Could We See Another Unknown Win the Heisman Trophy?
by Trevor Whenham - 8/13/2013
For all the time that Johnny Manziel has spent in the news lately — and all the uncertainty about his future — it is important to remember one almost unbelievable fact about him. At this time last year only the most hardcore of fans had any idea who he was. He was a three-star recruit out of high school who was coming off a redshirt year and was fighting to replace Ryan Tannehill. He had exhibited some solid talent but nothing that gave us any hint of what was to come. There were quite likely about 900 guys who would have been mentioned before him as Heisman candidates last August — and even that is being generous.
“Johnny Football” came from practically nowhere to win the most important award in college sports. He’s not alone in recent history, though. Cam Newton wasn’t nearly as obscure as Manziel was in 2010, but after a disastrous stretch at Florida and a year in junior college he was hardly the prototypical Heisman candidate, either.
This year the big names — Miller, Clowney, Bridgewater, McCarron, Mariota, Yeldon and the like — are dominating the far-too-early Heisman talk. But could we see another guy come from totally off the radar to shock the world and win it again this year? And who could he be. Here are three possible candidates:
USC’s starting QB
The Trojans have yet to decide just who their guy is going to be this year. It will likely be one of two. Max Wittek saw action in two games last year after Matt Barkley was hurt. He was brilliant at times in the first and pretty lousy in the second. Cody Kessler is, like Wittek, a sophomore, but one with less experience. He is less talented on paper, but has looked better in the spring and fall so far. Either guy will be given the keys to what could be a very good offense, including a heck of a weapon in Marquis Lee. The program will be very hungry to return to glory, and coach Kiffin is fighting for his coaching life. The team has fallen out of favor with the public, but it certainly wouldn’t be hard to get back into the hearts and minds of voters. Good numbers through the first six weeks followed by a defining performance in a win at Notre Dame in Week 7 could easily launch the winner of this battle into the upper tier of Heisman contenders. After that he would have high-profile games against Stanford, UCLA, and potentially Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game to put a cap on the campaign.
Clint Chelf, Oklahoma State
This is the second year in a row that Chelf has been in the driver’s seat for the starting job. Last year he was the leading candidate heading into preseason but couldn’t nail it down. Wes Lunt won the job but has since transferred. Chelf got a chance to play late in the season last year, so he won’t be starting from scratch now. He is in charge of a talented and dangerous offense in a conference that is very winnable. He has a big arm and the ability to make the kind of plays that voters love. He would need his team to run the table in the Big 12, and that is a longshot. However, if it happened then Chelf is likely the guy that would get the attention.
Jake Waters, Kansas State
When Newton won his Heisman he entered the season as the No. 1 recruit out of junior college. This year that distinction belongs to Waters, who threw 39 touchdowns and just three interceptions last year at eventual National Champions Iowa Western. Collin Klein put together what could easily have been a Heisman campaign last year if he had kept things on track, so we know that the Kansas State system can appeal to voters. Waters obviously has a good arm. He also has freakish speed for his position — he is 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds and can run a 4.60 40-yard dash. Klein was dangerous on the ground, and in the same system Waters could be even more so. The biggest challenge Waters faces right away is beating off the camp challenge of Daniel Sams, but I am confident he can do so. He would then have three easy games to find his feet before a huge month — at Texas and Oklahoma State followed by home games against Baylor and West Virginia. Strong performances in a sweep of those games would vault Waters into the picture, and subsequent tests against TCU and Oklahoma — plus a major stat stuffer against Kansas to end the season — could cap things off.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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