Connor Halliday & the Heisman: Time to talk

PULLMAN -- No, Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday isn’t there yet. Nor should he be. Though the senior from Spokane is the nation’s leading passer – by a wide margin – he has yet to enter the national Heisman Trophy discussion. But if the last two weeks are a prelude to what’s on the horizon, Halliday absolutely, positively should crash the debate before the sun sets on the 2014 season.

Halliday’s absence thus far – despite his eye-popping numbers -- isn’t hard to understand.

For starters, the Pac-12 QB corps is overshadowed by Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Second, the Cougs stumbled out of the starting blocks against Rutgers and Nevada. Third, he'll have to overcome the argument that his numbers are primarily the product of the system he plays in. And fourth, while WSU is located in southern-most Washington, it isn’t southern enough for most Heisman voters, who have given seven straight trophies to players out of just four states, all in the south: Florida, Texas, Alabama and Oklahoma.

But that’s just it.

Halliday is the unheralded story that people love. He would be the candidate who went from zero to 60. That's a great college-football tale.

His entire career has been that way. He was a distant afterthought to Jake Heaps among QBs in the state of Washington coming out of high school in 2010. He split time early on at WSU with Jeff Tuel, who is now with the Buffalo Bills. And last season he threw a ton of interceptions in the first half of the season that clouded how well he did in the latter half.

Now here he is on pace to become the nation’s first-ever 6,000-yards-in-a-season passer. That is no typo. Six-thousand yards. He also leads the nation in TD passes (20) as well as points responsible for (120), and he's completing more than 67 percent of his throws.

More to the point, he is coming off a spectacular, come-from-behind win at Utah, which came off a stellar upset bid against Oregon. With everybody focused on Mariota in that Oregon game, Halliday very nearly stole the spotlight. In fact, if not for a couple of crucial fumbles by teammates and an egregious, missed pass interference penalty on the Cougs’ final drive, Halliday looked like the man of the hour in that ESPN nail-biter.

WSU’s Heisman History


TOP-10 FINISHERS


2005 – RB Jerome Harrison, 9th

2002 – QB Jason Gesser, 7th

1997 – QB Ryan Leaf, 3rd

1993 – QB Drew Bledsoe, 8th

1988 – QB Timm Rosenbach, 7th

1984 – RB Rueben Mayes, 10th

1978 – QB Jack Thompson, 9th

1936 – QB Ed Goddard, 8th


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Water-under-the-bridge now, but that night against the Ducks -- coupled with the 21-point comeback against a team that had just “housed” Michigan -- might be enough to get the ball rolling toward Halliday and Heisman talk.

Continued big numbers and a win this Saturday night at home over Cal are paramount to the Halliday momentum. A hot and dangerous 3-3 Cougar team headed to Palo Alto in two weeks would almost certainly generate buzz outside the region. Especially so with ESPN broadcasting that game -- a fact which means the College GameDay crew will spend some time speculating about it.

When Herbie pulls out the “I think Stanford’s power attack will once again dominate…,” you can almost hear Lee Corso cutting him off with a “not-so-fast-my-friend!”

Halliday, of course, will then have to shine once the whistle blows. If he does, win or lose, there are going to be five more opportunities after that to continue making his mark. If the Cougs get themselves on a bowl track and he keeps putting up massive numbers, it would seem impossible to keep him out of the Heisman discussion.

And think about this: at his current pace, he will eclipse the elusive 50-touchdown-passes-in-a-season barrier. Only five other QBs in history have accomplished the feat, and each of them finished in the top 10 for the Heisman the years they hit 50-plus: Sam Bradford (winner, 2008); Colt Brennan (6th, 2006), B.J. Symons (another Leach disciple, 10th, 2003), Derek Carr (5th, 2001) and David Klingler (5th, 1990). If that’s not a Heisman-worthy talking point for Halliday, I don’t know what is.

Of course, the toughest defenses on the Cougars’ schedule are yet to come, starting with that Stanford game on Oct. 10.

The opportunities, though, look ripe. Unseating a nationally ranked -- yet road-challenged -- team from USC in amped-up Martin Stadium on Nov. 1 would build Halliday’s case. So too would taking down a seemingly overrated Arizona squad in Pullman the week prior.

While an 8-4 regular-season finish by the Cougs would no doubt super-charge the Halliday candidacy after the team’s rocky first two weeks of the year, simply winning more than they lose the rest of the way ought to be enough to get some of the national spotlight directed at him.

Halliday has the numbers, the out-of-nowhere-type of story line people gravitate to, and an esteemed head coach in Mike Leach who hasn’t been shy about telling the world he has the best QB in the nation. That could be -- should be -- the recipe for tying his name to John Heisman’s in a big way.


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