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Tyrann Mathieu: Or How Two Punt Returns For Touchdowns Make A Heisman Finalist

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Tyrann Mathieu is an exciting player to watch and has helped LSU to an undefeated record, but he should not be a Heisman candidate.

LSU defensive back and punt returner was one of five finalists named for the Heisman trophy.
LSU defensive back and punt returner was one of five finalists named for the Heisman trophy.

ESPN has announced this year's Heisman finalists, which included a surprise name: Tyrann Mathieu. If you watched either of LSU's last two contests, you know who he is. Mathieu, a sophomore, plays cornerback and returns punts for the Tigers. He goes by the nickname of Honey Badger. For most of the season, he was pretty non-existent on most Heisman lists.

Here's what happened; it's really pretty simple. In two heavily-watched games, Mathieu helped trigger LSU comeback wins with punt returns for touchdowns. Against Arkansas, it was a 92-yard return; against Georgia he went for 62-yards and almost took another one to the house, were it not for a shoelace tackle.

Apparently a few big, emotional moments mean more to Heisman voters than the whole body of work. Count Mathieu's invitation to New York as a victory for the instant. We have Facebook, Twitter, microwaves, and now Mathieu.

What else did Mathieu do this year? To be clear, he's a dangerous player who has enjoyed a fine season. I'm not trying to take that away from him. He made 71 tackles on the year, contributed 1.5 sacks, picked off two passes, caused an impressive five fumbles, and picked up two fumbles and ran them back for touchdowns. A pretty good resume, for sure. As a punt returner, he's averaged an electrifying 16.5 yards per return. (Why do teams continue to kick to him, again?) If he stays at LSU, he'll continue to terrorize opponents as an excellent defensive and special teams player for two more years.

But the Heisman is reserved for the best player in college football, and the best player has to influence more than Mathieu does. Against Alabama, for example, in LSU's biggest game of the year, Mathieu returned zero punts, had no interceptions or fumble recoveries, but came up with five tackles. Could you imagine Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck or Alabama running back Trent Richardson having that little impact on a game, let alone the most competitive one of the year?

Let's look at some guys who got left the list. Kellen Moore, Boise State's quarterback, has a passer rating of almost 177. As a four-year starter for the Broncos, he has led his team to a record of 49-3. That includes two wins in bowl games in three tries. Or how about Houston quarterback Case Keenum? Sure, his Cougars muffed their conference championship game against Southern Mississippi, but on the year he completed 72% of his passes with a 45:5 touchdown to interception ratio. That's insane. Shoot, let's even compare a defensive candidate, if you want. Middle Linebacker Luke Kuechly played on a below average Boston College team, but finished with 191 tackles on the year. For all you math majors out there, that's almost 16 a game. Oh, and he intercepted three passes, which is more than Mathieu did as a defensive back.

It's hard to get into the minds of voters, whoever these people are, but maybe they figured someone from LSU belonged in the race, and Matheiu was the best option they could come up with.