When it comes to the Heisman, geography is destiny.
Competing for a traditional power almost always provides an added boost — some say an unfair advantage — for a candidate.
So we see that a player like EJ Manuel can become an instant contender for the Heisman based on his performance in one game … and the fact that he plays for Florida State.
After all, just 10 teams (Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas, Nebraska, Miami, Florida Stateand Florida) account for 41 of the 77 Heismans and 13 of the last 16.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of high-quality players out there who, in a perfect world, would be given consideration for the Heisman. But the blunt reality of the race is that voters still look to players from the major FBS conferences and, in particular, the traditional Heisman powers.
That said, here are four players from non-major conferences whom I think would be serious Heisman candidates … if only they were playing elsewhere:
Stefphon Jefferson, RB, Nevada – All Jefferson is doing for Nevada is leading the nation in rushing and scoring. He’s averaging 174 yards and three touchdowns per game, which puts him on pace to have 2,088 yards and 36 scores by the time the Heisman vote is due. Place Jefferson at USC or Ohio State with those unworldly numbers, and he runs away with the trophy. It’s not like Jefferson is padding his stats against just Mountain West competition, either. He ran for 145 yards and three touchdowns against California and 135 yards against South Florida, so he’s a legit player who fits nicely in Nevada’s “pistol” offense. It’s certainly possible he’ll get some Heisman attention if he continues to shine, but his chances of winning are virtually nil.
Cody Getz, RB, Air Force – It’s always nice to see a player from a service academy do well, and Getz has come out of nowhere to challenge Jefferson for the rushing title. The senior has rushed for more yards in his first three games this season than he had in his entire career coming into 2012. He’s averaging 154 yards per game (and an impressive 7.95 yards per carry) and has already scored seven touchdowns. He showed his mettle against Michigan, rushing for 130 yards and three scores. At this pace, he’ll finish the regular season with 1,848 yards and 28 scores. That would get him huge accolades almost anywhere else, but it’s unlikely he’ll receive many Heisman votes.
Colby Cameron, QB, Louisiana Tech – It looks like Cameron might be one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country. The senior is currently fifth nationally in efficiency with a rating of 184.68 and is one of just five passers averaging at least 30 attempts per game who has yet to throw an interception. So far (three games), he is completing 69.4 percent of his passes for 913 yards and 11 touchdowns. What’s more, Louisiana Tech is averaging 55 points per game and could be on its way to an undefeated season. Of all the players on this list, he might stand the best chance of picking up a few stray Heisman votes. A big game against Texas A&M in mid-October might do the trick.
Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall – Cato has been piling up yards at a rate of 370 per game, a mark that leads the nation. The sophomore is completing 71 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. At this rate, he’ll pass for 4,440 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. Put Cato with those numbers at Notre Dame or Oklahoma, and he’d be getting his tux ready for New York.
Others of note: Terrance Owens, Toledo; Branden Oliver, Buffalo; Robbie Rouse, Fresno State; Antonio Andrews,Western Kentucky.