On the surface, what could possibly be less consequential than a Friday night game at Buffalo for the Heisman Trophy chances of Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty?
Heisman candidates have talent, a positive public image, name recognition – greetings, people of Salem, Oregon! – an integral role in their team’s success, eye-popping statistics, and perfect attendance. Petty has all of those in spades, except that last one. And it could end up costing him.
It takes extremely good fortune to win a Heisman, including an immunization to injuries. In fact, no Heisman Trophy winner has missed extended time in the recent history of the award. Petty has already missed a game and a half, which counts as extended time in the chase for sport’s most coveted individual award. He left Baylor’s 45-0 win over SMU in the opener at halftime after cracking two transverse processes in his back, and did not play in Saturday’s 70-6 thumping of Northwestern State. (And it doesn’t help Petty’s case for college football’s MVP award when his replacement, sophomore Seth Russell, was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week in his absence after throwing for 438 yards and accounting for six touchdowns.)
With only two quarters of action to his credit, Petty has completed 13-of-23 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns and rushed twice for 21 yards and a touchdown. He does not currently rank in the top 100 nationally in passing yards or total offense. He will make up ground once he returns, of course, but how much? Petty is already more than 700 passing yards behind Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill, nearly 500 yards behind UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, and more than 400 yards behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.
This is where forces well beyond Petty’s control conspire against him. No. 8 Baylor plays a 12-game regular season. Each of the quarterbacks listed above has the potential to play 13. With two games already in the books, Petty at best will play 10 full games and half of another, almost 20 percent less than his competition.
Name recognition plays a role in Heisman voting, and smart voters will remember Petty missed time in September while casting their votes in late November and early December, but Heisman voters are a large electorate. Many voters, sadly, do not pay as close attention to college football as the type of person reading a blog post about a player’s Heisman chances in early September. This is where sheer tonnage of yardage comes into play, and where Petty has already fallen behind.
Let’s say Petty enjoys perfect health over Baylor’s 10 remaining games and duplicates his numbers from last season, where he ranked sixth nationally with 323.1 passing yards per game. That puts him at 3,392 passing yards and somewhere around 27 touchdowns. Assuming Baylor remains a College Football Playoff contender throughout the season, those are good enough numbers to send him to New York and maybe even bring a trophy home with him. But what if he misses Friday’s game at Buffalo? Then, when applying his 2013 numbers forward, Petty projects to throw for 3,069 yards and his candidacy enters the danger zone. Only three quarterbacks in the past 25 years have won the Heisman while throwing for less than 3,000 yards: 2001 winner Eric Crouch, 2006 winner Troy Smith, and 2010 winner Cam Newton. Crouch won his award on the strength of his legs, Smith on the strength of his resume as the quarterback of a college football blue blood that both opened and closed the regular season as No. 1 and beat two No. 2 teams, and Newton did both.
The last four Heisman winners, Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, and Winston, averaged 4,313 yards of total offense and accounted for 44.5 touchdowns in their respective runs to immortality. Petty would have to average 413 total yards and 4.25 touchdowns per game assuming he plays Friday – which, thankfully, he should according to John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald – and 459 total yards with 4.7 touchdowns per game if he sits. Last year’s national leader in total offense, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, averaged 400 yards on the nose. Manziel led the country in 2012 with a 393-yard average. Griffin averaged 384 yards in his Heisman year, and Newton averaged 309. Petty ranked eighth nationally a year ago at a shade over 339 yards of total offense per game.
In that scenario, Petty would have to put up absolutely ridiculous numbers throughout what should be a difficult Big 12 schedule, or Baylor would almost certainly have to go undefeated and secure a Playoff berth for Petty to have a realistic shot at the award. And it might take both.
So, Mr. Petty, just accomplish something never been done before in the history of your university while outpacing the numbers of some of the greatest players in the recent history of college football, and then you can win the Heisman.