Tavon Austin Deserves to Be in the Heisman Hunt


November 3, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin (1) returns a kick-off against the TCU Horned Frogs during the second quarter at Milan Puskar Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Lost in the recent West Virginia collapse is the incredible play of Tavon Austin. Without Austin’s jaw-dropping performances, the Mountaineers would have not been competitive in the last couple games and likely would not have won 5 games this season.

To refresh the casual fan of what Austin has done this season, let’s take a look at his statistics so far:

  • As an inside receiver: 100 receptions for 1,050 yards and 11 touchdowns
  • As a running back: 35 carries for 447 yards and 2 touchdowns
  • As a kick returner: 26 returns for 692 yards and 1 touchdown
  • As a punt returner: 14 punt returns for 123 yards and 1 touchdown
  • In total: 175 touches for 2,312 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also has a tackle on the season.

Tavon Austin can literally do it all, scoring touchdowns four different ways. Without his performances this season, the Mountaineers would be nowhere close to their 5-5 record. He is a threat to take the football to the endzone on every touch in four different dimensions (running, receiving, kick returning, and punt returning). You cannot make that same argument for the other Heisman hopefuls. Let’s see how Austin stacks up to some of the leading Heisman candidates:

  • John Manziel has thrown for 3,047 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He has also run for 1,114 yards and 17 touchdowns.
  • Colin Klein has thrown for 2,306 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He has also run for 787 yards and 20 touchdowns.
  • Manti Tei’o has tallied 96 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 6 interceptions.
  • Braxton Miller has thrown for 1,850 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He has also run for 1,214 and 13 touchdowns.
  • Marcus Mariota has thrown for 2,371 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He has also run for 605 yards and 3 touchdowns.
  • Kenjon Barner has totaled 1,426 rushing yards, 232 receiving yards, and 20 total touchdowns.

For starters, there is ZERO chance that a linebacker takes home the Heisman trophy. The only defensive player to ever win, Charles Woodson, also caught touchdown passes and returned kicks/punts for touchdowns. Unless Notre Dame lets Te’o start lining up as a tight end, he will finish third or fourth on the Heisman ballot.

October 20, 2012; Morgantown, WV, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers receiver Tavon Austin (1) returns a kick-off against the Kansas State Wildcats during the first quarter at Milan Puskar Stadium. The Kansas State Wildcats won 55-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Tavon Austin does not have the total yards or touchdowns like the rest of the top candidates, but that is because all the other leading candidates are quarterbacks. They get 100% of the offensive touches where as Austin has to share the touches with Smith, Bailey, Buie, and other Mountaineers. What should help Austin’s case is that he is only responsible for one turnover on the season. He got taken by surprise by a funny bounce on a punt against Oklahoma State when he was waiving off the return. That is at least 6 fewer turnovers than Manziel and Miller, 5 fewer than Klein.

The biggest difference between Austin and the rest of the Heisman candidates is that he is a threat in four different ways. Manziel, Klein, and Miller are all great dual threat passers and runners, but they are not a factor in special teams the way that Austin is. Barner has been one of the best running backs in the country, but has really failed to show that he is anything more than just a solid rusher.

Austin is #2 in the nation in all-purpose yards per game, averaging 231.2 yards per game. Austin averages 13.21 yards per touch, that is better than Manziel (8.56 yards/attempt passing and 6.5 yards per rush), Klein (8.94 yards/attempt passing and 4.6 yards per rush), Mariota (8.23 yards/attempt passing and 6.7 yards per rush) and Miller (7.84 yards/attempt passing and 5.9 yards per rush). Austin especially shines over Barner’s 6.94 yards per touch, the closest comparison to Austin’s all-purpose game.

Two factors are working against Tavon Austin’s campaign: 1.) West Virginia’s record and 2.) Geno Smith.

Too often has the Heisman trophy gone to one of the better players on one of the top teams in the country. The Heisman has pretty much become a team award more so than an individual award. Robert Griffin III somewhat bucked that trend last year, as the Baylor Bears were not in the BCS hunt, but still demonstrating that if your team is not ranked you are unlikely to receive any recognition for your outstanding play.

Nov 10, 2012; Stillwater OK, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith (12) looks down field during the first quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Rowe-US PRESSWIRE

More so than the Mountaineers record, Geno Smith is the biggest hindrance to Austin’s late push for the Heisman. Smith, after the first 6 weeks of the season, was the consensus pick to win the Heisman trophy. Through five games, Geno had 25 touchdown passes on no interceptions, eclipsing the performance of RGIII.

Then the wheels came off in Lubbock, TX and the media soured on the Mountaineers. With so many in the national media crediting Smith with the Mountaineers success for the 5 game winning streak, it will be difficult to persuade them to take another look at Austin.

Unfortunately, the Heisman is more beauty pageant than an objective award. A gorgeous as Tavon Austin’s play has been as of late, I do not see the national media giving Austin an invite to New York. It is a shame, because Austin is far and away the most versatile and explosive player in college football.

Manziel, Miller, Te’o, and the rest simply do not compare. It is up to Mountaineer Nation to spread the word and change the minds of the national media.

If the media spent a little more time checking out the numbers, they would see that on a per touch basis, Tavon Austin shatters the competition. There is no getting around the fact: Austin is the most dangerous player in the nation with the ball in his hands in both offensive and special teams play.

If that doesn’t deserve the Heisman trophy, then the whole process is broken.