Heading into tomorrow's regular season finale against Oregon State, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is, according to most pundits, on the outside of the Heisman race looking in at a trio of candidates with resumes even more sparkly than his own.
Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore, and Oregon running back LaMichael James are considered to be the favorites, in that order, for college football's most prestigious award. It's no coincidence that all three are leading teams with serious hopes of playing in the BCS National Championship Game, as the Heisman trophy has become as much about team achievement as individual achievement. If it weren't, Luck would be looking to become Stanford's second consecutive winner.
Luck deserves to be in the conversation with those three, and with a strong showing in a season-ending win against the Beavers, he should receive an invitation to the Heisman ceremony in New York. Here's how he could win the thing.
Auburn loses both of its remaining games.
Newton is so far ahead of the other candidates in most current Heisman polls (see: Heisman Pundit, Stiff Arm Trophy, ESPN, USA Today) that an impressive showing in today's Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa might clinch it.
The junior ranks second in the nation, behind Moore, in passer efficiency rating (183.58), he's completed 68 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns against 6 interceptions, and he became the first player in SEC history to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Add his 17 rushing touchdowns, the SEC factor, and Auburn's unblemished record, and you have your clear Heisman frontrunner.
A loss to Alabama might not be enough to knock Newton from his perch unless he plays particularly poorly against the Crimson Tide. No matter what happens today, he'll have a chance to leave a good impression in voters' minds with a standout performance in the SEC Championship Game, as Mark Ingram did last year.
(The ongoing investigation into the allegations that Newton's father solicited money from Mississippi State while he was being recruited in junior college could jeopardize Newton's campaign, but let's hope Heisman voters adhere to the innocent until proven guilty maxim between now and the time votes are due on Dec. 6.)
Boise State loses to Nevada or Utah State.
If Newton stumbles, Moore is sitting pretty. That said, Moore could throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns in Reno tonight and it won't matter if Colin Kaepernick and the Wolf Pack spoil Boise State's perfect season. Moore leads the nation with a 188.84 passing efficiency rating and has completed 72% of his passes. His counting numbers--2,921 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, 5 interceptions--are especially impressive when you consider that, since the Broncos' 33-30 season-opening win against Virginia Tech, he's attempted a total of 10 passes in the fourth quarter. Still, he plays in the WAC, which might as well stand for We Are Cupcakes to some Heisman voters.
It's a perception thing, and it's a big reason that no player from a non-AQ school has won the Heisman trophy since BYU's Ty Detmer in 1990. In 2006, Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan passed for 53 touchdowns, completed 72 percent of his passes, and had a record 182.8 passer rating during the regular season. While Brennan's success was largely a product of Hawaii's offensive system, those are some pretty eye-popping numbers regardless. Had the Warriors finished undefeated, he likely would've been a more viable candidate. As it was, Hawaii lost two games, including one to Boise State, and Brennan finished sixth in the Heisman voting. Moore can't afford to lose.
LaMichael James loses the rushing title.
Should Newton and Moore falter today, James would be primed to assume the top spot with a big game against Arizona. The sophomore, who has three 200-yard games this season for the top-ranked Ducks, has been limited in practice this week by a lower leg injury, but is expected to start. He'll have another chance to shine in next week's Civil War at Oregon State.
Earlier this week, James was cleared of any wrongdoing related to his borrowing of an SUV from a friend. If Oregon wins out and James wins the rushing title--he is currently averaging 13 more yards per game than UConn's Jordan Todman--he'll have as legitimate a claim to the Heisman as anyone else. As Jake Curtis notes, the last three players who led the nation in rushing when their team was ranked No. 1 at the time of the Heisman announcement all won the trophy.
Andrew Luck has another viral moment.
Luck can't help that tomorrow's game is being broadcast on Versus, or that Newton, Moore and James have games next week while Stanford is idle. A convincing win against the Beavers and some crooked passing numbers would help his case, but Luck's best chance to gain some ground on the top three contenders is to do something that gets people talking. It wouldn't be the first time this year. Luck's hit on USC's Shareece Wright was a YouTube sensation and his truck stick collision with Cal's Sean Cattouse received a lot of play. What will he do for his final act? Block a punt? Return a kick for a touchdown? We'll see.