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07 Dec 2007
by Russell Levine
There are certain unwritten rules regarding the awarding of the Heisman Trophy, perhaps the most prestigious individual award in American sports. It almost always :
Most importantly, it always goes to an upperclassman.
This has been a season unlike any in recent memory, so it should come as no surprise that the Heisman appears poised to break a few trends as well. The heavy favorite is Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, just a sophomore on a team with three losses. Another of the finalists, running back Darren McFadden, plays for an Arkansas team that has lost four times.
But as long as unconventional candidates are being considered, the best one can be found 2,400 miles from the U.S. mainland. Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, another of the finalists, is the nation's "most outstanding player," yet is not likely to hear his name called Saturday night at the ceremony in New York.
Brennan was Hawaii's most valuable player, by a mile, in a year in which they experienced unprecedented success. The Warriors are the nation's lone undefeated team, and will face Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, having secured just the third BCS bid ever awarded a team from a non-automatic qualifying conference.
Brennan has been denigrated as a "system quarterback." Hawaii operates a run-and-shoot offense, passing on virtually every play. The same attack allowed the Warriors' previous starting quarterback, Timmy Chang, to set an armful of NCAA passing records. But dismissing Brennan's accomplishments as simply the result of an offense that is pass-first, -second, and -third is no more fair than awarding the trophy to Tebow because he is the Gators' primary ball-carrier as well as passer. Brennan's numbers are simply staggering. He has a career completion percentage of 70.7%, with 131 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 15 scores.
This year, the numbers are typically astonishing: 337-of-472 passing (71.4%), for 4,174 yards, and 38 touchdowns, with another eight scores rushing.
Comparing team success also gives the edge to Brennan, as Hawaii went 12-0 while Florida finished 9-3. True, Tebow and Florida played much tougher competition than Hawaii, but Tebow is also surrounded by far more talented players.
The biggest factors weighing in Brennan's favor are the pressure under which he has played, and his performance in Hawaii's biggest games. He entered the season knowing he and his team had to be perfect to even have a chance at a BCS game, and Brennan raised his game when Hawaii faced its most difficult stretch to close the season.
Hawaii's three toughest opponents, Fresno State, Boise State, and Washington (the only BCS conference team on the Warriors schedule) were among the team's final four games. In those contests, Brennan was marvelous, completing 110 out of 142 passes (78.7%) for 1,333 yards, 12 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. He also added a pair of rushing scores. That's an average stat line of 37-of-47, 444 yards, 4 TDs, 1 interception, and 1 rushing TD.
Brennan also showed his resiliency throughout the season -- rallying Hawaii for overtime wins against Louisiana Tech and San Jose State -- but never more so than in the final two games. He was knocked unconscious late in the win over Fresno State, missing the remainder of that contest. The following week against Nevada, he showed his unselfishness by playing two snaps on the first series in order to help create confusion for the Wolfpack defenders. In doing so, his per-game averages suffered and he lost a career-long streak of games with at least 200 yards passing, but may have helped his team win a close game.
Brennan returned for Hawaii's final two games, with the WAC title and a BCS bid on the line. Against Boise State, the Warriors fell behind early as Brennan threw two interceptions. From that point on, he was unstoppable, finishing 40-of-53 for 495 yards and five scores in a 39-27 win.
With the stakes even higher against Washington, Brennan also bailed the Warriors out of an early hole. Hawaii fell behind 21-0 thanks to penalties and turnovers, but Brennan went 42-of-50 for 442 yards and another five touchdowns -- the last giving Hawaii the lead in the final minute -- without an interception.
Contrast that to the outcome for Tebow and Florida in the Gators' five biggest games, against Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Kentucky, and Georgia. Though he played reasonably well, the Gators went 2-3 in that stretch to fall out of national- and conference-title contention.
The Heisman is not supposed to be a career achievement award, though it sometimes goes that way, such as when Nebraska's Eric Crouch won in 2001. If any player deserves such a career prize, it is Brennan. He has brought a Hawaii program with a limited budget, poor facilities, and the unique challenges of geography to the big money world of the BCS, an outcome that will have a lasting effect on the school's football operations for years.
The last player from a non-major conference school to win the Heisman was BYU quarterback Ty Detmer, also a "system" player, in 1990 -- a year that in many ways paralleled this one for strange results. If the traditional Heisman tenets are to be broken this season, they might as well be for the right player. That player is Colt Brennan.
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