Specifically, can Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hold on to his current Heisman lead and overcome his long-term disadvantages? What has to happen for him to come out on top?
First, let’s look at the things working in his favor:
1. Perception of Talent
Bridgewater is rightfully seen as an elite talent and potentially the first quarterback taken in the next NFL draft. This perception is a salve to Heisman voters who might otherwise look askance upon a player from a non-traditional power like Louisville.
2. His team’s potential record
With the Cardinals being the class of the AAC, there’s a good chance they’ll run the table. No matter what team a candidate plays for, going undefeated is always a feather in the cap.
3. The Sugar Bowl
Beating Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl gave him and his team a lot of credibility heading into the fall. Even though he’s putting up his stats against weak competition, many voters realize he was able to do it against a top flight defense as well.
Now, let’s look at things working against him:
1. The schedule
Heismandment No. 3 states that to win the Heisman you must put up big numbers in big games on television. Bridgewater is obviously going to be on TV every week, but he won’t be playing in any big games, will he? For all the credibility he gained by beating Florida, that memory will fade each week he goes up against the likes of Eastern Kentucky and Temple.
2. No campaign
Bridgewater doesn’t want a campaign on his behalf, no doubt because he’s a humble guy who doesn’t believe in that sort of thing. But if Louisville isn’t careful, the narrative surrounding Bridgewater’s candidacy will likely be ‘yeah, he’s good but he didn’t play anyone’. If that meme dominates, then he zero chance of winning the Heisman.
3. It’s Louisville
Heisman voters are generally more skeptical of players who don’t play for traditional powers. Their burden of proof is higher and therefore they must do more to break through the glass ceiling. For Robert Griffin III, he had to beat Oklahoma and Texas, lead Baylor to its most wins in 20 years and put up 47 touchdowns. It also helped that his main competition (Andrew Luck) was a player from another non-traditional power. Given the choice between a fantastic player from Louisville and a fantastic player from Ohio State, voters will pick the Buckeye every time.
So what does Bridgewater have to do to win?
1. Louisville must win all its games, preferably by large margins.
2. He must make up for his lack of quality opponents by putting up the kind of dominant season that the first quarterback drafted by the NFL is expected to have against bad competition. It’s not going to be enough for him to throw for 3,800 yards, 38 TD passes and 6 interceptions. I think he probably needs to account for at least 48 touchdowns. Why 48? Because that’s about the amount of total touchdowns the last five Heisman-winning quarterbacks have averaged. I also think he’ll need to break or come close to breaking the NCAA record for pass efficiency of 191.78 set by Russell Wilson in 2011. In other words, he needs a statistical hook to give his candidacy some heft.
3. He needs a campaign of some sort. No, I’m not talking bobbleheads or videos of Bridgewater twerking. But an argument needs to be advanced as to why Bridgewater is worthy of the Heisman. With such a weak schedule ahead of him, it’ll probably have to be a unique angle to grab voters’ attention. Get to work on that, UL.
4. Other candidates need to screw up. Let’s not overlook the importance of this issue. If Mariota, Boyd, Miller, McCarron et al, all underperform or their teams suffer debilitating setbacks, then this opens the door for Bridgewater even further and might even relax some of the statistical requirements I outlined previously. But if Bridgwater has a great year and Mariota has a great year and UL is undefeated and Oregon is 12-1, then Mariota is still probably going to win.
There’s no doubt that Bridgewater’s chances have increased with his hot start and the concurrent rough start of the preseason front runner, Braxton Miller. As it stands, Bridgewater is on pace to have 4,512 passing yards and 54 touchdown passes with just 6 picks. If he keeps on that pace, he’ll be tough to beat. But it will also depend on what some of the other candidates do and how they look against their more respected competition.
In the end, I think my estimation of Bridgewater as the fourth-most-likely winner at this stage is spot on. Can he win it? Yes. Would I bet my life’s savings on it? Probably not.