By Jim Weber
It’s only May and people are already basically handing the Heisman Trophy to USC “Golden Boy” QB Matt Barkley, the presumed No. 1 pick in next April’s draft whose Trojans will likely enter the preseason as the No. 1 team in America. While Barkley and Wisconsin RB Montee Ball, among others, will be difficult to overcome to clutch the bronze statue, I’ve already got my dark horse picked to come from way off the pace to win the Heisman race: Washington QB Keith Price.
I know it’s cliche to compare players with someone who immediately preceded them (i.e. Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning), but I can’t help from noticing the similarities in Price to last season’s Heisman winner, Robert Griffin III:
#1: Feel-Good Story
You couldn’t help but cheer for Griffin III after hearing his background as an Army brat whose parents both served in the military and taught him his “Yes, Sir”-”Yes, Ma’am” attitude and work ethic. RGIII become a walking Army advertisement, complete with his signature touchdown salute.
Price’s story pulls at the heart strings even more. Growing up in Compton, CA, his parents sent him to live with his grandmother in Long Beach to escape possibly the most notorious city in the United States. The “kid escaping the ghetto to excel” story never gets old and you can guarantee this story will be retold more than a couple times if Price plays up to his potential.
#2: Charisma & Leadership
Don’t you just get the feeling RGIII is going to be in Washington, D.C., a long time – first as a professional football player and then as a politician? Cam Newton was an incredibly divisive Heisman winner that people labeled a phony and narcissist. I don’t know of one person that cheered against Griffin III last December as he flashed his mega-watt smile, wore those goofy Superman socks and gave a speech for the ages with his trademark “Unbelievably believable” intro. He was also the unquestioned leader of the Bears who just found a way to win nail-biters against TCU, Oklahoma and Washington.
It’s doubtful that you’ve ever seen Price with his helmet off but trust me, this kid is every bit as classy and liked by his teammates as RGIII. Known as the guy on the team that just won’t stop smiling, Price won the team’s Guy Flaherty Award for the most-inspirational member on the roster and had the media eating out of his hand after bashful interviews like this:
While personality probably shouldn’t matter when Heisman voters are casting their ballots, you are kidding yourself if you don’t think it factors into the race either consciously or subconsciously.
#3: Odds Stacked Against Them
Prior to last fall, the idea of someone winning the Heisman Trophy at Baylor seemed preposterous. It was in a town, Waco, that was best known for an FBI-standoff with a cult and the football team’s history was atrocious. Heck, even with RGIII playing at a high level in 2010, the team went just 7-6 and was waxed by Illinois in a bowl game. And the Heisman Trophy looked like a pipe dream even last fall after the Bears dropped three of four games to start the Big 12 schedule.
Can you name the last time someone on the West Coast won a Heisman that wasn’t wearing a USC helmet? The answer is Rashaan Salaam in 1994, and that required him rushing for 2,000 yards. The Huskies have a brutal early schedule (at LSU, vs. Stanford, at Oregon, vs. USC) but could easily finish the regular season with six straight wins and eight or nine total victories. If Price can make a splash with an upset over one or two of those early teams and finish strong down the stretch, watch out.
#4: Stat-Stuffing Ability
Griffin put up video game numbers last year in the defense-optional Big 12 with nearly 5,000 total yards and 47 combined touchdowns. It’s virtually impossible not to give someone the Heisman after a season like that in a BCS conference.
Price threw for over 3,000 yards and 33 TDs despite being in his first season as a starter and hurt for three games. While ex-Washington QB Brock Huard thinks Price’s stats will go down in 2012, I don’t see it. Losing offensive weapons like RB Chris Polk and WRs Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar will hurt the team, but the loss of Polk could actually pad Price’s stats because they will depend on the QB that much more, especially in the red zone. And I’m not worried about who Price will throw to. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins and WR Kasen Williams were two of the top recruits in the nation a year ago and should provide plenty of firepower to work with. And have you seen the defenses Price will be facing? Aside from USC, Stanford and Utah, there are some matador defenses out West.
#5: “It” Factor
Every Heisman winner needs that “Heisman moment” – or several – that people can replay over and over leading up to the award being handed out. For RGIII, there were plenty of moments that took your breath away, probably none more than the last-second touchdown to beat the Sooners.
And if you watched the Alamo Bowl, you might have mistakenly believed that RGIII was playing for both teams. No, Price doesn’t have the same wheels as RGIII but that’s how amazing Price was for the Huskies in combining for seven touchdowns and nearly 500 yards of offense. Included in there was “The Pump Fake” and “The Stretch” – both poses that looked worthy of being dipped in bronze:
Coincidentally, Price has been playing in the shadow of Barkley since high school when the USC QB was starring at Mater Dei High School and was named MVP of the Trinity League despite Price’s awesome senior year at nearby St. John Bosco. Now all eyes are once again on Barkley as the presumed Heisman winner and Golden Boy du jour in college football like Luck was last year.
But don’t be shocked if Price comes out of nowhere like RGIII before him to grab the Heisman Trophy this December.
Jim Weber is the president and founder of LostLettermen.com. His column appears each Monday and Friday.