Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds enters the 2015 season having garnered his share of preseason hype. He is one of only 15 quarterbacks in the country to have been named to the Maxwell, O'Brien, Camp, and Manning award watchlists.
Of the 15 players to be named to all four of those watchlists, the American Athletic Conference boasts 3 of them (Gunner Kiel and Paxton Lynch the others). That puts the AAC second among all conferences, trailing only the PAC-12 which has 4. Yes, there are more AAC quarterbacks on all of those watchlists than the SEC, ACC, Big 12, and B1G.
Reynolds has put up numbers deserving of the preseason attention he has been getting. The senior quarterback has already set the record for most rushing TD's in a career for a QB with 64, which currently puts him fourth all time with a very good chance of breaking the record of 77 held by former Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. He also owns the single season record for most rushing TD's by a QB with 31 as well as the record for most points scored in a career by a QB.
In the midst of all of these records is the "dark horse" phrase being thrown around Keenan Reynolds and his chances of bringing home the first Heisman Trophy to Annapolis since Roger Staubach in 1963.
The question is, could a non power five player actually bring home college football’s most prestigious award? I think if history tells us anything the answer is yes and no.
The last time a player that did not come from what is now the power five conferences took home the trophy was BYU quarterback Ty Detmer in 1990. Before that, you had Andre Ware of Houston in 1989. Before that, you have to go back to 1963 when a certain Navy quarterback brought home the trophy. So, in the last 52 years, there have been three players outside of the power five conference teams who have had a Heisman Trophy winning campaign for the underdogs.
The odds of pulling this feat off are enormous but not impossible. It was 26 years in between Staubach and Ware, and we are entering year 25 since Detmer. Keenan will have to defy the odds to win the trophy, but that doesn’t mean it can't be done.
In analyzing what it would take to even get a seat in New York for the presentation, I believe it is important to look at several individuals who over the last 25 years received Heisman votes while playing for one of the "outsiders" in college football.
First, let’s go right back to Detmer. He had a great campaign in 1990, but there was one significant event that more than likely propelled him to the Heisman. BYU beat then #1 Miami in week two of the season. This brings me to point number one. If Keenan wants to get invited to New York for the Heisman presentation, he HAS to beat Notre Dame week five. If history tells us anything, he will need a marquee victory, and this to me seems like the best chance for Reynolds to get that signature win. This will of course be no easy feat, as Notre Dame will have a very strong team this year and the game is in South Bend.
Second, let’s look at Heisman trophy winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska. Yes, I know he played for a Power 5 team, but he was the last option quarterback to capture the Heisman trophy, so there is a legitimate comparison here. In 2001, Crouch led the Cornhuskers to an 11-2 season and Rose Bowl berth against Miami. Along the way, he had his signature win against then #2 Oklahoma, but what I want to focus on with Crouch is the rest of the field that year. Behind him in the voting was Rex Grossman, Ken Dorsey, Joey Harrington, and David Carr. There was no clear cut winner that year and Crouch won with the fewest amount of points since the 1960’s.
While I think this year's list of potential Heisman winners is stacked, I also think there is a chance for a lot of the votes to be spread out, and I think this will play into Reynolds favor down the line. There is no returning winner like there was last year in Jameis Winston. There is no clear cut favorite like there was in Mariota. The only returning players who received votes last year are Trevone Boykin, J.T. Barrett, and Dak Prescott. I believe most voters will look at the schedules played by the other quarterbacks mentioned and question whether Reynolds belongs, but I also think that if there is no clear cut winner, then Reynolds could potentially steal some votes down the line.
Finally, let’s look at three other non power five quarterbacks of the last decade that received votes and made it to the presentation ceremony without winning. Colt Brennan, quarterback for Hawaii, Kellen Moore, quarterback for Boise State, and Jordan Lynch, quarterback for Northern Illinois each received Heisman votes. What I want to emphasize with these three is that they all received votes in consecutive years, turning a memorable junior campaign for Lynch and Brennan and sophomore campaign for Moore into a seat at the table the following year. For Reynolds, this means utilizing the national records he has already set and those he should set this year as a springboard onto the national landscape of Heisman hopefuls.
I know that with three winners in the last 50 years coming from non power five schools, the odds are stacked heavily against Reynolds. I firmly believe he has to beat Notre Dame to secure his marquee victory, hope for no one to break away from the pack as the season progresses, and continue to shatter records throughout the season in order to have even the slightest glimmer of hope to be mentioned as a Heisman contender. A birth in the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship Game would not hurt either.
Improbable, yes. Impossible, no. #KR4Heisman