Our Heisman history

If <b>Jason Gesser</b>'s arm and legs elevate him and the 2002 Cougars to the heights we think they can attain -- and I'm not just talking about grain elevators in Dusty -- then I dare say the Hurlin' Hawaiian should find himself in a place where few Cougars have gone before.

No, I have no delusions about Jason winning the Heisman Trophy. It's fun to talk about, but history shows that the farther West you go the less likely you are to win it -– more so if your program isn't a traditional power playing in Los Angeles.

Still, Jason is on the national radar screen, which means he could do something only five others Cougars have done since the award was created in 1935: Crack the top 10 in Heisman voting.

Ryan Leaf, the Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year, became WSU's highest-ever finisher in 1997 when he placed third behind Michigan's Charles Woodson and Tennessee's Peyton Manning.

WSU's other top 10 contenders have been junior QB Drew Bledsoe (eighth in 1993); junior QB Timm Rosenbach (seventh in 1988); junior running back Rueben Mayes (tenth in 1984); and senior QB Jack Thompson (ninth in 1978). In case you're wondering, the Heisman winners in those years were, respectively, Charlie Ward (Florida State), Barry Sanders (Oklahoma), Doug Flutie (Boston College) and Billy Sims (Oklahoma).

In the interest of full disclosure, there's a chance my list of Cougars above is incomplete. The record of Heisman balloting in 1936, the year Washington State QB Ed Goddard was voted first-team All-American for the third straight year and subsequently became the second overall player taken in the NFL draft (by the now now-defunct Brooklyn Football Dodgers), ends with a top 7 list. Goddard, who was the second-highest vote getter that year in the Western region behind winner Larry Kelley of Yale, may every well have landed between eighth and tenth in overall balloting.

LEAF' SHOWING, by the way, was the second-highest ever by a player from the Pacific Northwest, bested only by Oregon State's Terry Baker who won the Heisman in 1962. Further evidence that living west of the Mississippi is a serious detriment to a player's Heisman chances, Baker is one of just six Pac-10 players have won the award over the last 67 years. The others were USC's Marcus Allen ('81), Charles White ('79), O.J. Simpson ('68) and Mike Garrett ('65), Stanford'sJim Plunkett ('70) and UCLA's Gary Beban ('67).

Gesser's national star has risen further in the last week, with renown talent guru Mel Kiper tabbing him the 11th best player in the nation. Kiper calls Gesser "a charismatic, multi-dimensional QB." Of note is that two QBs frequently mentioned in 2002 Heisman talk -- Ken Dorsey of Miami and Eli Manning of Mississippi -– are much farther down on Kiper's list.

In addition, Tom Dienhart of The Sporting News leads his column this week with a salute to WSU and Gesser. Says Dienhart, "Washington State is TSN's darling for 2002. Go ahead and grab a thumb-and-index finger full of the Cougs' cheek. There's a lot to adore about this team, which has top 10 potential. Foremost, there's quarterback Jason Gesser, he of the $2,500, 25-foot Heisman-touting banner hanging from a 100-foot grain elevator in Dusty, Wash."

Alas, mark your calendars for the third week of the season when the Cougars travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State. If Gesser is going to make a run at the Heisman, his chances will sink or swim with how well he does that day in the East Coast media spotlight.

When Jack Thompson and the Cougars traveled to New York in 1978 for a game against Army, the Heisman hype for the Throwin' Samoan was at a fever pitch. When the heavily favored Cougars, fresh off a 56-24 thrashing of Arizona State, departed the Hudson with a 21-21 tie, Thompson's chances were sunk --- and there were still seven more games left on the schedule.


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