Brandon Connette for Heisman?Following week five of the college football season, pundits across the nation have ramped up discussion about Heisman Trophy candidates. Now that most teams have at least four games under their belts, players are starting to build the jaw-dropping statistical figures necessary to merit consideration for college football's greatest individual honor.
Some of the names at the top of the lists thus far include quarterbacks Marcus Mariota of Oregon, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Tajh Boyd of Clemson. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Georgia's Aaron Murray also sit close to the top of many early-season Heisman rankings.
If I were to say that Brandon Connette's name should also sit atop these Heisman lists, people might think me a crazy person. But just for discussion's sake, let's look at how Connette's numbers this season stack up to some other Heisman contenders.
Through five games this year, Connette has thrown for 1,022 yards and 11 touchdowns, completing 64.1 percent of his passes. His 11 passing touchdowns are tied for the 11th-most in the nation. Murray has also thrown 11 touchdowns, while Boyd and Mariota only have nine passing touchdowns apiece.
Connette has also racked up 259 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Only 11 players in all the BCS have more than six rushing touchdowns thus far, and none of those players are quarterbacks. Connette has as many scores on the ground as Murray, Bridgewater and Manziel combined.
Duke has posted 180 points this season—Connette is responsible for 102 of them. Only Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Utah State's Chuckie Keeton have scored more points for their teams. Manziel, who currently sits at either No. 1 or No. 2 on the majority of Heisman rankings, also has 102 points to his name this season. Bridgewater, Marieta and Murray only have 84 points scored this season.
When analyzing these gaudy numbers, keep in mind that Connette didn't even start the first two games of the season, although he did see significant action against N.C. Central in the season opener and played almost three full quarters against Memphis in week two.
Anthony Boone threw for 275 yards and also scored two rushing touchdowns in five quarters of play before going down with a collarbone injury against the Tigers. Presumably some of that production would have fallen to Connette, thus improving his statistical numbers, had he been the starter from day one.
Connette is scoring points for the Blue Devils at a rate similar to that of Peyton Manning, a David Cucliffe product from his days at Tennessee, for the Denver Broncos. But Connette's status as a capable quarterback is, curiously enough, still up in the air.
On top of his monster touchdown numbers, Connette also has six interceptions to his name this season, good enough to tie for the seventh-most thrown by any BCS quarterback. Four of those interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, came in a week four loss to Pittsburgh.
After Connette assumed the role as full-time starter with Boone sidelined by injury, it became unclear how Duke's offense would perform without its lead signal caller. Connette certainly does not have Boone's arm strength and has struggled a bit throwing the deep ball. He also does not have the pinpoint short-to-medium range accuracy that 2012 graduate Sean Renfree possessed. But Connette continues to put up big numbers, despite naysayers that criticize his unrefined throwing skills.
Yes, Connette still has a long way to go before he should actually be compared to Heisman favorites like Manziel, Boyd or Murray. His decision making is improving—he threw only one interception against Troy after four against the Panthers—but Connette is still not the polished quarterback that we would expect to see when observing huge numbers on the stat sheet. Connette will still let go of some errant passes that end up slightly behind receivers or bouncing off the turf.
But Connette has also shown flashes of brilliance, like his completion on third-and-20 to freshman Johnell Barnes last Saturday against the Trojans. With two defensive backs blanketing Barnes, Connette floated the ball beautifully into Barnes' hands as he streaked down the sideline. The 50-yard gain from Duke's own 18-yard line sparked the Blue Devils' fourth touchdown drive of the day and increased the lead over Troy to 14 points—a lead the Trojans would not be able to overcome.
The jury will likely remain out on Connette for the time being. His offensive numbers are hard to ignore, but also not proof that Connette is an elite quarterback. One thing that is certain, though, is that the new Blue Devil signal caller is improving every week thanks to first-team reps in practice—a scary thought for Duke's upcoming opponents.