The finalists for Saturday night’s Heisman Award ceremony are out. And yet, they are incomplete.
If ever a season called for a defensive player to win the Heisman it is 2016. I don’t have a vote, and I can only assume that those who do have not remained awake while watching Alabama ripsaw through its (thus far) 13 games. Otherwise, how did the Crimson Tide’s Category 5 defensive lineman Jonathan Allen not make the cut? How can this guy not at least be in position to win the big bronze doorstop?
In general, defensive players get short-sheeted for the award, the only one to break through the Heisman glass ceiling was cornerback Charles Woodson in 1997. And in his case, he also made his name on special teams and sporadically on offense. Besides, Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning should have won it that year.
Defenders, after all, make up half the football-playing population. No matter how rules-makers have tried to diminish them, they are rather important to the tapestry of the game. And yet the Heisman voters continue to neglect them.
As the most dynamic player on the nation’s best defense which anchors college football’s indisputably best team, Allen should have Heisman written all over him. If only Nick Saban had allowed him to do something cute, like run one in at goalline or report himself as eligible on offense, then perhaps he would have passed the silly swimsuit portion of the Heisman beauty contest.
The Nagurski Trophy people recognized, naming Allen the best defensive player in college football – ahead of the one defender, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, included among the Heisman finalists.
The only Alabama game I witnessed in person this season was the match-up with Texas A&M, and that’s all anyone should have needed to see to know that Allen was of Heisman stature.
“Did I just see that?” I asked myself immediately after Allen’s flying sack of Trevor Knight. Indeed, a 300-pound fellow had just hurled himself over a running back attempting to chip him low, and flew parallel to the ground into Knight’s chest. It was, well, stunning.
He also helped turn that game with a 30-yard touchdown return of a fumble, just as he had held off Ole Miss with a 75-yard touchdown fumble return. Allen’s big-play thumb drive is full.
Allen leads this formidable defense in quarterback hurries (15), shares the team lead in sacks (8.5) and has 13.0 tackles for a loss. There is no stat for quarterback psychological traumas, but Allen would lead that, too.
With 26.5 career sacks, Allen is second on the Tide's all-time list behind NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
So, yeah, I’d have no problem voting for a defensive lineman of this stripe over the record-setting Louisville quarterback whose team has lost its last two games.
Or the Oklahoma quarterback who has righted the Sooners after a 1-2 start, and who will not be a part of the playoff conversation.
Or even Gainesville’s own Deshaun Watson, the very worthy Clemson quarterback who is returning to the Heisman show for a second time and may yet have one more pressing meeting with Allen pending. Although here my argument starts to break down a little bit given that Alabama conceivably could be in its current position without Allen while Clemson would be off to some innocuous million-dollar bowl without Watson. (Here I’ll counter myself with the reminder of Watson’s three interceptions in the loss to Pitt).
Did we even mention Allen’s recommitment to Alabama and the college game when he could have been a first-round draft pick last year? OK, now we did.
The perfect time had come to promote a dominant defensive player to Heisman heights. And now it is gone.