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Strength in Numbers
Thursday, January 15, 7:00 a.m. PT

If you're not a numbers person, then this post might make your head hurt. But numbers or - more specifically - statistics are a big part of college football, especially when it comes to determining major awards like the Heisman Trophy.

Strong individual numbers combined with team success is a surefire way to get noticed and ultimately recognized. Sprinkle in a game-changing play that becomes a permanent part of season highlight reels and you have a recipe for a legitimate Heisman hopeful.

Oregon's most recent example is Dennis Dixon's fake "Statue of Liberty" in the win at Michigan. That play (in the Big House, no less) brought attention to the player, his team and his overall numbers. As soon as that day ended, he was in the national conversation.

But what if a player's Heisman "moment" doesn't materialize early in the season? For returning All-Americans, it's not as big of an issue because their groundwork has already been laid. For others, who are not household names - well, that's a job for guys like me.

So, here we go. Let's look at four quarterbacks who I believe deserve to be on the Heisman watch list when pigskin starts flying in late August and early September.

  • Quarterback A had a passing efficiency rating of 163.44 over his team's last four games this past season.
  • Quarterback B produced a touchdown, either passing or running, every 13.5 plays down the stretch for his team, leading to four wins in as many tries to vault up the rankings.
  • Quarterback C supplemented his passing prowess by leading his team in rushing over his squad's final four contests, all victories.
  • Quarterback D totaled 14 touchdowns and tossed one interception during a 4-0 finish.

What do these signal callers have in common? All play for teams that finished in the top 10 of both major polls. All were underclassmen this past season and (as of this post) plan to return to campus next season. Two are Heisman Trophy winners and three were considered by several experts as the top three finalists for the Heisman in 2008.

Gotta guess?

I've been waiting for an excuse to use this great shot taken by photographer Eric Evans, and this fits the bill.

Okay, the four players - in no particular order - are Florida's Tim Tebow, Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli and Texas' Colt McCoy.

Before I reveal who's who (A, B, C, D), take your best shot.

Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore in 2007. (AP photo)

A. Sam Bradford
B. Tim Tebow
C. Colt McCoy
D. Jeremiah Masoli

"Wow," you may be thinking to yourself a bit sarcastically. "Masoli lumped in with that trio because of one flashy stat in a four-game window." Bear with me, there's more.

Masoli's passer rating of 170.75 was the highest of the group. His 294 rushing yards, 5.9 yards per carry average and seven rushing TDs were also tops (Tebow was next in the first two - 285 yds, 4.1 ypc - and McCoy was second in TDs on the ground with four).

 

Bradford isn't a dual threat like the other three, but he passed for a staggering 4,720 yards in 2008. (AP photo)

As for total offense, Masoli averaged a group-best 8.7 yards per play, which was more than a half-yard better than reigning Heisman winner Bradford (8.1) and two full yards better than '07 winner and '08 runner-up Tebow. His 317.0 yards per game ranked third, but was only 17.5 behind Bradford (334.5) in nearly five fewer plays per game. McCoy led everyone with 357.8 yards of TO per contest, but ran 13.5 more plays per game than Masoli.

As for total touchdowns, McCoy led the group with 15, generating six-points every 13.3 plays in which he attempted to pass or run. Masoli, by comparison, scored 14 TD overall in 54 fewer plays and averaged an end zone visit every 10.4 plays, easily the most efficient ratio of the bunch (Bradford was second at a TD every 12.7 plays).

Colt McCoy's numbers would have likely been Heisman worthy in other years. (AP photo)

"I'll admit, he started to come into his own toward the end, but Dennis Dixon was a better bet for the Heisman than Masoli will be," exclaims glass-half-empty Duck fan.

Dennis Dixon vaulted from maligned QB in 2006 to Heisman front-runner in '07.

Hmmm. Let's look at the numbers using the same four-game criteria. For DD, I'll use his last four games prior to the injury at Arizona. Very good numbers, to be sure, but while Dixon has the edge in total completions (69 to 61), passing attempts (105 to 96) and completion percentage (.657 to .635), Masoli outshines him in the heavier categories like passing yards (974 to 829), rushing yards (294 to 248), TDs (14 to 11), total offense per play (8.7 to 7.1), per game (317.0 to 269.3) and play/TD ratio (10.4 to 13.8). Each player threw only one pick over their final four games in question.

"But you just said it yourself, ‘four games’."

This is true. But four games for each of the teams involved makes up 30.7 percent of their schedules against FBS opponents (Oklahoma and Florida each played one FCS foe).

For Masoli, the youngest member of this quarterback club with three years of eligibility remaining to play two, the sample size is more like 40 percent of his career. He didn't start until Boise State – the Ducks’ fourth game of the season, where he was knocked out early in the first quarter - and prior to that he played sparingly in reserve against Washington and Utah State (he sat out against Purdue).

Besides, aren't the games from November on the most important? As for strength of schedule down the stretch, Oregon may not have played USC over the final four but they didn't play Washington or Utah State either. Stanford was 4-2 in the Pac-10 when they arrived at Autzen Stadium, Arizona beat a ranked BYU team in the Las Vegas Bowl, Oregon State was ranked, playing at home and a win away from a Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl, and No. 13 Oklahoma State had not lost to anyone not ranked in the top three all season.

Masoli capped his first year as a Duck by earning the Holiday Bowl's offensive MVP award.

Just to be clear, I'm not implying that the other three quarterbacks are anything less than the cream of the crop in the college football universe, and they all have larger bodies of work than Masoli. And there are others as well, namely Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson. But those guys never needed cases to be made for them on a blog because the media spotlight shined on them the minute they took the reigns of their respective programs.

All I'm saying is give it some thought. Based on the way he finished 2008, why shouldn't he be included in the major college football awards conversation in 2009?

Jeremiah Masoli. Remember the name.

 

For the complete statistical comparison of the four quarterbacks, plus Dixon and Robinson, click HERE.

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