Keenan Reynolds Through The Lens Of History
When individual awards acquire an outsized level of focus, the performance of the team suffers. This can and does happen in college sports, but it’s even more native to professional sports, in which players in a contract year load up on stats which an agent can sell in future negotiations, rather than doing whatever the team needs first and foremost.
Navy is not subject to those kinds of forces – first, the culture of the program has long existed beyond the individual. Second, Ken Niumatalolo has been excellent in keeping things that way, and if anything ever happened which would threaten to detract from a proper mindset in the locker room or on the practice field, he’d nip it in the bud. Third, the biggest concern for the team right now is Buddy Green’s absence as an on-field coach during gamedays. The defense needs to rally around Green and interim replacement Dale Pehrson; the offense needs to rally around the defense and focus more on doing its part than on accumulating stats.
Yet, when you do get past those realities and focus on Navy’s most high-profile player, there are still a few points worth making in connection to college football’s most prestigious individual award.
No, Kennan Reynolds should not be seen as a favorite to be a Heisman Trophy finalist. Purely as an extension of cold and levelheaded analysis – removed from sentiment or hope or wishful thinking – it’s unlikely that Reynolds will even crack the top 10 of the voting. However, with that having been said, Reynolds does have a chance to work his way into the conversation, based on recent Heisman seasons. Moreover – and this is the biggest point of all – team success is a prerequisite for a player in Reynolds’s position to make a push for the stiff-arm trophy at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York, at least as a finalist.
Even though the nature of Heisman Trophy voting/evaluation/selection was dramatically different back in the early 1960s for a whole host of reasons, one central fact remains at the heart of Joe Bellino’s and Roger Staubach’s Heismans, the only two in Navy football history: The team did really, really well. If Navy hadn’t put itself in position to get a premium bowl bid, chances are those Heismans don’t materialize. Navy had to be great for its best players in 1960 and 1963 to reap the benefits on Heisman night.
Today, Heisman voting occurs within a context of writers being able to watch almost every game, and a lot more former Heisman winners (there were under 30 in Staubach’s time, under 25 for Bellino) can cast ballots. Yet, Navy has to do well – extremely well – in order for Reynolds to follow in his predecessors’ footsteps more than half a century ago. Therefore, if anyone in or near the Navy program wants to sell a Heisman candidacy, it can be done on the basis of winning 10 games in the regular season for the first time in Navy history since Paul Dashiell in 1905. (One Paul Johnson team and one Niumatalolo team won 10 games by capturing “La Decima” in the bowl game, but not in the regular season.)
Here’s a second main point to make in support of a Reynolds candidacy: Not very long ago at all, Jordan Lynch of Northern Illinois became a Heisman finalist, benefiting from the Huskies’ constant success in the Mid-American Conference and their ability to come close to making two BCS bowls. It wasn’t that NIU won a lot of games, but that the Huskies achieved richly, becoming the first team in Mid-American Conference history to play in a BCS bowl at the end of the 2012 season. Lynch built a platform from which he could spring into the national conversation. Navy has more built-in and natural visibility than NIU, so the Midshipmen – by winning at least 10 games, if not 11 – could vault Reynolds into the mix. Based on precedence, a spot as a Heisman finalist, though not probable, should certainly not be reflexively dismissed.
The final core point to emphasize is as follows: Now that Navy has a conference and is eligible for Group of Five (New Year’s Six) bowl appearances, the Midshipmen have put themselves in contention for the kind of team reward which can reflect upon the individual who spearheads the effort. Being in a conference and division title chase in November would confer upon the Mids the added attention which could accrue to a Heisman contender’s benefit. The ingredients are there for Reynolds to rise as a Heisman candidate – ingredients that did not exist the past few seasons.
Sure, Reynolds was young in his freshman season and then got injured in a separate season, but even if he had maxed out in those campaigns, Navy’s identity as an independent would have hurt the quarterback’s chances of making a run to New York City. Now, though, Navy’s conference setup is much more conducive to a real push… should the Mids hit 10 wins in the regular season.
There’s just one postscript to put forth, and it’s this: Since Navy does have to worry about its defense a little more with Buddy Green recovering from surgery, it seems to be a little more advisable (than it otherwise would have been) for Navy to try to control the ball and emphasize time of possession, in order to give the defense more of a rest (at least early in the season, when everyone is trying to get settled into a playing rhythm). This means Reynolds might need to forsake the low- or medium-percentage shot at a big play in favor of the safe but small gain for a first down on second and four or third and two. Yet, if that’s the non-stats-focused approach Navy needs from Reynolds, that’s what has to comes first.
Let the wins come first, and let the wins be the biggest reason for Reynolds to make a case for the Heisman Trophy. That’s how Navy should look at the big picture for its star quarterback and its season as a whole.
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