Zwiller: Can Hartman win a Heisman?
Thomas Zwiller | Friday, September 15, 2023
Sam Hartman has changed Notre Dame football. It might be an overreaction to say that after three games, but the change is palpable in the air. The graduate transfer from Wake Forest has transformed the Notre Dame offense, elevating the talent around him. By FPI, Notre Dame was the 17th-best team in the nation in 2022. Now, the Irish are ninth with the potential to make the top five if they can beat Ohio State in two weeks.
Through Hartman’s first three games, he has completed 75% of his passes, throwing for 731 total yards and 10 touchdowns. He also had a touchdown on the ground in the home opener against Tennessee State and has yet to throw an interception.
His performance thus far had him in the national Heisman discussion, with major shows like the Cover 3 Podcast talking about his chances of making it to New York as a finalist. During his media availability after practice on Tuesday, Hartman was asked about his thoughts on the discussion.
His answer? Humble and sincere, he acknowledged that while he might be under consideration, the offense, coaching staff and team as a whole got him there.
“I think up front, our guys are playing really well, and I think the tight ends obviously had a huge day,” Hartman said. “And obviously, Audric opened that game for us, and outside, the receivers made a lot of plays … And that puts me into those conversations.”
Hartman did not go so far as to say that he had not been paying attention to the media’s coverage. But he deflected the credit from himself to the other starters, and even the scout team.
“I have been in this situation before at Wake, and those different things, and you see it and hear it, but again, there is no me in all those conversations without upfront, on the outside, those guys going to war for me. And shoot, even the scout team guys,” Hartman said.
While Hartman might not want to talk about his chances of being nominated for a Heisman and his odds of winning the award, I absolutely do.
Hartman has made following and covering this team an absolute joy. This team has been the most exciting to follow in my four years here at the tri-campus. It would be incredible for Hartman to come in and win a Heisman in his only year here.
So, what does it take? Let’s find out.
Hartman does have one thing right. Team success does undoubtedly factor in. Of the seven Heisman trophies Notre Dame has won, six have been awarded during years of Irish dominance. The one outlier year was 1956 when Paul “the Golden Boy” Hornung claimed the trophy (definitely worth a Google).
But “Golden Boy” aside, the average AP finish for a Notre Dame Heisman-winning player was 4.17, and the team averaged 1.08 losses (I am factoring in one tie as half a loss).
So, we have our first two criteria. Notre Dame needs to finish near the top of the CFP Rankings heading into bowl season, ideally at fourth but no worse than sixth. I say that mainly because Caleb Williams did not make the Playoff in 2022, but he was still the runaway favorite for the Heisman.
Notre Dame also needs to finish no worse than 11-1. In reality, the team must run the table to optimize Hartman’s odds. However, dating back to 2016, five Heisman winners played for teams with at least one to two losses. So, it can be done. I think Hartman might be punished for the team being independent, as the team is in the Playoff discussion. But 11-1 seems good enough to win the award.
I am going to set a sort of sub-requirement. Notre Dame cannot lose to USC. Because USC has a much worse defense than Notre Dame and the high-scoring nature of the Pac-12, I think Williams will outperform Hartman on a statistical basis. Hartman actually has a defense and does not need to carry the Irish like Williams will.
So, Hartman is going to need the USC win. If the Irish can avoid losing to one of the big three but has a close loss to Duke or Louisville, Hartman’s resume can survive.
As I said earlier, on 64 attempts, Hartman has 48 completions (75%), 731 yards, 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions. After the Blue-Gold game in April, I predicted that Hartman would finish with 2,733 yards, 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on 62.7% accuracy. So much for that one.
Through the first three games, I accurately predicted Sam’s completions and attempts, but I completely underestimated his efficiency. I also gave him much less credit against NC State and had his TD-INT ratio at 1-1.
In the remainder of my projections, I really underestimated Hartman’s efficiency and the boost in accuracy he would bring to the table. So, I reworked my forecasts for the remaining nine games. Instead of building the schedule from a combination of Hartman and Notre Dame’s past, I used the three prior games.
Don’t get me wrong: it still wound up being a stitch work of estimates. I used TSU as a comparison for CMU (and in part for Stanford). NC State became my baseline for Duke, Louisville and Pitt. Navy and NC State were used for Wake Forest.
I will admit that Ohio State, USC and Clemson games remain very much an unknown. The best I could really do for those three games was increase the number of attempts Sam would get. Then, I adjusted his accuracy and his yards per completion and tried to reflect this season’s numbers.
The results are much more impressive than I had forecasted in April. I now think Sam can reach 37 touchdowns and will throw only six interceptions. On top of that, I have him eclipsing the 3,750-yard mark with roughly 72% accuracy (245/335).
The bigger picture
So, does Hartman have a chance? Going back to 2016 and looking at the teams with losses, we can get an idea of how Hartman’s performance would fit.
Stats courtesy of College Football Reference
One thing most of these players have going for them (that makes their statistical performance look a little better) is that they have their Playoff/Bowl stats alongside their conference championship game included.
So, Hartman’s resume is certainly not out of place here. I think that the team aspect I mentioned earlier, that Notre Dame needs to go 11-1 or better, is essential. And Hartman needs the win over Caleb Williams, as I have him posting numbers as good, if not better, than last year.
But I believe that Hartman is fully capable of being a Heisman finalist. We’ll just have to wait and see.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.