The rush to anoint Geno Smith as the new Heisman Trophy front-runner is another example of the nerdification of sports. Observers who swear by plus-minus ratings, play fantasy games and worship at the keys of a calculator are enthralled with Smith's video-game numbers.
In a 70-63 win over Baylor on Saturday, Smith went 45-for-51 for 656 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions, an astounding day's work, to be sure. But one look at the stats of Baylor quarterback Nick Florence (29-for-47, 581 yards) tells you the kind of game it was. Plug another quarterback in, and he likely would have produced similarly.
Smith is a system quarterback in a league run with a joystick. A week earlier against a mediocre Maryland team with a solid defense, Smith looked like a good player in a quarterback-friendly system surrounded by a wealth of versatile, speedy weapons. He hardly looked Heisman worthy.
Forget Baylor and forget Smith's 208.4 passing efficiency rating, the best by far this year in the FBS. Smith's true value will be determined not by numbers but by the eyes of voters, who will see how Smith fares Saturday at No. 11 Texas and on Nov. 3 when the rugged defense of No. 15 TCU comes to Morgantown. The best way to decide among Heisman candidates is to watch them play, not compare numbers.
There's a similar deal going on in baseball in the discussion for American League MVP. The darling of the geeks is Angels outfielder Mike Trout. He and Ryan Braun have been the top-ranked players in fantasy baseball most of the season largely because of fantasy's emphasis on stolen bases. In real baseball, however, the value of a steal has proved to be minimal.
In the AL, the more fitting MVP choice is Miguel Cabrera of the Central-leading Tigers. He has a good chance to become the first player in 45 years to win a Triple Crown. That should end the discussion. But Trout, even though the Angels are on the verge of elimination, still has his devotees, quick to quote his superior WAR (wins above replacement). Most of Trout's supporters, you can bet, are wishing they had him on their fantasy team.
- Kevin Dunleavy