This year ESPN released a list called “Ranking the happiness of every college football fan base.” The survey took into account program power, rivalry dominance, coaching stability, recruiting trend, revenue growth and Twitter buzz. The results were in many ways unsurprising. Wisconsin came in at 14th out of 128 FBS programs. Predictably, its strong suits according to the survey were program power (95/100), revenue growth (98/100) and rivalry dominance (99/100). It’s hard to argue with those numbers.
UW received middling scores in the remaining criteria, with one notable exception. The “Twitter buzz” category was a massive outlier, scoring only 14/100. For a frame of reference, Idaho (the 127th-ranked program in terms of happiness) scored a 37.
Now my purpose here is not to nitpick and point out flaws in a football program that has obviously experienced success of elephantine proportions recently. But one can’t help but wonder why such a prestigious and illustrious program doesn’t create tons of attention on social media. A brief glance at the team’s Twitter page helps to understand this discrepancy. The account is certainly active, posting lots of great videos (replete with Matt Lepay’s glorious radio calls) and funny GIFs. But in many ways it embodies the style of the program writ small. It prides itself on being dependable, reliable and professional without being overly fancy, flashy or (most importantly) controversial. It is not wont to get into beef with other accounts or spew bombast. Nor is it likely to publicly advocate for certain players to win awards — not even a bona fide superstar who’s being overlooked for the Heisman Trophy.
Fortunately, dear readers, I am not limited by such inhibitions.
(Do I have multiple readers? Am I technically allowed to use the plural? I should call a lawyer.)
So, after 300 words of exposition, I am making an announcement: It is on this very page that I launch the Jonathan Taylor Heisman campaign. UW’s true freshman sensation continues to get overlooked in favor of a slew of less-worthy candidates. Don’t get me wrong, Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett, Josh Adams and Bryce Love are all having great seasons. But they’ve also all been prone to down weeks, particularly this week. The notable exception, statistically speaking, is Mayfield — but heck, I could probably throw for 350 yards and 4 touchdowns against Oklahoma State’s defense.
Enter Jonathan Taylor. He leads the Big Ten in rushing by a flabbergasting 400 yards. Saquon Barkley, the media darling of Penn State, has exactly as many yards and touchdowns rushing and receiving combined (1368, 12 TD’s) as Taylor does on the ground alone. Granted, Taylor doesn’t return kicks, but he also doesn’t have Barkley’s peculiar habit of getting trapped in the backfield and blindly spinning in the opposite direction only to find himself right in the arms of a tackler.
J.T. Barrett, meanwhile, tends to vanish altogether on occasion (see last night’s game). Bryce Love has had a tremendous year, but tends to get his yards in big chunks and occasionally disappears as well (also, see last night’s game). And Baker Mayfield has thrown far more interceptions on the year than Jonathan Taylor, and it’s not even close. (Note: I understand the two play different positions)
The most important thing to note here is that all of these players have had less-than-stellar games. That’s of course to be expected —no Heisman winner is ever consistently amazing through the course of a season. But Taylor has done something that none of his competitors can claim; he hasn’t lost a game yet. Heisman trophies aren’t won by having the best record in the country, and we can’t give the running back all the credit for the undefeated record, but he (along with his teammates) has done what’s needed to win games for this team, something that none of the other contenders have been able to do. There have been no “trap games” or upsets at the hands of Iowa or Iowa State or Michigan State. This team keeps on winning, and it has its phenom to thank.
The media will keep pushing Heisman candidates on us, players from the so-called “blue blood” programs who will bring in the most advertising dollars. They will probably continue to do so. Can I objectively say I believe that Jonathan Taylor deserves to (or will) win the Heisman? Probably not, barring an even more amazing stretch to end the year. And his time will come. But continuing to overlook him is a downright abomination. Maybe with grassroots organizing, led by a campaign manager extraordinaire (yours truly), we can get him to New York. It’s the least we can do.