Florida Gators: Driskel for Heisman?

Driskel For Heisman!

Print the buttons, print the banners and let the campaign begin. Use the Twitter hashtag #Driskel4Heisman.

OK, so that’s a stretch considering his Sugar Bowl performance.

I mean, what are the odds Jeff Driskel is the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner?

Las Vegas gives him a 33/1 shot, according to the latest Bovada betting odds. That means if you bet $100 and Driskel wins, you’ll cash in $3,300.

Not bad.

The fact odds are even placed on Driskel means someone, somewhere believes he’s a potential candidate with a legitimate shot of winning the Heisman Trophy.

A 33/1 shot, at least.

It’s really not that big of a stretch if Florida fans think about it. Seriously, it could happen — in an ideal world of a few dominos falling a certain way.

Let me explain.

First of all, I’m not a gambler. I do love playing Texas No-Limit Hold’em, but those who have played me know there is little gamble in my game. I’m going to take your “easy money” with little risk involved. I’m the Daniel Negreanu of Gainesville.

OK, so that last part is an even bigger stretch than Driskel winning the Heisman, but I do win more times than I lose. If I go “all-in” there’s close to a 99.9 percent chance I have the winning hand.

Now, back to Driskel. I just wanted to clarify that this reporter is not gambling — and covering — sports.

I would be willing to bet — again, if I actually gambled — the masterminds at the UAA already are cooking up ideas for an awards campaign for Driskel. Now, Florida does not do true “Heisman campaigns” as UAA head honcho Steve McClain explained to me years ago for an offseason feature on Ryan Mallett (as silly as that sounds now, the then-Arkansas quarterback was considered a Heisman candidate at the time.).

The reason I called McClain for the piece is because I figured, who better to offer insight than the brainchild behind Tim Tebow’s successful Heisman campaign to beat out Razorbacks running back Darren McFadden?

McClain was great. He spent maybe an hour with me on the phone talking about awards campaigns as he drove, coincidentally, to an awards banquet for the The Wuerffel Trophy. Of course, Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman in 1996 after leading the Gators to the national championship.

It’s important to note Zack Higbee, who interestingly enough is now the head sports information director at Arkansas, also worked closely with Tebow on his campaign when Higbee was at UF. Because Higbee directed questions to his former boss, it was McClain who offered insight into what worked during the three seasons of piloting and hyping Tebow through award campaigns.

To begin with, the foundation of any successful awards campaign begins with national media outlets. Sure, local reporters are great to have punching out positive stories, but the message needs to reach a national audience.

That said, when a national writer beats a local beat writer to an interesting story fans have never heard before, it’s certainly not because the national reporter out-hustled the local scribe.

Sports information directors hang on to a handful of always-positives anecdotes for that exact reason. Then, when someone from ESPN or CBS or somewhere else calls to get an exclusive interview — which local guys rarely get, by the way — they often are fed an angle in advance.

“We didn’t jam it own their throats,” McClain said during that 2010 interview with me for VYPE Magazine. “I didn’t say, ‘Make sure you vote for Tim Tebow. Make sure he’s in your Heisman poll.’ We just talked, and at some point, we interjected information that may lead them down a certain path for their stories.”

Local media members are not naïve to the game. They know exactly how it works but are forced to play along. If they don’t, they risk losing access. If they do, it can help them get fed an interesting angle or two along the way, as well.

It’s not that sports information departments do not care about local beat writers. It’s simply because their stories are not as impactful as any done by national columnists when it comes to awards campaigns.

The list of Heisman Trophy voters includes 870 media members, 57 past winners and one “fan vote” done through an ESPN survey. A small percentage of voters cover the Gators (see list below). Sure, it’s great for fans to read interesting stories by local writers, but fans are not the ones the awards campaigns need to reach. Well, other than that one vote through the survey.

“I’m not trying to influence Joe Lunchbucket in New York. I’m not trying to influence Joe Lunchbucket in Texas,” McClain said. “I’m trying to influence to 900-plus Heisman voters who can vote.”

In 2007, Tebow was knocked for not being traditional quarterback. He was described as not being a great — or even good — passer. That’s where the UAA’s efforts and marketing came into play.

When national publications requested pictures, none were sent out showing Tim bullying his way into the end zone. Instead, the images showed the southpaw slinging the ball.

“You want to subtlety change the perception,” McClain said. “Our focus early in the season was to put more emphasis on his throwing accomplishments. A lot of our stats were heavy on accuracy, pass efficiency rating, long plays and that type of thing.”

Taking all of that into account, the UAA certainly can make an argument for Driskel during the awards campaign process.

To begin with, he won 11 games as a first-year starter and led his team to a BCS Bowl. He’s a dynamic dual-threat player but will need to improve his passing totals. He doesn’t play with a lot of flash but has flashed instances of his personality, something the UAA can encourage more of when the cameras — the national ones especially — are turned on this season.

Oh, and he’s dating UF’s head cheerleader, which has absolutely nothing to do with football but is something that does catch people’s — and possibly voters’ — attention. He’s also showing increasingly more leadership qualities as he heads into the offseason for the first time as the starter.

Driskel has a lot going for him. If he performs much better on the field and the Gators win at a high level again, it would not be a stretch for him to receive an invite to New York City for the Heisman Trophy Awards banquet.

As of late, the best player — or rather, the most hyped player — on the best teams in the country make it on the ballot (See Manti Te’o pre the whole girlfriend-hoax thing). They often get a lot of votes, too, although Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel broke the mold by winning it this past season. Manziel is the favorite to repeat, by the way, at 4/1 odds.

Manziel could suffer a sophomore slump. Because he already has won it, “Johnny Football” is no longer the “sexy” pick that he was this season.

Driskel could end up being that guy, especially because he’s such a long shot going into the season.

Stranger things have happened. When Tebow won it in 2007, it was his first season as the starter. It certainly helped he put some of the lack-of-passing skills talk to rest when he threw for 300 yards and three touchdowns while completing 13 of 17 passes in the season opener.

Driskel will need to produce similar results and, again, lead his team to a dozen or so wins. As we explained, the UAA will do its part. The rest will be up to Driskel.

The fact Vegas even places odds on him to begin with is a step in the right direction. Simply being in the conversation at this super early stage of the game is better than not being mentioned at all.

Sure, he’s a long shot, but at least he has a shot.


The Heisman Trust does not release the list of 870 media members with a Heisman vote, but StiffArmTrophy.com has a “list of confirmed voters.” The list claims it was last updated Dec. 6, 2012, but I’m not completely certain of its accuracy as a few of the outlets listed went belly up before that date and even a few of the writers on there have either been laid off or are with different media outlets than the ones listed.

As for local writers still actively covering the Gators regularly, The Gainesville Sun’s Robbie Andreu and Pat Dooley, The Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi and The Florida Times Union’s Gene Frenette, Florida Today’s David Jones and ESPN850’s Larry Vettel are on the list. There are others like Joe Girvan and Peter Kerasotis, among others, but they’ve moved on to other markets or don’t cover the team regularly enough to be considered “local” writers in my book. Even Whit Watson is on the list as being with Sun Sports, but he’s been covering golf for the Golf Channel — quite well, I might add — since 2010, not college football.

In other words, the list may be outdated, but I figured it was still worth noting the local media who still vote.


Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.