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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The 2010 Heisman

Why Not Kaepernick?

Kaepernick, no stranger to the end zone, takes it in for a score against the hapless Lobos.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a cute little sidebar along the right side of this page that lists my 10 Heisman contenders heading into the summer. I won’t repeat the list here, as you can scroll down and check it out yourself, but I will warn you: while perusing my 10 choices, you may have the suspicion that something — or someone — is missing. I won’t blame you for feeling that way. There is someone missing from that list — Jake Locker, Washington’s senior quarterback.

This is no oversight: 24-7 media outlets and the university’s P.R. team may get Locker into the conversation, but he’s not your typical Heisman favorite; not now, not in September, not unless the Huskies exceed all expectations and finish in the top two in the Pac-10. Possible? Yes. Likely? No. Locker, in a perfect world, would have to settle for the millions that await him on the next level. However, there’s no overestimating the importance of good advertising, whether print, television, online, billboard, what have you.

Locker will be mentioned as a Heisman guy, especially in September, before a few U.W. setbacks take the bloom off the rose. For now, however, there’s another dual-threat quarterback, also playing out west, who is at least equally deserving of being included in the Heisman conversation. His name is Colin Kaepernick, and his resume dwarfs what Locker brings to the table.

Let’s get one thing clear, however: I’m not calling out Locker, Washington, or the process by which the Heisman trophy is awarded. Well, I don’t love the last part, but that’s a story for a later date, likely this December. Locker is a superb athlete, albeit one that has been stuck on largely inept clubs, and has the arm and running ability to be the best player in the Pac-10. And Washington, for that matter, is ready to return to bowl play in Steve Sarkisian’s second season; the Huskies had yet to pop up on the Countdown, if that means anything.

Locker is 8-20 as a starter on the college level — again, not entirely his fault — with the potential to double his career win output with a solid 2010. He’ll have to do at least that in order to be in the running for the trophy: he’s a talented, big-name, good-looking, white quarterback — did I mention he’s a good-looking white guy? — but no one is winning the Heisman and then heading to the Las Vegas Bowl.

Yes, I realize I’m playing a nasty devil’s advocate here. Washington surely could sneak up on the Pac-10 — though I’m betting against it — and Locker surely could live up to his billing with, say, a 2,000-yard passing, 1,000-yard rushing campaign. Something he has nearly done before, mind you. Locker could surely do that. And if he did, he’d have one less 2,000-yard passing, 1,000-yard rushing season than does Kaepernick, who has achieved that feat in each of the last two seasons.

The Nevada senior enters the 2010 season as a three-year starter, a three-time bowl participant and an N.C.A.A. record holder: Kaepernick will again throw for 2,000 yards and rush for another 1,000 in 2010, but no other player in college football history has done it more than once. So what does Locker have that Kaepernick lacks? Why is one in the Heisman running and one barely known outside the WAC?

For precisely that reason, of course: that one plays on the national stage, one on ESPN2 on Thursday nights. Which is unfortunate. In a perfect world, players like Kaepernick — players with sterling resumes — would be viable options for college football’s most prestigious award. It’s a flawed process, however, and while a quarterback with eight career wins is considered a Heisman front-runner, the rest of the competition lags.

Again, no knock against Locker. He’s a pleasure to watch, a sure-fire talent and an integral part of Washington’s rebuilding hopes. I’d just like to see him do some more on the field, a la Kaepernick, before earning such acclaim.

So there’s the first of many, many Heisman posts to come before the trophy is awarded in December. Most of the Heisman-related posts over the rest of the summer will focus on players like Kaepernick, under-recognized performers who likely aren’t in the race, but should be. And I’ll touch on the favorites — yes, Locker too — as we get closer to September, and obviously during the season.

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  1. fosterwalrus says:

    it seems too obvious, given the talented writing on this blog, to mention the fact that kaepernick’s numbers are sponsored more by a) the low-level competition he faces*, and b) the unique(quite literally in fbs)offensive system he helms, rather than any particular qb-ing ability he has over Locker, etc.

    *=12/23, 140+ yards, 2 INTs vs a really poor Notre Dame D–which contrast with Locker vs the same Irish: 22/39, 280, 2 total tds

    Resuming the main text with that note in mind, it seems less a matter of ‘he doesn’t get the attention he deserves’ and more ‘he deserves the lack of attention he gets’

    Locker at least has the USC win on his resume, and an OT loss to ND(nothing special, but a might more impressive than a 35-0 defeat), and his wr/rb freshman becoming sophs, year 2 in a system, blahblah. Kaepernick is gonna have to do better than 35 and 15 pt losses to ND and Col. state, respectively, if the whines of ‘not enough attention!’ are gonna be received as anything more than just whines.

  2. somedude says:

    To the first commenter – if you are going to use the argument that there is less competition in the WAC than in other conferences, then you should also be able to acknowledge that while UW has had mediocre (at best) talent around Locker, then you would also have to conceded that there is even less talent at UNR, right?

    It is a shame that so much of the fun of college football has been taken away by off the field garbage like BCS, media and the money they generate.

  3. fosterwalrus says:

    Talent level is relative to the competition you play against, so while nevada or washington vs nd evens the playing field(if not siding it towards Locker), the stats that kaepernick generates are against far weaker teams than the likes of USC, Oregon, Stanford, Cal, etc.

    Sure, in a head-to-head matchup, Washington has the more talented squad, but relative to their conferences–which comprises 80% of their opponent’s each year–washington’s recent talent-level has been much worse than nevada’s.

    As to your last statement, I agree in principle, but each time the games start up that stuff never even enters my mind and the joy is as joyous as it always was. Media, however, has mostly always been like this, and basically exists to do the very things it gets chided for: appeal to or address the largest possible audience. The authority now lies in the viewership, whether that’s good or bad(shout out to george trow!).

  4. Burnt Orange says:

    My take is a little different. I saw Kaepernick play 4 times last year ( ND, Mizzou, BSU, and SMU) and what hurt him more than anything else I thought was Nevada’s terrible defense. (especially pass defense) Most of the time I saw him, his team was quickly way behind and the opposing quarterback is putting up gaudy numbers – not a good recipe for gaining national recognition in his limited opportunities to do so. I think Kaepernick is very talented but unless the Nevada defense has undergone some radical transformation, I can’t see him excelling in any of the marquee games this year (BYU,Cal,BSU) which present him with an opening to get into the Heisman race. Good article by Paul and good comments -by Foster and Dude – all an example of why this is my favorite college football blog.

  5. Zaboo says:

    Good post and good comments, but I think Locker and Kap are in comparable situations–great dual threat quarterbacks on mediocre teams. You can compare stats and wins, where Kap has the advantage in both, but Locker competes in a much better conference (and I’m not a WAC hater–its just the truth).

    Anyway, neither deserves heisman consideration, unless they put up Gerhart-like numbers while carrying their teams–admittedly possible, but unlikely.

  6. george howley says:

    Locker has been the recipient of some poor coaching and this has affected his developement. WithSarkisian that may change. Kaepernick has had some success with a system that almost quarantees good numbers. I have noticed when pressured his accuracy declines and decision making is not so good. Almost everytime I have the opportunity to see him I wonder why he quit baseball as he was reputed to be a superior pitcher with a rocket arm

  7. John says:

    I don’t mind Jake Locker’s absence…I always thought winning was part of Heisman’s equation…but Colin’s not even the best QB in the WAC, that’s why he’s not on the radar.

  8. java says:

    Let’s ask two very simple questions:

    1) If Kap were the QB at UW, would his numbers (including wins and losses) be less than, greater than, or equal to Lockers?

    2) If Locker were the QB at Nevada, would his numbers (including wins and losses) be less than, greater than, or equal to Lockers?

  9. Rory says:

    Jake Locker is a good player on a bad team in the worst BCS conference. Kaepernick a great player on a good team in a bad conference.

    So again, let’s compare the measurable because everything else washes out. Kaepernick and Locker are going to shine in their combine workouts but neither is a proven winner just yet. This year will be very telling as both UW and UN have good squads and OOC schedules which will put them on display early in the year.

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