This has not been the Heisman race everyone thought it would be. Thus far, the peformances by the top preseason contenders have been a bit underwhelming. I believe that October will reveal the eventual winner, but there is also a chance the race will be re-set (a concept I discuss here) and that some new candidates will emerge. Until that happens, though, there still appears–at this point–to be only four candidates with a chance to actually win the Heisman.
1. Colt McCoy, Texas–He threw for 265 yards on 32 of 39 passing, with a touchdown and one interception in the Longhorns’ win over Colorado. These are solid numbers, though not spectacular. On the year, he has 1,410 passing yards (73.4%), with 10 touchdowns and six picks. His rushing numbers are down considerably from last year, as he has just 58 yards and one touchdown on the season. He is on pace to have around 3,500 passing yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.
McCoy’s Heisman run, if it comes, begins this week versus Oklahoma. Given the paucity of marquee matchups on the Texas schedule–a byproduct of the Big 12′s drop in quality relative to 2008–losing to the Sooners would probably be fatal to McCoy’s Heisman hopes, unless the other candidates in the running also slip up. He should have the full attention of Heisman voters, as Texas-OU kicks off at noon ET, while Tim Tebow and Jimmy Clausen will be playing at the same time in the 3:30 ET time slot. Simply put, this is McCoy’s chance to put his stamp on the race.
If McCoy gets past OU, then keeps putting up the kind of passing yardage he has so far, while adding a few four or five-touchdown games and keeping his interception rate low (and his team undefeated), he’ll win the Heisman.
2. Tim Tebow, Florida–Tebow’s Heisman hopes improved considerably thanks to his gutty performance in Florida’s win over LSU. While he didn’t dominate statistically, he showed why he is so valuable to the nation’s No. 1 team. Does Florida lose without Tebow? Given the way the Gators played defensively, I’m not so sure, but having No. 15 in charge surely gave Florida a lot of confidence in such a hostile environment.
Tebow threw for 134 yards on 11 of 16 passing with one touchdown and one interception. He also added 38 yards on 17 carries. On the season, he has 777 passing yards, with seven touchdowns and two interceptions, plus 309 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He is on pace to have about 2,000 passing yards, with 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote (plus another 800 yards and 13 TDs on the ground).
The main question with Tebow: Can he win that elusive second Heisman while producing a season that is not clearly superior to the rest of the field? Excluding option QB Eric Crouch, the last signal caller to win the Heisman without throwing at least 30 touchdown passes was Charlie Ward in 1993. The last quarterback to win the Heisman while throwing fewer than 20 touchdown passes (again excluding Crouch) was Geno Torretta in 1992. Both Ward and Torretta won their Heismans absent serious challenges from players on traditional Heisman powers. Tebow must contend with rivals from Texas (McCoy) and Notre Dame (Clausen), both of whom have a shot at hitting that 30-TD level (with both probably guaranteed of surpassing 20). Both schools have the institutional power to siphon away Heisman votes from Tebow, which is why despite his superior name recognition and unrivaled reputation in the world of college football, his success in the race may depend less on what he does and more on what those other candidates don’t do. If neither McCoy or Clausen come through, Tebow’s lack of numbers won’t matter as much.
3. Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame–Clausen and Notre Dame had a bye this past weekend, so he heads into the game against USC still leading the nation in passing efficiency. Clausen has 1,544 passing yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions on the season. He is on pace to have 3,706 passing yards with 29 touchdowns and five interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote. In any other year, this would be a good season, but probably not enough to win the Heisman.
However, the 2009 season has seen a marked decline in output by quarterbacks. While seven passers topped the 35-touchdown pass mark in 2008 (with Sam Bradford having 48 when he won the Heisman), only one (Case Keenum) is on pace to surpass that in 2009. So if Clausen keeps up his pace, his numbers could look very good relative to the competition.
Clausen is set up perfectly for a Heisman run. Beat USC and then finish strong against five unranked teams and then Stanford (which could be ranked) and he’s got a great shot to win. I think going 11-1 with a win over the Trojans will give Clausen a valid case to present to the voters. But I don’t think a loss to USC will be forgiven, as the one knock on the Irish is that they haven’t beaten a good team in recent memory. Clausen has that cross to bear and the burden won’t get any easier unless he leads Notre Dame to a win this Saturday.
4. Jacory Harris, Miami–Harris threw for 217 yards with two touchdowns and two picks against Florida A&M this past Saturday. On the season, he has 1,225 passing yards, with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is on pace to have 2,940 yards, 24 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions by the time of the Heisman vote.
Harris’ game against Florida A&M was a missed opportunity to pile up the kind of numbers he needs to outshine his foes in the Heisman race. Given his sophomore status, his case for the Heisman must be crystal clear. That means Miami has to win out and Harris must have a season that is statistically head and shoulders above the other candidates. At this point, I believe he needs to average 280 yards and 3 touchdowns per game (while keeping his interceptions at 10 or below) in his last seven games (all of which Miami must win) to have a shot at doing that. Upping his pace to that level would give him about 3,300 yards and 33 touchdowns by the time of the Heisman vote. Those numbers would contrast nicely with the other candidates and he’ll be able to say he brought Miami back. Is it likely? Probably not. But I’d like to see how he does against UCF on Saturday before completely eliminating him from consideration.
If the vote were held today:
1. Tim Tebow
2. Colt McCoy
3. Jimmy Clausen
4. Case Keenum
5. Tony Pike
6. Eric Berry
7. Jacquizz Rodgers
8. Jacory Harris
9. Ndamkong Suh
10. Mark Ingram