We’ve made it far enough into the season to start seriously considering individuals and teams for awards and conference titles. As always, we will be looking at these races with a purely Texan lens. Honestly, what more could you want?
The state of Texas has had great luck winning college football’s ultimate individual in recent years. Twice in the last five years the Lone Star State has brought the trophy home, first with Baylor’s Robert Griffin III and, the very next year, by Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel. The spurt was unusual for Texas schools. Over the history of the Heisman Trophy, Texas has been lucky to see the award once a decade.
So, can Texas add more winners to their best decade of Heisman success ever? Here’s a look at some possible candidates to continue the streak (alphabetical order by last name):
Trevone Boykin, TCU: Boykin has been a revelation for the Horned Frogs at quarterback. In 2014 he threw for 3,901 yards with 33 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. Of course, Boykin was great on the ground as well, with an additional 707 yards and eight touchdowns. So far this year, all Boykin has done is improve on those numbers. Through six games, Boykin has thrown for 2,103 yards, 21 touchdowns and only five interceptions. His quarterback rating is up almost 17 points, as his completion percentage is higher and his average per attempt has gone up almost two yards. On the ground he has improved as well. Boykin has 366 yards and four touchdowns on just 64 carries with his average going up a full yard per attempt.
Boykin has done nothing but become more efficient and more deadly as a quarterback – leading one of the country’s top five programs will drastically help his Heisman candidacy. However, just becoming more efficient doesn’t guarantee a Heisman – just ask Johnny Manziel after his (statistically) much improved 2013 campaign. Barring Boykin turning into an absolute machine, the Frogs will likely have to go undefeated for him to make his way to the podium in New York. Of course, a signature Heisman moment would be a huge boost as well. Some people consider the Kansas State win last week a Heisman moment, but in all actuality, it really wasn’t. Favored by nearly two scores going into the game, Boykin bailed the Frogs out of what would have been a huge upset. A Heisman moment certainly isn’t holding on against an unranked opponent (also, an opponent that was starting the last of their last string at corner, although since the Jayhawks do have TCU’s old corner coach, maybe we can be more forgiving). A real Heisman moment? Let’s see if Boykin can pull the same feat on a fourth quarter drive to beat the Bears. For now, Boykin is squarely in the Heisman hunt and should be for most of the year.
Corey Coleman, Baylor: This contender is a bit of a stretch. In the entire history of the Heisman only two true wide receivers have won the award – Tim Brown (a Texan) from Notre Dame in 1987 and Desmond Howard from Michigan in 1991. That more or less tells the story. It will take some special circumstances and Corey having a fantastic year for this to come to fruition. However, if anyone can do it, it will be Coleman.
Through just five games, Coleman has 31 receptions for 678 yards and 13 touchdowns. If we see those numbers hold out over the Bears’ remaining seven games this season, his output would be something along the lines of 1,500 receiving yards on 70 receptions with 28 touchdowns. With a few monster games, Coleman could push the single season receiving record of 2,060 yards (Trevor Insley, Nevada) and has every chance of passing the single season receiving touchdown mark of 27 (Troy Edwards, Louisiana Tech).
While many might argue that Coleman’s numbers will dive as the Bears’ competition increases, I would say it’s fair to argue the opposite. Corey has actually been hampered by the Bears schedule thus far, as he has been forced to sit after halftime in blowouts. Working for a full four quarters, look for Corey’s numbers to stay the same, if not increase. The only number that will change is his average yards per catch which is currently sitting at an unbelievable 21.9. Also, look for Coleman’s rushing numbers to go up in conference play as the Bears use packages with him at RB to keep defenses from substituting.
I’m sure some people will question why Coleman has made this list while TCU’s Josh Doctson hasn’t. Josh has had a great season and could eventually work his way into this conversation, but for now he is producing at a comparable level to Coleman while Doctson has seen more playing time due to the Frogs playing in closer games (yes, TCU has played a harder schedule thus far). This isn’t a knock on Doctson, so much as it is a belief in the Baylor offensive system. If it’s any consolation, Doctson’s game will likely transition to the next level better due to the two players’ statures (Doctson is 6’ 3” while Corey is listed at a generous 5’ 11”).
Myles Garrett, Texas A&M: If Coleman was a stretch then this possibility will require some miracles. Charles Woodson remains the only primarily defensive player to have won the Heisman Trophy, although he did have fantastic kick return numbers to aid his campaign. We have been fortunate enough to see defensive players included in Heisman voting over the past few years, most notably the inclusion of Manti Te’o in 2012 (he finished second behind Manziel in the final vote). However, Garrett is the most dominant defensive player since Ndamukong Suh at Nebraska. While Suh would finish fourth in Heisman voting (he had the highest vote total ever for a fourth-place finisher), he did win the 2009 AP Player of the Year becoming the first defensive player in history to receive the award.
Myles has already put together a solid 2015 campaign – his 7.5 sacks are tied for fourth best in the country. Oh, and he has achieved that while almost always being double and even triple teamed. As J.J. Watt has made the Texans defense must-watch TV, Garrett has made the Aggie defense entertaining. Even against the mutant, biggest-line-in-the-country Arkansas Razorbacks, Garrett made his presence felt on a crucial fourth quarter strip-sack (while being held). The tackle that Garrett faced in the Arkansas game was a mere 6’ 5” 340, outweighing Garrett by 80 pounds. It didn’t matter as Myles used speed, quickness, strength and a host of pass rush moves to make himself felt.
If he can continue to dominate offensive lines, even as coaches scheme specifically against him, Garrett will work his way into the conversation of Heisman finalist. The Aggies game this weekend against the Crimson Tide will offer plenty of nationally televised moments for Garrett to make his mark. As his situational awareness and technique continue to improve, we aren’t too far from seeing Myles record an important interception at the line of scrimmage. Even if Garrett doesn’t find his way to New York this season, he is just a sophomore, guaranteeing all of us one more year to watch him dominate college football. (Much like Doctson in the Coleman highlight, I’m sure some Cougar fans are disappointed Garrett got the nod over UH’s Steven Taylor who currently has eight sacks, third best in the country. While Taylor has been invaluable to the Cougars, he simply doesn’t dominate games or command the attention of opposing coaches the way Myles does.)
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech: The sophomore sensation has been crucial to the improvement of the Red Raiders this season. Outside of the Baylor game, Tech has played exceptionally well in every game this season. The Raiders likely should have defeated the Horned Frogs, if not for Aaron Green’s exceptional play at the end of the game. While I firmly believe the Raiders will be ranked by the end of this season, the two losses are probably too much for Mahomes to overcome in the Heisman race.
However, as the nation’s number three passer and the top passer from a power five conference, Mahomes deserves to be mentioned in the conversation. With 2,264 yards, 19 touchdowns and only five interceptions Mahomes’ passing numbers are almost identical to TCU’s redshirt senior Boykin (their rushing numbers aren’t too far apart either, Boykin has 64 rushes for 366 and four TDs while Mahomes has 34 rushes for 257 yards and six scores). It would take something special for Mahomes to be in the Heisman conversation at the end of the year. If the 2015 campaign finishes out how it started, Mahomes should be considered a Heisman favorite in 2016.
Seth Russell, Baylor: It’s sad to say, but Coleman’s biggest competition to the Heisman is likely his own quarterback. Russell currently ranks 20th in the nation with 1,527 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. Much like Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree in 2008, wide receivers struggle to gain recognition as their numbers naturally inflate their QBs’ numbers (in 2008, Harrell actually finished higher in Heisman voting despite, what I would argue, was Crabtree’s clearly greater ability).
While Russell’s total rushing yards (178) are lower than many of his competitors, his average yards per attempt of 6.6 is one of the highest in the country for a QB. Perhaps Russell’s biggest plus is his QBR. With a rating of 210.7, Russell has by far the highest QBR of any quarterback with 30+ attempts (the next highest is 187.4 by Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty). Like Coleman, some of Russell’s numbers have been hampered by blowouts where he doesn’t play a full game. We should get a clearer picture as the Bears move into the meat of their schedule.
Greg Ward Jr., Houston: If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch this kid play yet – you have to. Fortunately, Ward and the Cougars will be on national TV tonight with little competition in viewership. Ward has been spectacular so far this season. Although he only ranks 36th in the country in passing yards with 1,302, he has been super-efficient with eight touchdowns and only one interception (his QBR is also an outstanding 169.4).
When you consider Ward’s rushing numbers, that’s when you really get into Heisman talk. So far this season, Ward has 79 rushes for 554 yards (7.0 yards per attempt) and 11 scores. Having just played five games, that puts Ward’s averages at 260.4 yards passing per game and 110.8 yards rushing per game (those would be similar averages to what Johnny Manziel and Robert Griffin did during their Heisman campaigns – and Boykin’s averages last year).
Ward is clearly the center piece in the Houston offense and a big reason why the Cougars are still undefeated and ranked for the first time since 2011. If he continues his high level of play, Houston should win the AAC and will likely be undefeated. While the Cougars weak schedule would almost certainly keep them out of the College Football Playoff, the right circumstances might allow for Ward to take home the Heisman, or, at a minimum, be named a finalist and make the trip to New York.
So early in conference play, it is still difficult to discern who is and who isn’t a legitimate conference contender. With some breaks (that are incredibly unlikely) some schools, like Rice, could compete for their conference division. Other teams might show growth that allows them to compete at a level the currently aren’t playing at. Other teams might fall apart or be undone by injuries. Who knows – that’s the beauty of college football. However, if we are to look at conference races right now, here are some of the best chances the Lone Star State has at bringing home conference titles.
American Athletic Conference, Houston: The Cougars remain one of the American Athletic Conference’s three undefeated teams (along with Memphis and Temple). The Cougars could score a victory against power five opponent Vanderbilt (in all likelihood, the Cougars should be favored) before facing their biggest hurdles in Memphis and Navy – their third-to-last game and final game of the season, both are home contests. Using ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) which works to measure a team’s strength and future success (among other things, FPI takes results to date, remaining schedule and 10,000 simulations into account), Houston has a 16.2% chance to win the AAC. If I was a betting man, I would take the Cougars to win their division and make it to the AAC title game where they would almost certainly face Temple (predicted to have a 57.4% chance of winning the conference). As Houston has a fairly easy schedule over the next couple of weeks, it will allow the team to perfect Tom Herman’s system while installing new wrinkles. Hopefully, the Coogs will bring Texas its first AAC title in football.
Big 12, Baylor: The Bears have looked simply dominate through their first games. Even though they have played largely sub-par competition, Baylor has dispatched each team with an efficiency and lethality that should terrify all of their remaining opponents. The Bears will likely be heavily favored the rest of the year, with the only exception being a Fort Worth contest against TCU. Baylor currently ranks first in the country in FPI and first in the country in team efficiencies. Even with the tough road game against TCU and another in Stillwater, where the Bears historically play terrible, Baylor still has an astounding 54.8% chance to win the conference. Of course, Baylor won’t take anything for granted. Briles and his team learned their lesson last season – they will only be happy if the go undefeated through the regular season.
Big 12, TCU: While the Bears have the best shot at the Big 12 crown, TCU still has a predicted 34.4% chance to win the Big 12. The Horned Frogs rank second in FPI and seventh in team efficiencies. While there is no question the Frogs have a dangerous offense, defensive attrition looks like it will doom TCU’s chances. However, Patterson still has plenty of time left before the showdown with the Bears to get his players in shape. This could be a totally different looking defense by November 27. Regardless, Amon Carter will be charged and the TCU fans will be rocking – it will be a tough game for the Bears without question. With games left in Stillwater and Norman, TCU has a tougher remaining schedule than Baylor, but, like the Bears, TCU learned an invaluable lesson last year – go undefeated or be left out of the playoffs.
SEC, Texas A&M: This weekend will be the pivotal moment in the SEC West race. While it seems likely that the Aggies are still a year removed from being legitimate contenders, a win this weekend would prove otherwise. The Aggies rank sixth in FPI and third in team efficiencies. In fact, the Aggies are the only team in the top-ten of team efficiencies to total 68 or higher (on a scale of 0-100) in offense, defense and special teams – a possible indication of balance. However, it should be noted that the Tide are higher ranked overall in both scales. The Aggies have a 16.6% chance of winning the SEC compared to 9.1% chance for Alabama and a 11.5% chance for LSU (currently, the best odds in the West go to Ole Miss with 20.9% while Florida is best overall with a 32.6% chance. While the Rebels have looked mortal the last couple of weeks, they have already accomplished the most difficult goal – beating ‘Bama. Plus, Ole Miss’ loss was to an East team which won’t affect their West standings. Of course, all of us watching know it’s incredibly unlikely that Ole Miss goes undefeated through the rest of their SEC schedule). This weekend will go a long way to deciding how long Texas A&M remains on this list and, like Houston, bringing a new conference title to the state of Texas for the first time.
This article was written and researched by Ryan Sprayberry, Collections and Exhibits Manager at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame