The Heisman Trophy voters have been relatively kind to SEC member schools, with nine of the 74 total statuettes belonging to players from current SEC member schools. One of the winners though, South Carolina RB George Rodgers, won his in 1980 when the Gamecocks were still an independent school. Overall, five of the 36 schools that have Heisman winners now reside in the SEC.
Now, I say "relatively" because the history of the trophy extends to back when the game was very different from today's. Ten winners attended schools currently not in a Big Six conference, an Ivy Leaguer won it as recently as the 1950s, and a service academy player won it as recently as the 1960s. Sure the nine SEC winners barely outpace seven-time winners Notre Dame, Ohio State, and USC, but no one ever said the voting was entirely without bias. Just ask the West Coast schools outside the L.A. Colosseum.
For 2009, the SEC's best chance is clearly Tim Tebow. He's trying to become the second two-time winner ever and along with Big 12 quarterbacks Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford, he's one of the top three frontrunners.
But what about guys beyond Tebow?
The next best candidate, assuming his team fulfills expectations, would be Ole Miss QB Jevan Snead. Even though the award is supposed to go to the most outstanding player regardless of position, it nearly always goes to the nation's highest profile running back or quarterback. Quarterbacks have had a good run of it lately, winning eight of the last nine hunks of bronze.
That sets Snead up quite well as the conference's next best shot should Tebow falter. He's got all the skills you could want in a quarterback, and he's got a nice complement of skill position players around him to highlight those skills. If Ole Miss was to go 10-2 or better, win the SEC West, and upset Florida in the SEC title game, there would be an awful lot of people putting Snead right at the top of their ballots.
Tennessee is attempting to mount a campaign for safety Eric Berry, but that is an uphill climb. Charles Woodson, the man who stole Peyton Manning's Heisman in 1997, is the only defensive player to win the award, but he also was a return man and even played a bit part as a receiver. Berry, the best anyone can tell, will not be doing either and instead will just be a safety. He racks up a lot of interception return yards, so the hope in Knoxville is that those will adequately substitute for returning kicks.
The big chance for Berry and Snead is that people will get tired of the three front runners. We've been hearing about McCoy and Bradford nonstop since before last season, and for Tebow it's been since before the 2007 season. It's unlikely that all three will have bad seasons, so the window of opportunity comes with either oSnead or Berry making big plays in big games and capturing the imagination of voters who are looking for something fresh. Unfortunately for their chances, "something fresh" almost never seems to describe what the traditionally stodgy Heisman voters look for in a candidate.
The only other SEC player I've seen get a mention for consideration was LSU RB Charles Scott by CBS. If LSU comes back in a big way and Scott is the driving force behind the offense, then I can see him getting some votes. I can't see him winning it though since in recent history, you either have to have serious flash (like Reggie Bush), break the all-time rushing record (like Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne), or put up just obscene numbers (1,900+ yards for Eddie George, 2,000+ yards for Rashaan Salaam) to win the trophy as a running back. Scott can't juke like Bush could, isn't in striking distance of any records, and won't get past 1,900 yards in LSU's diverse offense.
Tebow is definitely the most likely to take home the trophy, but keep an eye on Snead and Berry. Between those three, the SEC has a nice crop of candidates in 2009.