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Day 28: Is Jake Browning a Legitimate Heisman Contender?

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What does history say about the Husky QB’s Chances?

NCAA Football: Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl-Alabama vs Washington RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Hey Psalm Wooching, how many days until the Husky season opener?

NCAA Football: Pac-12 Championship-Colorado vs Washington
We are now 28 days away from Husky Football’s return
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There is possibly no subject that Jake Browning wants to speak about less than his contention for the Heisman trophy. The only thing that matters to him is winning. That is the kind of focus and dedication to what’s truly important that everyone should strive for in life. Luckily, I don’t hold myself to those high standards. We’re going to examine the last decade of Heisman winners to see whether Browning has the qualifications to potentially take home the trophy in New York this upcoming year.

Last season, Browning was never in serious position to challenge the eventual winner, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, but he was in the top-5 for most of the season until poor showings against Colorado and Alabama in his last 2 games. That effort and the feeling that he still has room left to grow has expectations sky high for the Washington QB. Here are the 5 questions that need to be answered to separate contender from pretender.

Qualification #1- Are you a QB or an Alabama RB?

Eight of the last 10 players to win the award were quarterbacks and the other 2 (Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry) were running backs for a title winning Alabama team. Jake Browning is in fact a QB and so he gets to check off box number 1.

Yes

Qualification #2- Did you win at least 9 games (regular season)?

Every player to win the Heisman in the last decade won at least 9 games. Obviously, the season hasn’t been played yet but it seems reasonable to say that UW is going to surpass that this season. If we look to Vegas, the over/under win total for the Huskies in 2017 is set at 10. The over is also at -130 which means that Vegas expects people to bet the over more heavily. Only one team on the Huskies 2017 schedule was a top-25 team in Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings last year and only three teams were in the final top-25 of the AP and Coaches polls. Even if the Dawgs dropped all three games to those teams they would still finish at 9-3 and meet this bar. ESPN’s FPI also considers UW at least a 73% favorite in all but one game (@Stanford).

Very Likely Yes

Qualification #3- Did you beat a Top-10 Team?

Every one of the last 10 Heisman winners beat a top-10 team during the regular season at some point. Usually this is the moment that people point to and say “that was ______’s Heisman moment.” Even if the team the eventual winner ends up defeating isn’t as good as previously thought, the memory of doing well in what at the time was a huge game usually shines through. Think of Lamar Jackson against Florida State last year. At the time it was a dominant beat down over the #2 team in the country but looked a lot differently once both teams finished 9-3. Voters remember the feeling of awe they got watching that game and tend not to use logic to diminish the moment later.

This one is a bit trickier for Browning. As it stands, no opponent on the 2017 schedule is likely to be a top-10 team. I think most people expect the most highly ranked team on the schedule to end up being Stanford. The two teams don’t play until Week 10. Given where they’re expected to start, the only way Stanford gets that high is if they are 9-0 or 8-1 at kickoff. They’ll have to face road games against USC, Utah, and Wazzu as well as home contests against UCLA and Oregon. If Stanford can go 8-1 against that schedule then they likely deserve to be ranked that highly and will be an adequate showcase match for Browning.

By now I’m sure many of you are yelling at me about the conference championship game. That will be Browning’s best chance to clear this hurdle if they get there. Last season UW beat a Colorado team that was ranked #8 at the time. Colorado was unranked to start the year and many thought they’d barely make a bowl game let alone win the division. USC will almost certainly start the year as a top-5 team and so if they end up as the South’s representative they’ll definitely still be in that range. A win over them and the preseason Heisman Dar(nold)ling would provide a tremendous last memory to leave in the voter’s minds. Still, winning the conference should never be counted on as a certainty in college football. I’d optimistically put it in the 30-40% range.

Definitely Possible but Not Likely

NCAA Football: Southern California Spring Practice
Being the preseason favorite may not be great for Sam Darnold’s Heisman chances
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Qualification #4- Were You An Underdog to Win the Award Before the Year?

The Heisman trophy is not just an award for who had the best statistical season or who was the best player on the best team. There is also a component of who exceeded expectations by the greatest amount (even if there’s not supposed to be). No player since 2007 who was the preseason favorite in Vegas won the award that season. In the large majority of cases the eventual winner came almost out of nowhere. The one major exception to this rule was Marcus Mariota in 2014 who was 2nd in the preseason odds at 6/1 and still won. However, even Mariota exceeded expectations that season. He improved his previous year’s numbers by about 800 total yards and 17 touchdowns. Browning at the moment is 18/1 which is about where Bradford, RGIII, and Henry were when they won but substantially better odds than Jackson, Newton, Ingram, or Winston.

The second component of this is that none of those 10 winners were a Heisman finalist the year before. Voter fatigue is a thing in the NBA MVP ballot. People don’t want to just admit that LeBron James is the best every single year even though he is. Heisman voters are much the same and the tie breaker is going to the guy who hasn’t been on the podium before. If Browning wants to win it this year (let’s be real, he doesn’t care. But if we want Browning to win it this year) then it’s actually a good thing he got snubbed as a finalist last season.

Mostly Yes

Qualification #5- Did You Finish with at Least 4,000 Yards and 40 Touchdowns (pre-bowl games)?

These numbers obviously only matter for the quarterbacks but this is the bare minimum necessary to have a serious chance at the trophy. The best case scenario for Browning if he wants to get there on the production element is to look at Jameis Winston’s season from 2013. Winston threw for 3,783 yards with 38 passing TDs plus another 193 yards and 4 TDs on the ground. Those are the fewest combined TDs of any QB winner over the last decade and the 2nd fewest yards behind only Tim Tebow.

Unfortunately, Browning is unlikely to meet that total yards marker and probably is still not a favorite to hit the touchdowns total either. Last regular season, Browning finished with 3,280 total yards and 46 touchdowns. But he finished with one passing TD every 9 attempts which is an insane number. That number was 2nd behind only Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield last season. It’s probably unrealistic to expect him to keep up that kind of elite efficiency once again.

The yardage totals are the biggest problem. Browning’s got to add at least 500 and probably closer to 1,000 total yards to his 2016 campaign in order to challenge on the basis of pure production. Coach Peterson isn’t one to run up the score and the fact that Browning ended up injured down the stretch means that he isn’t likely to leave Jake in for very long in the 3rd quarter of a rout. And if UW plays up to expectations then there will be a lot of routs. That combined with the fact that UW will have one of the nation’s best 1-2 punches at running back means the extra opportunities that Jake needs likely aren’t going to be there. It should help if the offensive line improves and he takes less sacks and therefore less negative yardage, especially if those sacks instead turn into plays downfield, but I still don’t think that’s enough

Almost Certainly No

Conclusion

If Vegas offered odds on someone being a Heisman finalist rather than the overall winner then I think that Browning would be a solid play. With fake dollars because of course I don’t endorse gambling... UW is likely to be very good next year and that is going to be in large part because of Browning’s play. He’ll put up great numbers that any program would be happy to have. But it’s not going to be enough to actually win the Heisman. Sorry Jake.

But because I can be prone to fantasy, here’s the scenario for a Browning Heisman win: The Huskies roll through the regular season undefeated and Jake puts up numbers even better than a season ago thanks to a breakout year from Chico McClatcher and a dominating redzone trio of Dante Pettis, Brayden Lenius, and Ty Jones who each finish with 8+ receiving touchdowns. He ends the year with 3,750 passing yards and 44 passing touchdowns to go along with 150 yards and 5 TDs rushing as the O-line leads the conference in fewest sacks allowed.

Stanford upsets USC in week 2 after Sam Darnold has to leave the game with a high ankle sprain early in the 1st quarter. The Tree enter the UW game at 8-1 with a loss at Utah and ranked #8 in the country but don’t leave that way when Browning throws for 300 yards and 6 touchdowns in a 49-21 road victory.

Meanwhile, USC holds down the fort against Texas and Cal and Darnold comes back to beat Wazzu and win out through the remainder of the regular season. The voters don’t penalize the Trojans for a single loss that was without Darnold and USC strolls into the conference title game at 11-1 and #4 overall. Darnold’s 3 games missed is enough to keep him out of the Heisman discussion.

UW gives up a kick return for a touchdown early and the defense is having problems stopping USC as UW falls behind 17-30 with 7 minutes left. Browning leads the Dawgs to a score on a beautiful fade dropped into Dante Pettis’s bread basket. The defense gets the 3 and out they need after USC goes conservative and Browning gets the ball back down 24-30 with 3 minutes left. Browning narrowly avoids a sack with 24 seconds left and throws a strike across his body while on the run to Ty Jones who leaps over his defender for the game winning score and the UW win. Browning finishes with 398 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT. The Dawgs enter the Playoff as the lone undefeated team in the country and the consensus #1 ranked team. Browning would be miserable walking up to the podium but I’m sure he’d take it.

Poll

Where will Jake Browning finish in the Heisman race?

This poll is closed

  • 11%
    He’s gonna win it obviously
    (55 votes)
  • 45%
    He’ll make the podium but come up just short
    (227 votes)
  • 36%
    Snubbed as a finalist yet again
    (184 votes)
  • 6%
    Won’t even be in the conversation
    (33 votes)
499 votes total Vote Now