The question came over a beer Saturday night, and it came from a neighbor who’d been at the game, watching Taylor Heinicke make history in Old Dominion’s 64-61 win over New Hampshire, a program that has been to the playoffs eight straight years.
“Can an FCS player win the Heisman?”
The answer is yes, an FCS player can. And it wasn’t that long ago that an FCS player finished third in the balloting.
Steve McNair was a dual-threat quarterback for Alcorn State in 1994 when he finished third behind the forgettable Rashaan Salaam and the equally forgettable Ki-Jana Carter (bonus points if you can name the schools they both played for; answers at the end of this blog).
And there was Gordie Lockbaum, a two-way standout for Holy Cross who finished third in the Heisman voting in 1987. Lockbaum was the first two-way starter at the Division I level since Leroy Keyes did it for Purdue in 1968. Lockbaum really came to roost when Holy Cross upset Army on a day when Lockbaum made 22 tackles and rushed for 113 yards.
And then there was Joe Dudek, who in 1985 was featured in Sports Illustrated as the magazine’s pick for that year’s Heisman race. The campaign for the Division III sensation from Plymouth State was simple and spectacular: “What the heck? Why not Dudek?”
It was marketing genius. Dudek finished ninth that year, but Plymouth State got some serious mileage out of their guy.
Which brings us back to this Heinicke kid.
And he really is just a kid. McNair, Lockbaum and Dudek were all seniors when their small-school Heisman glory happened. Taylor Heinicke is a true sophomore, just a little past 19½ years old.
Yes, he shaves, but only occasionally.
He’s 13 games into his college career, having not played the first four games for ODU last season. And yet his name and picture have been all over the internet and TV for the past four days since his mind-boggling performance against New Hampshire.
Think about it: 730 yards passing for five touchdowns. Another 61 yards rushing for yet another touchdown. He completed 55 of 79 passes, and the other team didn’t catch any by mistake. Those numbers are just silly. So why not take silly numbers and have a silly idea to go with them?
Why not Taylor Heinicke for the Heisman?
Don’t discount him just because he’s a sophomore, because sophomores have ruled the Heisman in recent years. Beginning with Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007, sophomores won three straight Heismans as Tebow was followed by Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Alabama’s Mark Ingram Jr.
Oh, so you think I’ve gotten ahead of myself and I’m talking gibberish, fantasizing that a sophomore quarterback at a Football Championship Subdivision school playing just its fourth year of football has a chance at winning the Heisman?
Maybe you’re right.
Then again, in today’s world a lot of crazy things seem to happen, and with more and more regularity. And, really, it’s been too long between non-BCS players who stole votes from the big boys. Throw in that Heinicke is a wunderkind and you’ve got a fabulous winning combo. Spread the word that the big schools wouldn’t offer him a scholarship because they thought he was too short to play major college football and the whole chip-on-shoulder thing comes into play as well.
College football needs a Taylor Heinicke in the Heisman race. But how does he get his foot in the door? I mean, if you go to ESPN’s College Football page on the Internet – and don’t do it until you’ve finished reading this – you’ll discover that you can’t vote for Heinicke. He’s not one of the 14 players on the Heisman House ballot, sponsored by Nissan. And there isn’t a spot for a write-in, either.
That ballot actually affects one of the Heisman votes as Nissan’s sponsorship of the ESPN people’s ballot is worth one official vote. In other words, the Nissan people tally votes throughout the season (preposterous, because nobody should be able to cast a vote in September), and fill out a ballot for the Heisman based on those Internet clicks. They call it the People’s Vote, but I’m feeling like less of a person today if I don’t get to vote for my guy.
One of the players on the ballot this week was UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin, who ran for a simply amazing 45 yards on 12 attempts Saturday in a 27-20 loss to Oregon State. Oh yeah, I almost forget: He also caught a pass for 11 yards. And, oh yeah, this whole paragraph has dripped with sarcasm.
I emailed a representative of TBWA\Chiat\Day, the ad agency that handles Nissan. They told me they would get back with me. They could do me a big favor by scratching Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and at least one of the two Oregon running backs from the list of 14 to make room for Heinicke.
Face it, people love an underdog and if you can come up with more of a Rocky storyline than Taylor Heinicke and ODU, I would tell you that you were flat-out making it up.
So far in four games this season, Heinicke has thrown for 1,921 yards and 19 touchdowns. Of his 203 pass attempts, only four have been intercepted (three in the season opener when he was obviously knocking off a little rust). He’s also rushed for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
“And don’t forget he had a 55-yard punt Saturday too,” laughed his head coach, Bobby Wilder, who has to feel pretty fortunate to have nabbed Heinicke when none of the SEC or ACC schools had the guts to pull the trigger and actually offer a 6-foot, 172-pounder a scholarship.
So don’t be amazed when the “Heinicke for Heisman” t-shirts begin to pop up around town this week, and they will. And don’t be taken back when ESPN’s Lou Holtz or Mark May reference that kid with the crazy-good arm down in Norfolk, Va.
It is coming: a wild, wicked ride that is going to amaze everyone.
And people with Heisman Trophy ballots are going to look at their ballot come December and they are going to say to themselves, “What the heck! Why not?”
Until they have a better candidate, why not Taylor Heinicke? He is, after all, the embodiment of what college athletics is all about. Or at least what college should be about: Going to a place where you’ll thrive and grow and experience the best days of your young life, a place where you’ll reach your potential.
But hey, that’s might be too deep an argument, and it very well may be far too esoteric for the cattle-call media to understand, for they so often travel in packs and come to collective consensus when they vote on matters like The Heisman.
By definition, the Heisman Trophy is to be given to “the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.”
That definition has certainly been lost at times over the years.
Oh yeah…the answer to the earlier question: Salaam played for the University of Colorado and Carter played for Penn State.