His 4,650 total yards, 46 total touchdowns and leadership of a Sooners team that made the College Football Playoff despite an abrupt coaching switch from legendary leader Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley -- the youngest coach in FBS -- can't be denied. Nor can the success of Louisville quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson or Stanford star running back Bryce Love, both of whom were fantastic in 2017.
But Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith deserved that moment, too. He got my third-place vote behind my Mayfield and Love, whom I voted first and second, respectively. Instead of finishing 10th overall, he deserved to be on that stage with the three finalists.
The reason is very simple. The definition of "the most outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity" to me is split into three parts:
- Value to a team
- How that value translates to overall team success
- Ridiculous, video game numbers
Smith emphatically checks every one of those boxes for the 2017 SEC champion and College Football Playoff-bound Bulldogs, as did the last defensive player invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremony -- former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o in 2012.
From a value perspective, Smith is every bit to Georgia what Mayfield is to Oklahoma. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year had 113 tackles, 10.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks, eight quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. The "Montezuma Machine" was named MVP of the SEC Championship Game after 13 tackles, one sack and two fumble recoveries in the 28-7 win over then-No. 2 Auburn.
"I'll just give glory to God for it," Smith said of his title game performance. "And then just my teammates, them taking on blocks, and just then my coaches' preparation just setting me up to be in the right place at the right time and just seeing ball, hit ball, or give ball. It's pretty much give all the credit to them because those guys did a lot of what made me be able to do what I was actually doing throughout the game."
Quite simply, he owned the biggest game of the year and propelled his team to the playoff.
Without Smith, it's hard to imagine that Georgia defense being as stout as it has been all year without its star middle linebacker wreaking havoc, making sure everybody is lined up properly and leading a defense that has been the lynchpin to a team that was forced to turn to a true freshman quarterback in Week 1.
That kind of adversity typically wrecks national title hopes (see: Florida State). It was a non-issue for Georgia because the quarterback of the defense was there to keep the ship going in the right direction.
"To see Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Roquan Smith, hugging on the stage in tears because they care about each other so much, that's why I do this," coach Kirby Smart said after the SEC Championship Game. "It's because of these guys. It's great to bring it back to Georgia, and the Bulldog Nation is certainly starved, but these young men deserve a ton of credit."
Smith won the Butkus Award given to the nation's top linebacker during the College Football Awards show on Thursday night at the College Football Hall of Fame and certainly deserved that recognition on that national stage with the best players in the game. But if we're truly talking about the most outstanding players in the country being rewarded with Heisman recognition, defensive players need love to.
Nobody deserved more in 2017 than Smith.