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These determining factors, which can be reviewed here, range anywhere from an impressive statistical resume to a broad base of support transcending the usual alumni crowd.
Peering into the 2008 season, we established that of the many talented non-BCS conference players around the country, only Central Michigan’s Dan LeFevour and BYU’s Max Hall had enough support going into the season to sustain potential Heisman trophy winning campaigns. That is not to say that other non-BCS players (such as Boise State’s Ian Johnson) couldn’t be considered for the Heisman trophy, but that a lack of preseason “buzz” surrounding their candidacy will likely hamper their ability to make a sustained run at the award throughout the season. With this in mind, we turn our attention to the question of LeFevour and Hall, both outstanding quarterbacks poised to lead potential conference championship teams in 2008.
Unless an unhealthy obsession with the Arena Football League has caused you to turn your back on the preseason buzz around the college football landscape, you’ve probably been subjected to plenty of TV, print, and radio features focusing in on LeFevour over the past month. And why not? The guy, who Phil Steele affectionately calls “Tim Tebow Lite,” was only the most statistically dominating quarterback in the entire country outside of the Heisman winning Tebow last season, barely missing the Florida quarterback’s distinction of both throwing and rushing for 20 touchdowns. The CMU field general not only lead his Chippewas to a MAC crown, but he did so en route to becoming only the second player in NCAA history to pass for over 3000 yards and rush for over 1000. His statistical output alone was mind-boggling, and with seven other returning offensive starters in 2008 could be even better this season. A sure Heisman contender one would think, at least as far as any non-BCS Heisman contender can be concerned, right?
Maybe not. Reconsidering the aforementioned criteria, it seems questionable even if LeFevour can sustain a Heisman candidacy throughout the first half of the season. For starters his team will face an uphill battle for getting to a BCS-bowl game, having to travel to both Georgia (#1 in the Preseason Coaches Poll) and Purdue (lost to the Boilermakers twice last season) in September matchups. Considering that leading a non-BCS team to a BCS bowl is essential in any non-BCS player’s candidacy, LeFevour would likely have to take the Garrett Wolfe “shock and awe” statistical approach. While LeFevour is well known and “entrenched” in the minds of the voters, such an approach is difficult to base an entire Heisman campaign behind. Taken into context of Wolfe’s early season Heisman run two short years ago, LeFevour would likely have to put up statically dominating performances against Georgia and Purdue, while rewriting the record books the rest of the season without having any slipups against conference competition. Finally there is always the question of competition, and whether or not the MAC will be perceived as competitive enough to support a Heisman trophy caliber player. Frankly there are just too many “ifs” in a possible LeFevour Heisman run, and while I think the CMU quarterback will be considered all year by the voters as a fringe candidate, he won’t likely find himself in New York as a finalist, and definitely will not win the trophy in 2008.
Non-BCS conference fans shouldn’t give up all hope however; because where LeFevour could fall short Brigham Young’s Max Hall should stand out. A former transfer from Arizona State, all Hall did in his first season of competitive football since 2003 was to lead the Cougars to a Mountain West conference championship and an 11-2 record last season. Completing over 60% of his passes for 3848 yards and 26 touchdowns (compared to 12 interceptions) Hall may not have put up NCAA ’09 statistics like LeFevour or Tebow, but he still managed to earn First Team All-Conference honors. So what gives Hall the advantage over LeFevour as a viable non-BCS conference Heisman candidate, and does he really have a shot at achieving the still hypothetical “winning formula” for a non-BCS player to actually win the award? The answer lays not only in Hall’s potential to meet both “primary” factors, but also his prospects of meeting the secondary factors which so often make the difference between just being a finalist, and actually winning the Heisman.
Statistically, Hall should easily top his already impressive 2007 numbers. What makes me so sure? Well, aside from the obvious fact that BYU’s offense returns nine starters from last year’s team, there is the poignant but often overlooked fact that the offense was in rebuilding mode last season. Remember, 2007 was Hall’s first year playing college football and first year playing the sport competitively since he was a senior in High School in 2003, and by their own admission a number of BYU players (including leading wideout Austin Collie) were not 100% physically after returning from mission trips last season. Now, with a full offseason under their belts and greater time to gel as a unit and condition their bodies, I look for the Hall-Collie relationship to thrive as one of the most productive in the entire country and for the entire offense to flourish under Hall’s direction. 4000 yards passing with at least a 3-1 touchdown to interception ratio looks very realistic, and with those kind of numbers Hall is sure to vault himself into the Heisman discussion.
Now, as far as busting the BCS is concerned, everyone already knows Brigham Young will come into the season on a “quest for perfection” under Bronco Mendenhall, but perhaps equally important to Max Hall’s cause is that they’ll also come into the season ranked. Seventeenth to be precise, at least according to the recently released Coaches Poll. Starting the season ranked so high can only help BYU, which faces by every account both a manageable nonconference and conference schedule. If Hall can lead the Cougars to a BCS Bowl Game (a prospect which will occur should BYU go undefeated) than he will only solidify himself as a Heisman trophy contender.
With a real chance to capitalize on both primary factors for Heisman consideration, we now turn our attention to the all important if not somewhat ironically named “secondary factors.” Ironic because, as was established in the previous article, they end up more times then not ultimately determining whether a player is just in the Heisman discussion or whether or not he has a viable opportunity to actually win the award. While certain factors such as a weak Heisman field are out of Hall’s control, he does put himself in a better position than LeFevour when it comes to qualifying for a number of these factors.
For example, Hall will have plenty of opportunities to prove his ability in a “statement” game this fall. If he can perform well, early and nationally televised matchups against PAC-10 teams Washington and UCLA should help to answer any lingering doubts about the level of BYU’s competition, while marquee Mountain West contests against TCU and Utah can only propel his campaign further. Unlike Central Michigan’s road trip to Georgia, Brigham Young should be favored in these matchups against BCS conference schools, giving Hall a distinct advantage over LeFevour in being able to perform at a high level against nationally respected competition.
Likewise, Hall has a distinct advantage over LeFevour in his ability to be marketed to voters. While I’m well aware of the “Colossus of Comerica Park,” the reality is that selling a BYU quarterback as a Heisman contender is a lot easier and more plausible than selling a MAC quarterback from a so-called “directional school.” This isn’t a shot at Central Michigan, but with BYU’s tradition of quarterback play (including Ty Detmer’s Heisman trophy winning performance of 1990) coupled with the school’s national following, Hall holds a natural advantage over LeFevour. If both quarterbacks have successful 2008 seasons, even ESPN’s rights to MAC conference games won’t likely put LeFevour on a higher pedestal than Hall, who will have the benefit of playing against much stiffer conference competition in 2008. The only negative aspect of Hall’s budding candidacy that may crop up is whether or not he will be recognized as the “face” of the BYU program this season. Where LeFevour is the undisputed man at Central Michigan (quick test; name another CMU skill position player?) Hall is surrounded by several well recognized faces on the offense in Provo, not the least of whom is another potential Mountain West Player of the Year candidate in running back Harvey Unga. If BYU can remain unbeaten the question as the season unfolds will inevitably shift to which player will have hastened BYU’s success the most, with Hall and Unga almost certain to be the top nominees. It’ll be interesting to see how the dynamic progresses, as it was a similar situation with Jared Zabransky which may have detracted from Ian Johnson’s late season Heisman push in 2006.
In all reality, both Max Hall and Dan LeFevour enter the 2008 season as Heisman darkhorses. Dogged by questions of competition level, NFL potential, and the usual list of Heisman politics, neither one is being talked about right now as one of the top contenders for college football’s most coveted award. Yet recent history has shown that with the right formula, a non-BCS conference player can receive consideration for the Heisman, and perhaps even win it. While both quarterbacks represent the very best from the non-BCS, it’s Hall’s unique situation at the helm of a ranked team which gives him the upper-hand over LeFevour, and gives him the potential to be the first non-BCS Heisman trophy winner since the beginning of the BCS system ten years ago.
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