National Columnist

Navy's Dobbs deserves Heisman, but can he win it?


Ricky Dobbs can't win the Heisman Trophy. That's what the experts would tell you. That's what any idiot would tell you, too. Ricky Dobbs plays quarterback for Navy, and quarterbacks at Navy don't win the Heisman -- not since Roger Staubach won it in 1963, and as we all know, the world has changed since 1963. Army and Navy are out. Southern California and Florida are in.

But I don't care about any of that. That sort of history -- the "trend" sort of history, where things happen a certain way because they've always happened that way -- is for losers and followers. Ricky Dobbs can't win the Heisman because he plays for a service academy? Not good enough for me. I hope it's not good enough for you.

Ricky Dobbs broke Tim Tebow's record of rushing TDs in a season. (Getty Images)  
Ricky Dobbs broke Tim Tebow's record of rushing TDs in a season. (Getty Images)  
Because this is the year. Dobbs is the player. If this is romantic or even naïve, clamoring for the guy from Navy, sue me. But USC just returned de facto professional Reggie Bush's Heisman from 2005, and the NCAA is investigating almost half the SEC for agent issues -- including Florida -- so I'm not real high right now on college football's status quo. Ricky Dobbs isn't the status quo, but he is the vice president of the senior class at the U.S. Naval Academy. As for his football acumen, he's a superstar.

And about four months from now, we could have the answer to a philosophical football question, a question along the lines of that tree falling in an empty forest:

If the best player in college football is at Navy, can he win the Heisman Trophy?

This is a long shot, of course. You know it. I know it. Even Dobbs knows it. He's a confident sort -- in his official bio at Navy he not only says he wants to be President of the United States, he tells us which year he wants to be elected -- but he's not confident enough to think he can win the Heisman. He's a dreamer, but some dreams are out of reach. President of the United States? That's doable. Winning the Heisman Trophy? From Navy? That's crazy talk. Dobbs knows it.

So when I asked him Monday which goal was more reachable, the oval office or the bronze stiff-arm, he actually paused.

"Huh," he said. "Let me think about that."

While Dobbs is thinking about it, understand a few things about this guy. One, he runs the triple-option at Navy, which means he won't have the statistics that voters want to see from their Heisman-winning quarterback. Only one quarterback from a mostly-running offense has won the Heisman in the past half-century, Nebraska's Eric Crouch in 2001, but Dobbs' numbers last season were comparable to Crouch's numbers in 2001. Both ran and threw for more than 1,000 yards. Crouch averaged more yards per rush, but Dobbs averaged more yards per pass, had a much higher passer rating and set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.

That record, by the way, had been held by Tim Tebow of Florida. He ran for 23 touchdowns in 2007 when he won the Heisman. Dobbs ran for 27 last season. He broke the record by four -- and he was playing with a broken knee.

Ricky Dobbs vs. Eric Crouch's Heisman Year
Player Yds Avg TD Yds TD-INT Rating
Eric Crouch 1,115 5.5 18 1,510 7-10 124.31
Ricky Dobbs 1,192 3.8 27 1,031 6-3 148.96

It's true. Months after lighting up Ohio State's No. 5-ranked defense for 239 total yards and four touchdowns in a 31-27 scare of the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium, Dobbs played the last six games with a broken right kneecap, a gruesome injury where you could see the bottom piece hanging there. This injury requires surgery, ideally immediately, but when doctors gave Dobbs two choices -- season-ending surgery that would rebuild the knee, or a less-invasive surgery that would sideline him for a month or so -- Dobbs called an audible.

"I'm sitting there with Ricky and the doctors, and they gave him two options, and he said, 'I'm going with option three,'" said Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo. "The doctors are going, 'Option three?' But that's what Ricky said. He said he was going to rely on his faith in God and play through it."

Dobbs missed one game, then most of another game, then was back on the field at No. 22 Notre Dame. He ran for 102 yards and a touchdown and threw for a 52-yard TD in Navy's 23-21 victory. Dobbs ran for 100 yards in each of the next four games as well, scoring 10 touchdowns in that time and capping the season with 166 yards rushing, 130 yards passing and four touchdowns in a 35-13 rout of Missouri in the Texas Bowl.

And then, finally, Ricky Dobbs had the surgery. Today his kneecap is in one piece. His Heisman candidacy? That's fractured. See, we all know the deal here. The Heisman doesn't necessarily go to the best player in college football. It goes to one of the best players on one of the best teams. That's all. Mark Ingram of Alabama wasn't the best player in college football last season, but he was the most recognizable player on the Alabama team that was barreling toward the national title. So he won it.

Dobbs plays for Navy, and even though Navy won 10 games last season and could well win 10 or more this season, he can't win the Heisman unless voters make a massive paradigm shift.

For a player to win the Heisman, he has to be a candidate before the first game. Heisman watch lists will pop up afterward with the names of the top four or five candidates, and you can't win the Heisman if you can't get onto those lists. Why? Because the average Heisman voter is lazy. They'll scan the list of Heisman favorites for one player they like, so while unofficial Twitter campaigns can't hurt, a player better get on those lists. And soon.

And right now, Dobbs isn't on there., an influential and exceptionally accurate gauge of the Heisman race, released its top 10 candidates for 2010 on Monday. Dobbs wasn't there. The website also added six more names, called "The Rest." Dobbs wasn't there, either. I asked the creator of, Chris Huston, about Dobbs' exclusion.

"That does not mean that Dobbs can't be a factor if things shake right," Huston said. "He obviously embodies so much of what is right in the game and he runs that option offense to perfection. However, it has just been so long since the service academies have been relevant, and this is what hurts Dobbs' Heisman shot. ... It would take a Herculean effort for Dobbs to win, and all the other guys would have to stink it up too. In this BCS-tiered world, that's just the reality."

Indeed it is. Two of the preseason candidates on the list, Florida's John Brantley (No. 7) and Texas' Garrett Gilbert (No. 12), have never started a game. But they play for Florida and Texas, and that's enough. Terrelle Pryor has been a disappointment at Ohio State, but he's at Ohio State. Christian Ponder lost more games than he won last season at Florida State, but he's at Florida State. Jacory Harris? Jake Locker? They play for Miami and Washington. So they're on there.

Meanwhile, Dobbs is ranked as the 19th-best quarterback in the country by Lindy's preseason magazine. And according to Phil Steele's College Football Preview, Dobbs is No. 47 among quarterbacks.

It's heartbreaking. He runs for 1,000 yards. He passes for 1,000 yards. He has more TDs than interceptions and he runs for more touchdowns than any quarterback in the history of college football. And he did all of that on a broken kneecap. What kind of numbers can he put up this season?

Does it even matter?

So let's go back to the question I asked Ricky Dobbs: Which honor would be more attainable for a guy coming from Navy, the Presidency or the Heisman?

"I couldn't tell you," Dobbs concluded. "Neither one is all that easy."

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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