Taysom Hill is a really great college quarterback. He's unquestionably one of the most athletic players in the country at his position, and he's the most physically gifted BYU QB since at least Steve Young, if not ever. He would probably start at all but maybe 15 or so other programs this season, and his presence alone gives BYU a puncher's chance against several teams this season that are more talented than they are. No matter what happens this season, he should be remembered as one of the great BYU athletes of this generation.
But some fans think that those statements also mean that Taysom Hill is a potential threat for the Heisman Trophy, or at the very least, a "dark horse" candidate. Let's stop all of that right there, and save us the frustration, the angry calls into sports radio, the twitter wars, and more. Taysom Hill is not going to win the Heisman Trophy. If recent history is any indication, he isn't even likely to get very close. That doesn't mean that Hill isn't excellent, it's just a product of how the award works, and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we can make peace with it and spend more time celebrating what we have.
The Heisman Trophy almost always goes to players on elite teams
Since Ty Detmer bucked the odds in 1990, only two players have won Heisman Trophies while finishing for teams that finished outside the Top 10 in the AP Poll. Ricky Williams won it for the 9-3 Texas Longhorns that finished 15 in the AP back in 1998, and Robert Griffin III won it for 10-3 Baylor that finished 13 in 2011. Both of those teams defeated top 10 squads late in the season (something BYU won't be able to do unless Missouri is much better than projected), and put up absolutely crazy stat lines. RGIII, for example, completed over 70 percent of his passes that season, and Williams broke the NCAA career rushing yards record that season.
BYU is not likely at all to be that caliber of team. They're already underdogs in five of the games they play, with two others (vs Cincinnati, at Utah State) that could credibly be called tossups. Even a 2-2 split in September, following by going undefeated the rest of the season, isn't a guarantee that BYU finishes in the top 10. It's very rare that the trophy goes to a team that can't credibly claim it's going after a national title.
BYU plays in the Mountain time zone, past bedtimes, and outside of the spotlight
This is less true during the first month of the season, where BYU will play four major programs in a row on major TV networks, but it's still a little true. The best team BYU is likely to play, UCLA, will kick off at 10:30 eastern time. BYU's showdown with Boise State also starts after 10 PM eastern. After the Cougar's September gauntlet, they play three games on Fridays (including two late night kicks against terrible teams), and may only have one other national spotlight Saturday game the rest of the season, against Missouri on Nov. 14, near the end of the year.
Is that fair? No, but it is part of the way these awards work. The Heisman voters are mostly beat writer types who are not paid to watch every single game, and if they're based in the east, they're not likely to stay up and watch Taysom Hill go for 550 total yards against UConn, no matter how awesome Hill is.
Remember, the sportswriter voting section for the Heisman is broken into six geographic regions to help eliminate bias, but only one of those regions covers states in the mountain or pacific time zone. The other five are central and eastern. Without conference affiliation to help create a media megaphone, and with many important games taking place after the majority of voters have fallen asleep, building media momentum will be even harder, especially since BYU won't be a national title contender.
Taysom Hill doesn't have the help on offense to get Heisman-level consistency
The regular season just isn't that long, so if you want to win a Heisman Trophy, you're going to not only win almost all of your games, but put up excellent statistical performances in almost all of your games. One way to do that is to have other NFL-caliber players on your offense that can pick up some of that statistical slack if you struggle a little bit. Hill does not have that.
There are plenty of good college players on BYU's offense. Jamaal Williams, when healthy, is a good, and sometimes very good running back that frees up opportunities for Hill with the read option game. Mitch Mathews is a big pass catching target, and BYU's offensive line, while not excellent, should be deeper and more experienced. Nobody on this year's offense is likely to get more than the proverbial cup of coffee in the NFL though, if they even get drafted at all. Compare that to RG3's 2011 Baylor offense, or Ohio State's 2015 offense, or Winston's 2013 Florida State.
That means that Hill doesn't really have players who can bail him out if he's off his game, and that if other players on offense are injured or suspended, he's even more at risk. If TCU loses a a wideout, or if Ohio State loses a TE, the Heisman campaigns of Boykin and Barrett are still going to keep going. If Mathews goes down? It becomes that much harder.
The usage rate that Taysom Hill will need to produce Heisman level stats increases his injury risk
Speaking of injuries, a hypothetical Taysom Hill Heisman campaign would require him to play in every single game, something Hill has struggled to do during his college career. It would also require him to play deep into blowouts, and continue to regularly run the football, if he's going to produce the sort of eye-popping stat lines to overcome geography and recent history and climb into that conversation.
Hill isn't the kind of player who is going to complete 69 percent of his passes and throw for 4,000 yards while hanging out comfortably in the pocket. He needs to run, both on designed runs, and not-so-designed runs, and showcase his speed, physicality and elusiveness, and while that makes BYU's offense the most dangerous, it also exposes him to additional hits. Is BYU going to let him stay in late in the 3rd quarter when they're beating UConn by 32, and still let him run enough read option plays to get to 150 yards rushing? Will he play three quarters against Wagner to make up for a slower day against UCLA? I doubt it, but that may be what's needed.
Taysom Hill might also just not be good enough
There's no shame in admitting this, but it is entirely possible that even with a stretch of good luck and health, Hill might not be one of the best three or four players in the country. His total efficiency would have to take a significant step forward, as even the more run game-oriented Heisman winning QBs, like Tim Tebow, had higher completion percentages than Hill. (Nebraska's Eric Crouch is the notable exception.) Hill's sack rate would have to decrease. BYU's offense would have to be very successful in nearly every game, even against defenses with NFL talent and strong coordinators. Their margin of error would be almost non-existent.
Hill has been really, really, really good, but getting to this level would require yet another significant jump. Does he have it in him? Maybe he doesn't, and that's okay.
Now, some of these concerns go out the window if BYU somehow goes 4-0 (or even 3-1) in September, vaulting themselves into the top 15 early in the season and throughout the public consciousness even in October, but not all of them. Even if BYU is highly successful and Hill stays healthy, teams from non-power conferences not only almost never win the award, they rarely even come close. Detmer in 1990 was the only non-power conference player to win since Roger Staubach won it for Navy back in 1960 (Andre Ware's Houston team was considered a power conference squad in 1989).
Not only do non-power teams almost never win the award, they're rarely even close. Not a single team from outside the Power 5 got a Heisman vote last season. Only four players outside of the Power Five cracked the Heisman top five in voting over the last decade: NIU's Jordan Lynch (3rd in 2013, with 558 total votes), Boise State's Kellen Moore (4th in 2010, with 635 votes), Hawaii's Colt Brennan (3rd in 2007 with 632 votes) and Utah's Alex Smith (4th in 2004, with 635 points), with exactly zero of those players coming close to actually winning the award.
If Hill is healthy all season long and BYU wins at least nine games, I think it is possible that Hill gets a few votes, maybe even rising as high as 4th or 5th, depending on how things shake out with the heavyweights, but anything higher than that would be very unlikely. That's totally fine though. The Heisman isn't a meritocracy, it's also political and part beauty pageant, and failing to win, or compete for the award would not take away Hill's accomplishments, or his place among the elite at BYU.
Let's all just make peace with this now, and save ourselves the righteous indignation later this year. We get to watch a really good, and very exciting player this year. Not getting a fancy national award won't change that.