage, 2800 yards, and 26 touchdowns with 10 picks this year. None of those numbers are as good as Leinart's or Quinn's, but they're not shabby!

by Dave (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 12:45pm

If whoever drafts Bush expects him to be Marshal Faulk, and uses him accordingly, he'll be a great player as soon as his team has an average offensive line. If they expect him to be Shaun Alexander (who's only caught ten passes this year), he'll be a bust.

Bush has speed, more power than you'd expect, is a great reciever, and knows how to pass block. But he's not going to last in the NFL if someone tries to hand him the ball 30 times a game and never throw him anything beyond a bail-out screen pass.

by Vinny (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:06pm

I agree with Dave that Bush has more power than you expect. He has looked more powerful this year in short yardage situations, and he's had the opportunity with LenDale White banged up so often.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 3:07pm

I also would like to report a potential injustice on a monumental scale, which just occurred to me:

Matt Leinart has gone to school in Los Angeles, won the Heisman, won or shared two national football championships, will probably win another this year, is a mid-major celebrity in the SoCal area, personal friends with Vince Vaughn, used to date that uber-hot surfer from Ventura, has had his pick-of-the-litter of hot SoCal girls, is a household name...

...and now will likely be selected by the Miami Dolphins. Sure, they're bad this year, but I believe they're one good OL, one average OL, and one good QB away from contending for the AFC East title every year (like they used to only a few years ago). So now he'd get to move to ANOTHER paradise city (where the grass is green and the girls are pretty), be compared to Dan Marino his whole career, and live in the lap of luxury.

I want a refund on destiny; this kid need to be drafted by, oh, I don't know, Buffalo, or some equally miserable franchise/location combination. I'd say Cleveland, but I wouldn't wish Cleveland on my worst enemy...well, maybe before Columbus...

There is no justice in the world.

by Larry (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 6:37pm


I'm going to get on board with you and predict Bush as a non-star in the NFL. His feet stop at the line way too often for me to think he's going to be able to do that and then run through gaping holes in the NFL, like he's been doing in the Pac-10. I could be wrong, but that's my feeling. Doesn't mean he shouldn't have won the Heismann, just my feeling on his pro-career.

by fromanchu (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 10:18pm

ruben, i wouldn't worry about that, there's like eight teams with worse record than the dolphins.

by Ryguy (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 10:52pm

I agree with you Ruben and Larry, I think that Bush's cuts on a dime will not work against this speed in the NFL. He's going to get to be, most likely, with a bad OLine and a team might ask him to do way too much (ie: Jets, 49ers, Packers, Texans-maybe) and then I think he's going to bust out..

But you know if his whole first round thing doesn't work out, he can always return kicks..

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sun, 12/11/2005 - 11:00pm

little red tractor (#21):

I believe Orlando Pace was the last OL to be even considered for a free ticket to Manhattan (see link).

For DLs (also last defensive players to be considered; AJ Hawk was robbed last year, IMO) the last were Julius Peppers and Dwight Freeney in 2001.

It's actually kind of fun to see how the Heisman winners have flopped, when the guys they beat have sterling NFL careers.

by Travis (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 1:05am

Re: 33

Elvis Dumervil (DE-Louisville) received 9 3rd place votes this year.

by Sam B (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 9:15am

Little red tractor:

Could you imagine a Droughns/Bush team??

If we're not getting a top notch LB (or Ngata) in the 1st because we can get someone like DeMeco Ryans in the 2nd, then I would be very pleased if we traded up - we've got the cap room to handle him.

by James, London (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 11:09am

At 6-7, I don't think Miami are gonna get the chance to draft Leinart. As for a 'refund on destiny' he might end up in Baltimore...

by KC (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 11:57am

I think Leinhart will be drafted by the Saints, who will then move to LA, where he can continue pursuing his interests in hot SoCal girls and becoming a major celebrity.

by james (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 2:14pm

1. Heisman is all about the hype. It is the most hyped player award. Let's all just accept that.

2. Reggie Bush is not too small to play in the pros. 200 pound backs...Payton, Sanders, Faulk, Westbrook, early Portis, Tatum Bell, barber, Dunn, etc

3. Option doesn't work in the pros because the safeties and corners are strong run supporters. So if option works against Texas its a sign that they're dbackfield is not good enough, save Huff or its designed terribly.

4. Vince Young throws like a mental patient.

5. If you watch Reggie Bush makes holes look huge by getting defenders to overrun their gaps. Lendale White a sure fire top 25 pick only avgs 6 yds a carry. Bush...nearly 9 yds per carry. The oline is not getting his yards.

6. I'm appauled that my fellow FO readers would be such terrible pro scouts. Go back to the tapes and watch Reggie Bush make future NFL players look like high schoolers. If you want to know how someone going to look in the pros watch them against future NFL players and take note. Mike Huff(1st rd safety) will be a good barometer on Jan 4th.

7. How many backs with great numbers flop in the pros? Almost none.

Here's the list
Ron Dayne- bust, but I argue used wrong
ricky williams-pro bowls
eddie george-pro bowls
rashaan Salam-addicted to weed somehow but managed to gain 1000 yds and get 10 tds in rookie season
sanders-all time great
bo jackson- no explanation necessary
herschel walker-8k yds 82tds
mike rozier-one decent year
marcus allen-hof
george rogers-3 time top 10 rusher
charles white-1300 yd season with John Robinson as coach
earl campbell- hof
tony dorsett-hof

thats 12 backs- 11 had at least one 1000 yard season, arguably 5 are considered all time greats.

Alot of the same arguments against Bush were used against Faulk before he hit the league. He's the first back we've seen thats anything like this since Faulk. Repeated 200 yd games in a non option offense by a back is a great indicator. As long as he doesn't catch the injury bug ala F. Taylor and his infamous Hammie.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 3:26pm

James (37)

You failed to mention:
Ki-Jana Carter
Curtis Enis
Blair Thomas
Anthony Thomas
Errict Rhett
Ty Wheatley
Amp Lee
Darrell Thompson
Dexter Carter
Harvey Williams
Jarrod Bunch
Tony Smith
Vaughn Dunbar
Eric Bienamy
Lawrence Phillips
Trung Canidate
William Green

I'm not sure if you used some arbitrary cut-off in your list, but all of these RBs were drafted since 1990 in the first or early second round, and all put up big numbers in college. I gave a few guys with significant injury problems (Robert Edwards, Biakabatuka) a pass.

Not trying to draw any conclusions, just putting some more data out there.

I wouldn't say Dayne's problem is that he's used wrong. Dayne's problem is that Wisconsin's offensive line, like Nebraska's before them, was so much better than college defensive lines, Dayne (and Michael Bennett) looked much better that he is.

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 3:31pm

It's easier to make a future NFL player look bad when he's the best player on his team; it's not necessarily an indication that someone can make an entire team of current NFL players look bad.

James, I don't know where you got your list of "backs with great numbers", but I noticed that it doesn't include Troy Davis, Byron Hanspard, or LeShon Johnson. Those would be the backs with the 3rd-, 8th-, and 12th-most rushing yards in a I-A season through 2004 (Davis also has the 11th-best season), and all could be considered flops. If you go farther down the list, you'll see Wasean Tait before you get to Ricky Williams. George's one good season is much farther down, past Brian Pruitt, Paul Palmer, and George Jones.

Looking at the career list, right after Charles White (who had the good season you pointed out and a lot of bad ones) is Travis Prentice. Farther down the list are Darren Lewis, Anthony Thompson, and Trevor Cobb.

There are a lot of players who posted solid NCAA numbers and flopped in the NFL. Bush won't necessarily be one of them, but if he is, he'll have plenty of company.

by james (not verified) :: Mon, 12/12/2005 - 5:25pm

My list is past heisman winners at rb. Sorry, I failed to mention that for some reason. I feel that these guys were most bush like as in huge games in big spots. They tended to continue to do so in the pros.

by Nick (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 2:03am

Seriously though - no problem with Bush winning it - but the margin was outragous and only a product of the media's (read ESPN's obsession with USC).

Career rushing stats:
Bush 420-3087-24, 7.4 YPC
Young 438-2927-34, 6.7 YPC

and Vince who apparently "throws like a mental patient" #37 led the NCAA in Passer Rating, not a defense for the NCAA's rediculous rating system but still.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 9:44am


That's easy to do when half of your conference schedule is against the crappy Big 12 North, and you have 2 non-conference games against puffball opponents. How many times did Texas hang 70 on an opponent?

Watch him throw; I haven't seen crummy shot-putting like that since...John Navarre...?

No, seriously, more like Jason White, I guess, but I've never actually SEEN Akili Smith play, so there's always that possibility. Someone burns up a top-5 on Young, and a GM somewhere gets canned in 3 yrs because of it, I betcha.

by james (not verified) :: Tue, 12/13/2005 - 1:15pm

re 42:
Gotta disagree with you on Vince Young. He's shown that he will at least make an effort to get better every year. That's something alot of "busts" just don't do: try.
I just think he throws weird.

Vince Young is 230 pounds. Stretched out 6'5" or not that is alot of dude to coral. I've been very impressed with the ease in which he breaks tackles.

Vince Young is a terrific football player, but he's no Reggie Bush. Comparing rushing stats of QBs and running backs is definitely apples and oranges. Thats like comparing kickoff returns and punt returns.

My point: I think Vince Young is a top 10 pick if he comes out next year and will add another dimension if he is drafted by the right organization. If he improves as much next year as he did this year then the right team will be getting a great football player with hall of fame potential. If he goes to the Lions then he is doomed.

by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Wed, 12/14/2005 - 2:11pm

We don't get to watch a lot of college football over here in the UK, so of the Heisman nominees the only one I've ever actually seen play is Quinn. What I would like to say is that as a Texans fan, even if it was guaranteed that Bush would be the second coming of Marshall Faulk, I would favour trading down. The team desperately needs depth and quality at OL and in the defensive front 7, and that means we need extra picks, not really high picks. Moreover, I think that the hype around Bush is such that the first pick in this draft will probably have considerably more trade value than the draft pick value chart (which over-values high found one picks anyway) would suggest.

A chart linked to elsewhere on the site by MDS (click my name) suggests that the first overall pick is worth significantly more than the entire draft of the team in no.4. If the Jets fancy handing us their whole 2006 draft and some of 2007 just for Reggie Bush, I will be delighted.

Of course, in reality, the team will go on to prove that their ability to blow leads really is down to mental fragility not chucking, as they proceed to blow the race for no 1 in similarly spectacular fashion by beating the 9ers in week 17.