The Pac-12 blog, as it's prone to do during the offseason, laid out five bold predictions for the 2015 season last week. It was authored by the incomparable Ted Miller, who reached deep down into his bag of troll dust and sprinkled us with some thoughts to ponder. Today, Kyle Bonagura and Kevin Gemmell will pick apart one of those bold predictions -- No. 4, to be exact -- which states that Utah running back Devontae Booker should be the Pac-12's Heisman frontrunner, and not presumptive leading man, USC quarterback Cody Kessler. We debate, because what else are we going to do on a Wednesday in May?
Kevin Gemmell: And the heavens parted and angelic music rained down. Because yes, I actually agree with Ted. However, that doesn't mean Booker is going to win it. Heck, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for nearly 2,600 yards in 2014 and didn't win it. But if a Pac-12 player represents the league in New York, my best guess is it will be Booker for a few reasons.
While quarterbacks have dominated the trophy of late (five straight winners) none of those five were of the Kessler mold. Four of the five were dual-threat monsters and the fifth was a freak athlete (and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft). Heisman voters have been enamored with the dual-threat QB. Consider the rushing numbers of the last five winners: Marcus Mariota (770 yards, 15 touchdowns), Jameis Winston (219-4), Johnny Manziel (1,410-21), Robert Griffin III (699-10) and Cam Newton (1,473, 20). Kessler has 276 rushing yards and three touchdowns -- over three seasons! Kessler is a very good pocket quarterback. He's athletic, sure. He's a USC quarterback for goodness sake. But he's not going to go anywhere near those numbers.
However, from the Heisman voters I talked with, I got the impression that some of them wanted to start getting away from the spread QB last year -- but simply couldn't because Mariota's numbers were so ridiculously good. And that meant bad luck for Gordon. But it could also spell good luck for Booker.
There are other candidates besides Booker and Kessler to consider. After all, UCLA's Paul Perkins was the league's leading rusher last year. And shouldn't a defensive player be due (cough, Scooby Wright)? But Booker is the type of back in the type of offense that could produce 2,000-plus yards. The schedule sets up nicely for him to have a big season. The only top 20 rush defense the Utes see from last year is Michigan (15th). Fresno State and Colorado were both in triple digits. Washington and USC lost key defensive players and Stanford (12th) isn't on the schedule.
And quarterbacks -- especially the ones who represent Troy -- are held to a much higher standard. If Kessler throws three touchdowns in a loss to UCLA -- then the storyline is he couldn't beat UCLA. If Booker rushes for 150 and two touchdowns in a loss to UCLA, the story is UCLA wins, but heck of a game for Booker.
This isn't a full-blown endorsement for Booker's candidacy. But if he can surge all year the way he did once his carries picked up in the fourth game (he averaged 133 YPG over the final 10) he'll be knocking on the door of a 2,000-yard season, which will raise a lot of eyebrows nationally.
Kyle Bonagura: A lot of good points, Kevin. Tip of the cap to you, my friend. And if it turns out that Booker does represent the Pac-12 in New York, I'll be happy to get you the finest carton of chocolate milk money can buy as a tribute to your excellent foresight. It'd be a welcome storyline, too, but it's just not going to happen.
Too many factors are working against Booker to make him a more viable candidate than Kessler, not least of which is history. Since Mike Garrett won the Trojans' first Heisman Trophy in 1965, the school has produced 23 top-10 finishers for the award. During that same span, Utah has produced just one -- Alex Smith in 2004 -- and even he had fewer first-place votes that season than two players from USC, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. And Smith was the eventual No. 1 pick and led the Utes to an undefeated season.
For me, this isn't so much a Booker vs. Kessler debate as it is Utah RB vs. USC QB. If you want to say that's not fair, I wouldn't disagree, but that also doesn't mean it's not reality. I'm a big Booker believer and I think a 2,000-yard season is out there, but we only need to look back at the conference's last 2,000-yard back to remember it doesn't guarantee a trip to New York. Cal's J.J. Arrington ran for 2,018 yards, also in 2004, coincidentally, and finished eighth in the Heisman voting. That seems like a best-case for Booker, who isn't a well-known commodity outside of our Pac-12 bubble.
Look at the odds Bovada has right now for the 2015 Heisman: Kessler comes in at 12-to-1, while Booker isn't even offered. Say what you want about using gambling odds to make a case, but, at minimum, it takes an accurate pulse of national perception. Perkins (20/1), Oregon's Royce Freeman (28/1), Arizona State's D.J. Foster (40/1), Arizona's Nick Wilson (40/1), Cal's Jared Goff (50/1) and Wright (66/1) are also offered.
Let's also not forget that Kessler is coming off a brilliant junior year in which he threw for a school-record 39 touchdowns to just five picks and nearly 4,000 yards. Losing Nelson Agholor will hurt, but with arguably the nation's best offensive line in front of him and more-than-enough capable playmakers to get the ball to, he'll have the stats again to be in the mix. What it will come down to -- for any player, really -- is winning, which again tips the scales in Kessler's favor. At least on a meaningless, hypothetical scale on a Wednesday in May.