The Contender

Pat Fitzgerald boldly declared that Northwestern's senior quarterback Dan Persa is a "Heisman Trophy candidate", and he may be onto something. When you compare Persa's stats with past Heisman Trophy winners, you may find Northwestern's quarterback is indeed a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.

What exactly does it take to win the Heisman Trophy? By definition, the Heisman Trophy is awarded to "the most outstanding player in collegiate football." There are no prerequisites set for certain statistics, there's no minimum number of wins, and one is not required to play a certain position—it's all up to the Heisman voters.

Northwestern has had some talented and heralded players suit up throughout the years, but never have seen a player hoist the Heisman Trophy. This season, Dan Persa is poised to make history.

In 2010, Persa was on pace for a very special season, but saw it all come to an early end when he suffered an achillies injury against Iowa. His numbers were impressive—most notably the 73.5 percent completion rate. However, it takes a certain standard to win the Heisman Trophy.

Since they began handing out the Heisman Trophy in 1935, there have been 28 quarterbacks awarded the trophy. In the past decade, the Heisman ceremony has been dominated by quarterbacks. Nine of the last ten Heisman winners (Reggie Bush not included) have been quarterbacks.

When you compare Dan Persa's numbers to the previous nine quarterback winners, his numbers are fairly similar. Looking at three key categories, one may be able to validate Persa as a legitimate Heisman candidate.

Racking up the mileage

Passing yards are usually a good indication of a quarterback's success or failure. For the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, this number can vary. 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch only compiled 1,510 passing yards, while 2008 winner Sam Bradford threw for a whopping 4,721 yards.

The last nine Heisman winners have averaged 3,044 passing yards. To put it in perspective, if Dan Persa were to stay healthy in 2010, he would have surpassed that average with 3,355 passing yards.

Persa is likely to best his projected total from last season—mainly because he has a strong slew of options. When you put a talented quarterback like Persa in a spread offense and give him targets like Jeremy Ebert, Demetrius Fields, Drake Dunsmore, and more, only good things can happen.

Getting in the endzone

There's no better indication of a successful quarterback than the ability to lead your team down the field and into the endzone. The Heisman Trophy is not supposed to be about stats, but the reality is that it's hard to avoid the numbers.

The previous nine quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy have averaged more than 39.8 touchdowns in their Heisman-winning season. That number includes passing and rushing touchdowns—in fairness to the dual-threat quarterbacks.

Last season, Dan Persa was on pace to finish with 31.2 total touchdowns—just a bit shy of the average. However, 2004 winner Matt Leinart and 2006 winner Troy Smith each finished with 31 touchdowns in their respective Heisman campaigns.

The reality is, if Persa is going to be a legitimate Heisman candidate, he will have to outmatch fellow standout quarterbacks such as Boise State's Kellen Moore and Stanford's Andrew Luck. Persa will need to be the Wildcats' main source of offensive production because that 31 touchdown number likely won't cut it this season. Of course, don't put it past Persa to improve.

Getting it done

Just ask Charlie Sheen—winning is everything. It's no coincidence that the "most outstanding player in collegiate football" often tends to be a winner. Since they began giving out the Heisman Trophy, only Paul Hornung won the award while leading his team to a losing record (2-8).

The last nine quarterbacks to hoist the Heisman have combined for 11.8 wins in their trophy-winning seasons. Of that group, only Cam Newton and Matt Leinart led their teams to a national title, while 2007 winner Tim Tebow won the award while winning seven games.

Dan Persa led the Wildcats to seven wins in 2010, but the team more than likely would've added more if their starter had stayed healthy. This season, the Wildcats have their sights set on bigger and better things. Like Cam Newton—who took his team from winning seven games in 2009 to winning a championship in 2010—Persa hopes his efforts help the Wildcats to more wins.

When you add it all up, Dan Persa stacks up with some of the game's elite quarterbacks from the past decade. Where Persa is placed in history remains to be seen, but the future is bright and the potential is there. When naming Heisman Trophy candidates, don't forget Dan Persa.

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