The Heisman Trophy isn’t so much about the most outstanding player in college football; it’s about being a great quarterback on a Top 10 team.
Ka’Deem Carey isn’t a quarterback; Arizona isn’t a Top 10 team.
The Wildcats’ junior running back, trying for back-to-back NCAA rushing titles, never was a good candidate to win the Heisman this season. It’s just the way the voting has trended in an era in which offenses increasing rely on the pass.
Only two running backs have won since 2000 — USC’s Reggie Bush in 2005 (since vacated) and Alabama’s Mark Ingram — and both of those guys had the benefit of being on great teams that played for the national title.
But should Carey — who is averaging a national-best 153.1 rushing yards per game — be invited to the Heisman Trophy ceremonies in New York City?
Now, we’re talking.
“That would mean so much,” Carey said. “That’s a dream come true. That’s a big dream come true.
“That’s a goal you write since you were little. That’s a goal you just throw out there and hope you can catch. I’m going to keep chasing it. This team is going to keep chasing it. The (offensive) line, I’ve already talked to them. We’re ready to take this battle on.”
Heading into this week’s games, there are three players, all quarterbacks, above the rest in the Heisman race — Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, the 2012 winner.
There is no set number that gets invited for the Heisman presentation in Manhattan in December. There were three finalists last season, five the year before.
Could Carey be one of five?
He is making a case, a case that would strengthen considerably with a win this Saturday over 16th-ranked UCLA. The Heisman is partly a team award, and Carey’s stock rises if he has a big performance in a big game on the big network (ESPN).
“I feel we’re at a great spot — me and the team — for me to be able to go to New York,” Carey said.
“You’re talking about a 200-yard day against UCLA. What does that say? … It’s about making plays. The Heisman, you’ve got to make plays.”
Carey’s All-America push didn’t take off last season until Nov. 10, when he dizzied Colorado with a Pac-12 record 366 rushing yards.
Likewise, it’s all in front of him this season — the UCLA game, the Oregon game, the ASU game. Big games, potential big moments. The possibility of a Pac-12 South title? That would be a significant Heisman statement.
“I’m excited,” Carey said.
“We’ve placed ourselves in position to put me there in New York. It’s not just individuals. It’s us all together.”
Which other players are trying to elbow their way into the Heisman discussion?
There are more quarterbacks: Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Alabama AJ McCarron, Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.
This isn’t the year for a defensive player to be a strong candidate, like Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o last season. Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk is Carey’s running back competition to steal some quarterback spotlight.
Carey’s troubled offseason prevented the athletic department from launching a season-long publicity campaign for its star running back. But they lifted the curtain after a half-season of strong running and good behavior, with ample media updates, including a “This is Ka’Deem Carey” video (see below) and a dedicated web page, wrapped around the “Team KaDeem” theme.
It’s all good by coach Rich Rodriguez.
“As long the guys understand that if the team has success it filters down to individual things, that’s fine with me,” he said.
“I don’t mind guys getting individual attention, as long as it doesn’t change who they are or how they approach things. Knowing Ka’Deem as we know him, it’s not going to change his work ethic, it’s not going to change how he approaches it, it’s not going to change how we coach him. …
“I’ve really been proud of the way he’s focused. This guy comes to practice and works as hard as anybody we’ve got. At games, he’s the most excited guy in the locker room and can’t wait to play. He’s been a great example for us as far as approaching the game of football and what we want in our program.”
It’s tantalizing to think of what the rest of the month holds for Arizona and the guy who is only 398 yards away from being the school’s career leading rusher.
Carey picked up at least a couple of third-place votes in last season’s Heisman voting. He’s hoping for a lot more than that this year.
“To put me for the Heisman, what does that say for Arizona?” he said. “It gives us recognition. It gives us honor.”