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LEWIS Predicts 2016 Heisman Winner


Ian Lipner
Published on December 09, 2016
By Ian Lipner

The Heisman Trophy, the highest honor for college football’s most outstanding player, will be awarded this Saturday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m. ET. 928 voters, comprised by 870 journalists and the former winners, each identify three selections, ranking them in order. First place selections are awarded three points, second place two points, and third place one point.  The points are totaled across voters, and the top point-getter is awarded the Heisman.


Heisman Trophy image via 

Last year, LEWIS became the first communications agency (that we know of) to leverage social data to correctly predict the Heisman Trophy, revealing Derrick Henry as the 2015 winner a few days before the announcement. Here were our predictions vs. actual results:

OVERALL VOTES

2015 Prediction

2015 Actual

Derrick Henry

1893

1832

Christian McCaffrey

1677

1539

Deshaun Watson

1136

1165

FIRST PLACE VOTES

2015 Prediction

2015 Actual

Derrick Henry

378

378

Christian McCaffrey

270

277

Deshaun Watson

135

144

What’s our approach? We assume that sports journalists write more about the athletes they find most compelling, and so their own coverage should provide hints to how they’ll vote. We look at the previous three months of media content produced by a representative sampling of actual Heisman voters, and apply a dynamic scoring system that mimics votes cast, assigning a likelihood for the finalists receiving each of first, second or third place votes. Finally, we apply a mathematical weighting derived using historical voting patterns from past Heisman votes. 

Last year our assumption proved correct – we showed a strong correlation between volume of Heisman-voting journalists’ coverage/tweeting, and the finish of the Heisman candidates. The Mean Absolute Percentage Error (MAPE) for the prediction was 4.93%, which is very strong for a relatively small sample size.

This year’s finalists include quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Deshaun Watson (Clemson), as well as wide receiver Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma) and safety Jabril Peppers (Michigan). Jackson has a comfortable lead according to most pundits. But how will the votes ultimately break down?

Notably, this year there was less overall data for the LEWIS “Heisman Machine” to study – the media’s early crowning of Lamar Jackson as frontrunner never gave way to another candidate, and thus there’s arguably less overall Heisman buzz in 2016.  But precisely how the field will round out remains up in the air.  Here’s what our model says:

OVERALL VOTES

2016 Prediction

Lamar Jackson

1944

Deshaun Watson

870

Baker Mayfield

522

Dede Westbrook

464

Jabril Peppers

377

FIRST PLACE VOTES

2016 Prediction

Lamar Jackson

591

Deshaun Watson

148

Baker Mayfield

59

Dede Westbrook

59

Jabril Peppers

30

This is very similar type of analyses we do for our clients around news, industry events, and the range of audience affinities that intersect with their brands. True, for most organizations, there are far more than 928 decision-makers to target, but we don’t boil the ocean to surface these trends – we examine influencer content along with representative samples of the audiences we’re targeting, to draw out both opinion and intention.

Tune in on Saturday night to find out whether LEWIS’ research team can keep up its streak – and as ever, keep reading this blog for other ways influencer and content analysis can help your organization get into the end zone.


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