By CLIFF BRUNT
There is a good chance the next Heisman Trophy winner will stop through Ross-Ade Stadium this season before claiming the hardware.
Because of the backlash against last year’s winner, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, I don’t think he’ll win it this year no matter what he does. That opens the door for three quarterbacks who will visit Purdue — Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez and Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees. Whether you are a Purdue fan or not, those superstars are reason enough to head to West Lafayette this fall. Because none of their teams are supposed to lose to Purdue, a loss to the Boilermakers would kill any of their chances.
I’ll examine why I think each one is a legitimate candidate.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
Martinez was quietly one of the best players in college football last year. Nebraska’s signal caller passed for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns and ran for 1,019 yards and 10 more scores.
Martinez, known as T-Magic for his uncanny ability to turn nothing into touchdowns, burst onto the scene as a run threat as a freshman, then fell out of the national spotlight as a sophomore while he struggled with injuries and interceptions.
Now, he’s a better passer, all his top receivers are back and, well, he does play for Nebraska. He now looks to join Crouch, Mike Rozier and the incomparable Johnny Rodgers as Husker Heisman winners.
Martinez seemingly is at his best when things break down. His touchdown run against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, one of the only things that went right for the Big Red in that game, is one of the most impressive plays in recent Nebraska history. Video courtesy of YouTube user diehardsportdotcom:
Martinez is one of the fastest players in college football. Half the time on breakaway runs, he looks like he’s jogging because he has such an easy stride. He also has a flair for the dramatic — he led the Huskers back from double-digit deficits in the second half to win three times last year. Here are highlights of the comeback against Michigan State, courtesy of YouTube user Nebraska Huskers. This includes the game-winning touchdown pass to Jamal Turner with 6 seconds remaining.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Miller enters the season as one of the frontrunners. He led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten season last year, passing for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 1,271 yards and another 13 scores.
Because he was fifth in the Heisman balloting last year, he’s the most likely quarterback to step into the spotlight now that Manziel’s reputation has been damaged. He’s playing in Urban Meyer’s system, a combination that helped Tim Tebow win the Heisman at Florida in 2007. With Ohio State’s preseason No. 2 ranking, and it’s entirely possible that by the time he comes to West Lafayette, the Buckeyes could be ranked No. 1.
Here are some highlights of his 2012 season, courtesy of YouTube user MockingNFLDraft:
Ohio State has struggled against Purdue in recent years, losing to the Boilermakers in 2009 and 2011 and being pushed to overtime in 2012.
Last year, Miller was knocked out of the game in Columbus after completing just 9 of 20 passes for 113 yards and running 12 times for 47 yards.
Here are ESPN’s highlights of that game, including the injury:
If he duplicates that performance (or the injury), he won’t win the Heisman because the Nov. 2 game is too late in the season to give him adequate time to recover.
Tommy Rees, Notre Dame
This is the most surprising name on the list, but when you come from a program that has produced legend after legend at the quarterback position.
Angelo Bertelli, John Lujack, Paul Hornung and John Huarte are Heisman-winning Notre Dame quarterbacks. Other greats include Joe Theismann, Joe Montana, Terry Hanratty, Tony Rice, Rick Mirer, Jimmy Clausen, Ron Powlus, Steve Beuerlein, Tom Clements, Daryle Lamonica and Brady Quinn.
If you know football, most of those names ring a bell.
Notre Dame has regained its national prominence after an impressive season that ended in the national title game. Last year’s Heisman runner-up, Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, is in the NFL. Last year’s quarterback, Everett Golson, might have been considered a candidate, but now he’s suspended for the season.
It’s the perfect setup.
Rees also has a flair for the dramatic, helping the Irish late in wins against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford. Here are highlights from last year’s game-winning drive against Purdue. Video from Notre Dame Athletics:
Rees was Notre Dame’s starter in 2011, passing for 2,871 yards with 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. The team around him this season will be better than that squad. He has great targets in TJ Jones and DaVaris Daniels. And of course, everybody likes a good comeback story.
Notre Dame plays Michigan the week before the Purdue game, so Rees might be getting a lot of hype heading into the Sept. 14 game.
One thing is certain — Purdue will play a significant role in who wins the award.