CRAWFORD | Jackson leaps to the top of Heisman lists - but what - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Jackson leaps to the top of Heisman lists - but what are his chances?

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Louisville's Lamar Jackson celebrates yet another touchdown vs. Syracuse. (AP photo) Louisville's Lamar Jackson celebrates yet another touchdown vs. Syracuse. (AP photo)
The bobblehead Louisville produced for Dave Ragone in his short-lived Heisman campaign in 2002. (WDRB photo) The bobblehead Louisville produced for Dave Ragone in his short-lived Heisman campaign in 2002. (WDRB photo)
The Lamar Jackson notebook produced for this year's ACC Media Days. (WDRB photo) The Lamar Jackson notebook produced for this year's ACC Media Days. (WDRB photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Heisman Trophy is known for its stiffarm. But it's a fantastic hurdle that has launched Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson to the top of many Heisman projections after two weeks of college football.

Jumping a defender on your way to a touchdown at Syracuse is one thing. Winning college football’s most coveted award when you don’t play at one of its name-brand addresses is something else.

But here Jackson is, atop ESPN’s Heisman Watch, after ranking just sixth a week ago. The poll includes 10 panelists. Six of them gave their vote to Jackson this week. And that’s not the only place touting his credentials.

USA Today moved him to the top of its Heisman Watch, calling him “incredible” and “easily the nation’s best player through two weeks.”

SaturdayBlitz.com publishes a weekly Heisman list that is shared by the Heisman.com website. It listed Jackson as its No. 1 contender. And if that's not enough, it offered five reasons why he will win.

The Las Vegas Sportsbook Bovada.lv updated its Heisman odds on Tuesday, listing Jackson now as the co-third choice behind Christian McCaffrey (9-2) and DeShaun Watson (5-1). Jackson, along with Deondre Francois and J.T. Barrett, is at 6-1. Jackson was at 50-1 in June and in August, and moved to 18-1 after scoring eight touchdowns in Louisville’s season-opening win.

New York Post columnist Zach Brazziler said of him, “Jackson has looked more like Deshaun Watson . . .  than Watson himself.”

ESPN rolled out an all-access video feature with him on Tuesday night's SportsCenter.

All of that, of course, is well and good in the second week of September. No one has won the Heisman in the first weeks of the season. But, and this is important, to win the award, you almost have to be in contention early in the season, especially if you’re not from one of college football’s glamor programs.

Ryan Mayer of CBS New York sounded a note of caution when he wrote, “The history of September college football is littered with guys who came out of the gates like Secretariat, only to fall off down the stretch like Curlin.”

Faulty horse racing analogy notwithstanding (Secretariat was a closer, and Curlin was good enough to be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame), the point is well-taken.

However, it’s also worth noting that Jackson isn’t a freshman. While this year’s competition hasn’t been great, he has faced legitimate teams. He threw for season-highs of 307 yards and three touchdowns with an interception in Tallahassee last season -- though he ran for only 32 net yards on 19 carries.

The better teams try to keep him bottled up and make him a pocket passer. A year ago, he wasn’t ready for that. He wasn’t the starting quarterback entering the season, knew little about the intricacies of Bobby Petrino’s offense and even less about reading defenses.

This season, that isn’t the case.

But the Heisman? No one has broken the trophy down like Chris Huston. For years, his HeismanPundit.com website was required reading, and now he’s the editor of Heisman.com.

His Ten Heismandments should be committed to memory by anyone who wants a working knowledge how this award works and those who are likely to generate hype without hope. The more that apply to a given candidate, Huston says, the better his chances of winning.

A quick rundown of Huston’s findings, and how Jackson could measure up:

1). The winner must be a quarterback, running back or multi-threat athlete. Jackson fits.

2). Juniors and seniors have the overwhelming advantage in the Heisman race and, as a general rule, will win over an underclassman if all other factors are equal.  Underclassmen can overcome this disadvantage only through extraordinary single-season production. A strike against Jackson, but he’s off to the right kind of statistical start.

3). The winner must produce good numbers in high-profile games on TV. Saturday is his first chance.

4). The winner must have some prior name recognition. Jackson is a bit sketchy here, but finishing last season with a pair of 200-plus-yard rushing games didn’t hurt.

5). The winner must be one or more of the following three: (a) The top player on a national title contender. (b) A player who puts up good numbers for a traditional power with good record or (c) A player who puts up superlative single-season or career numbers on a good team, or produces numbers that are way out ahead of his Heisman competitors. In other words, for Jackson to win, his numbers likely will have to be overwhelmingly superior to other contenders. It’s possible, but difficult.

6). The winner cannot be considered an obvious product of his team’s system. Should not be the case for Jackson, though he definitely benefits from Petrino’s offense. You can't coach being able to throw a ball 80 yards. You can't coach his speed. But you can coach how to use those weapons, and Petrino is one of the best at that. He spent all summer getting Jackson to work on his footwork, learning defenses, learning his own offense, mundane stuff, but the mix of that with Jackson's athleticism has been impressive.

7). If you are a quarterback, running back or multi-purpose athlete at one of the following schools–Notre Dame, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Florida and Florida State–you have a good chance to win if you have a very good statistical season and your team wins at least 9 games. Nope. Can’t do anything about this one.

8). Statistical benchmarks exist for each position to help voters gauge a player’s ‘Heisman worthiness’. Dual-threat quarterbacks must produce at least 3,500 yards of total offense and 35 combined touchdowns and have a passer rating of 140 or better. Jackson is well on his way here. But again, his numbers likely would have to be well above those to give him a chance. Seeing that Jackson has produced 1,015 yards in his first two games, that’s certainly within the realm of possibility.

9). There will never be another two-time Heisman winner. No problem here.

10). The winner must be likable. Jackson worked hard on his media presentation in the offseason, and had a good ACC media day. This is something, however, he’ll have to keep working on as the season goes on.

Notice, nowhere in any of those is a “Heisman campaign” mentioned, and I don’t expect Jackson will get anything approaching one unless he’s still in contention after the Cards play Clemson on Oct. 1.

U of L last launched a major Heisman campaign for quarterback Dave Ragone in 2002, but after the Cardinals lost their season-opener against Kentucky, the campaign was over. There were rumblings of Teddy Bridgewater and the Heisman before his junior season, but he asked coaches not to mount a campaign on his behalf, and in the end, his numbers, and concern over Louisville's strength of schedule in the American Athletic Conference, kept him from being a finalist.

Louisville did put Jackson on the cover of a notebook it gave reporters at ACC media day, but certainly didn’t include the word “Heisman” on it.

And these aren't the days of Conference USA, or even the Big East. Inclusion in the ACC, and in fact, in one of the toughest conference divisions in college football, automatically means opportunity. It won't hurt that Jackson will have head-to-head games against three of the other top seven contenders: Francois, Watson, and Houston's Greg Ward Jr. If Jackson proves as good as his start, the recognition will continue, no question.

The best thing Jackson can do is keep putting up other-worldly statistics. He doesn't have to match better teams, but the more memorable things he can do, will still piling up numbers, the better off he'll be. The paragraph on Jackson from ESPN’s Heisman watch reads: “After almost becoming the first quarterback to ever throw for 400 yards and rush for 200 in a single game (he finished at 199!) against Syracuse, Jackson enters Saturday's epic battle with Florida State with 1,015 total yards of offense and 13 total touchdowns to just one interception. Jackson is averaging 507.5 yards of offense per game, better than 97 FBS teams.”

With Jackson already on the Heisman radar -- and leading prominent polls -- his numbers could do a lot of the talking, if he can stay healthy, and if he can continue to post impressive ones. But he has to know, as do his fans, the love can fade away with a single sub-par game. That's just how this beauty contest works.

The good thing for Jackson is that even if this doesn't wind up being the year, there’s always next year. With the Heisman, being in the national conversation is mandatory. Jackson has jumped into that, in a big way. The problem with starting out this hot will be doing enough as the season goes on to stay there.

But Jackson has the talent, and the coaching. The only question is whether his time has come.

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