June 28, 2010
Typecasting the Heisman favorites.
Washington quarterback Jake Locker is doing the East Coast media blitz today and Tuesday, where he'll make his case for recognition as the Huskies' first serious Heisman candidate in well over a decade. Alas, all precedent suggests it's a lost cause: Besides his mediocre numbers, Locker leads a team that will be doing well this fall to break .500 for the first time since 2003. And if there's anything Heisman voters like, it's a winner, especially at quarterback: Nine of the 11 signal-callers to bring home the award since 1990 played for a team slotted in the national championship game a few weeks later, and the two that didn't (USC's Carson Palmer in 2002 and Florida's Tim Tebow in 2007) won after smashing records for high-profile powerhouses that spent the entire season in the top half of the polls.
In fact, in the BCS era (since 1998), the only quarterbacks to make it to New York as finalists from teams ranked outside the Associated Press top 10 at the end of the regular season were Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton in 1999 and Ole Miss' Eli Manning in 2003, whose teams were ranked 17th and 16th, respectively. Washington may be dramatically improved from its string of futility, but enough to get Locker into that category? Not bloody likely.
The profile of a real Heisman-worthy quarterback is easy: He has a) Respectable numbers on an offense with no clear star at running back, b) An MVP-worthy effort in a big game, c) A vague air of "leadership," i.e. generally deferential to reporters and sporting no crazy hair, tattoos, or arrests, and d) A banner season, preferably one ending in the BCS Championship game. In 2010, that means these guys:
• Kellen Moore, Boise State. Moore is a shorter, less-exposed version of 2008 winner Sam Bradford, a toothy everyman set to put the torch on every record book in sight: The Broncos return every starter and all but one player who touched the ball last year for the highest-scoring offense in the nation. Moore is 26-1 with 64 touchdown passes in two years as a starter on a team likely to begin the season in the top five; voters know him and they know Boise State. If both deliver against Virginia Tech in the Labor Day opener, he'll be near the top of the list all season.
• Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State. Pryor hasn't delivered Heisman numbers, has been known to show a little too much independent thought in interviews and has some pretty gnarly tats (at least the most visible one is team-oriented). But he's also a known quantity and the unquestioned leader of a championship frontrunner, and off the best performance of his career in the Rose Bowl, poised to reap the rewards of the hype that's followed him through two uneven seasons to date. If the Buckeyes are in Arizona for the BCS title game, Pryor will be in New York on Dec. 11.
• Landry Jones, Oklahoma. Jones mastered the classic art of padding stats against helpless defenses (17 touchdowns, 169.6 efficiency rating in five games against non-winning teams) as a redshirt freshman while coming oh-so-close to getting the Sooners over the top in four razor-thin losses to top-20 opponents. OU has slowly emerged over the offseason as a tentative Big 12 favorite and a prominent darkhorse in the national race, either of which could make Jones a household name if he cuts down on the picks – the Sooners won't be in position to win any kind of championship if he doesn't.
One word of advice to young Mr. Jones: Lose the trademark 'stache, which was still visible in the spring. Heisman voters, like the American electorate since Taft, don't trust a man with visible hair below the ears. (More importantly, neither does Jones' girlfriend.)
• Greg McElroy, Alabama. The most overlooked aspect of the Tide's championship run in 2009 was McElroy's penchant for the deep ball in September and November, when he delivered efficiency numbers on par with any passer in the country on either side of an odd October dip. Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain has shown a willingness to open up the passing game when necessary – see last year's wins over Virginia Tech, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and Florida, in which McElroy averaged 251 yards passing with nine total touchdowns – and it may be necessary more often this fall opposite nine new starters on defense.
Obviously, the "face of the program" in Tuscaloosa remains reigning Heisman winner Mark Ingram, who could probably serve as the "Face of College Football" going into his junior season. But McElroy still hasn't lost a game as a starter since middle school, and another perfect run through the SEC – combined with the emergence of sophomore Trent Richardson to take some of the shine off Ingram and a couple big come-from-behind wins for good measure – has the potential to throw the spotlight on the consummate winner under center instead.
• Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech. Taylor, like Pryor, has managed to frustrate his initial five-star hype even while compiling a stellar record thanks to the Hokies' typically solid running game and defense. Like McElroy, he's shown a penchant for the deep ball in a run-oriented system, leading the nation in '09 at 9.5 yards per attempt and 16.9 per completion, with three veteran receivers en tow who combined to average more than 20 yards per catch. And Taylor may be more likely than any other QB in the country to break off a clutch, highlight-reel run.
If Tech survives the opener with Boise State and a make-or-break November gauntlet against fellow ACC Coastal frontrunners Miami, North Carolina and Georgia Tech with any kind of darkhorse national hopes intact, Taylor should be back among the league's efficiency leaders, with a weekly bomb for the highlight reels and some growing poll buzz to show for it.
• See Also: Matt Barkley, Southern Cal ... John Brantley, Florida ... Nate Costa, Oregon. ... Dayne Crist, Notre Dame ... Andy Dalton, TCU ... Garrett Gilbert, Texas.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.