Keenum deserves some Heisman hype

Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

Case Keenum for Heisman.

There, I said it. It’s out there. Let the nasty e-mails fly.

But no quarterback in the country has put up better numbers or been more clutch than Houston’s signal caller. So while everyone’s trying to dig up names of Heisman Trophy candidates, the best choice has been leading the nation statistically all year long.

Keenum averages 420.88 yards of total offense per game, almost 100 yards more than the next closest player. He leads the country in passing with 35.63 completions per game and 411.63 passing yards per game. He’s already thrown for 3,293 yards this season and is on pace to come close to 5,000 yards for the year. The only quarterbacking category he doesn’t lead is passing efficiency, but he ranks fourth.

The argument that he hasn’t played anyone doesn’t hold up. He led his team to wins at then-No. 5 (at the time) Oklahoma State and Mississippi State. He led his team to a late victory over Texas Tech. Yeah, the Cougars lost to UTEP, their only loss of the season, but Keenum still completed 67 percent of his passes for 536 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately, Keenum doesn’t play defense.

Against Mississippi State, Keenum completed 75 percent of his passes for 434 yards and four touchdowns. Florida’s quarterback Tim Tebow completed 54.5 percent of his passes against the Bulldogs for 127 yards, no touchdowns and finished with 215 total yards and one score.

Against Oklahoma State, Keenum completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 366 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for a score. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy completed 76.2 percent of his passes against the Cowboys for 171 yards and one score.

Yes, Keenum doesn’t have the name recognition. He doesn’t play for an SEC or Big 12 team. He’s not plastered on T-shirts, multiple billboards and magazines. His stadium rarely sells out and his games are rarely on TV. But if you were to strip away the name and the school and the bias and put his stats and his wins up against any other quarterback in the country, he’d be an easy choice to go to New York.

“He’s a winner and he’s a coaches' kid and he’s the leader of our team,” Houston coach Kevin Sumlin said. “For us to win, he has to play at a high level and I think he’s done that consistently… Statistically, I don’t think there’s any question that he should have a chance to go to New York. I know that there are players up there that are valuable to their programs, but I would argue that no one is more valuable to a team in the top 20 than he is.”

Sure, stats aren’t the only quality that makes up a Heisman Trophy winner. The bronze statue goes to the nation’s best player and that includes, wins, leadership and other intangibles. Keenum doesn’t have the luxury of being surrounded by some of the nation’s best players and recruits like some other guys on the list. And like Sumlin pointed out, he has to play well for the Cougars to win. Already we’ve seen teams such as Florida and Texas win games despite subpar performances by their quarterbacks. With the exception of one loss, he’s done all the things Tebow and McCoy have done and put up better numbers doing it. He’s led his team to come-from-behind wins in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Southern Miss. The Cougars were down at halftime against Mississippi State when Keenum led them to 17 points, including two passing touchdowns.

And he’s not a system quarterback. He’s not just a guy who throws the ball up to his receivers and hopes for the best. He reads defenses and puts the ball into places where only his team can catch it. On one play against Texas Tech, he actually threw the ball side arm to get it around a defender.

Hawaii’s Colt Brennan was the last non-AQ player to make the trip to the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and Keenum is on pace to finish with better stats. And though he won’t go undefeated like Brennan, he will have better wins.

Why is it that voters and fans are so quick to dismiss a player’s ability because he doesn’t play in one of the automatic qualifying conferences? Just because he doesn’t face an SEC defense every week doesn’t make him less of a quality player.

And in a year where no player has really taken control of college football’s most prestigious award, Keenum should get a serious look as the winner.