The chances were pretty slim to begin with, but Amari Cooper knew that going in.
Wide receivers are almost never invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, and only two have ever won the award, Notre Dame’s Tim Brown in 1987 and Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. Factor in the way the game is going and it will be a total shock if a quarterback doesn’t win for the 13th time in 15 years on Saturday night.
“It is a tremendous honor to be selected as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy,” the University of Alabama standout said in a statement following Monday’s announcement. “This will be my first trip to New York City, and I can’t put into words how much it means to me and my family.”
During the hour-long ceremony Cooper will be honored alongside Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, as the trio has combined to hit more records than Taylor Swift this fall.
All three are deserving, but Mariota was a preseason favorite and Gordon is the fourth Wisconsin running back to be a finalist.
In contrast, a wide receiver from the Southeastern Conference is about as rare as it gets in Heisman lore.
Cooper’s just the second from Alabama, David Palmer being the other in 1993 when Gene Stallings lined him up nearly everywhere imaginable, even at quarterback. But the “Deuce” ended up a distant third in the voting to Tennessee quarterback Heath Shuler and Florida State’s Charlie Ward.
It was the fourth biggest victory in Heisman history.
Unfortunately for Cooper this year’s voting might be just as lopsided even though he’s done nearly everything imaginable minus play either defense or return kicks and punts.
Back in September, we targeted 10 things that had to happen for Cooper to have a real shot at winning, some of which were beyond his control:
1. Stay healthy: For the most part he did, although Cooper was held out of the Western Carolina game with a bruised knee and wore a brace against Auburn when he tied his own record for receiving yards in a game with 224.
2. He has to clearly be the best player at his position: Check. There’s little doubt that he was the best wide receiver in college football this season.
3. Cooper has to be the best candidate from the Crimson Tide: He was, although Blake Sims should have been a stronger candidate. When the senior quarterback developed a reputation for being better at home than on the road it pretty much ended his chances.
4. He has to be the best candidate from the region: With Jameis Winston fading early and Todd Gurley’s knee injury, Cooper ended up being the only viable candidate from the southeast after Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott came up short against Alabama.
5. Cooper has to avoid Marqis Lee comparisons: Surprisingly they never really surfaced even though both were coached by Lane Kffin. In 2012 the Southern California wide receiver had 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns to finish fourth for the Heisman, but Cooper faced much tougher defenses.
6. More stupid stuff has to happen (to other contenders): It did, especially with Winston, but not Mariota.
7. Oregon probably has to lose two games: It did not.
8. Alabama almost has to run the table: That’s how Ingram won in 2009 and it was still the closest voting in Heisman Trophy history. Although running back Trent Richardson had nearly identical numbers to Ingram, 1,658 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns for Ingram compared to 1,679 and 21 TDs for Richardson, he finished a distant third behind Robert Griffith III and Andrew Luck in 2011. Last year saw the seventh-largest margin of victory in the history of the award with Winston beating out AJ McCarron.
9. Cooper has to win over non-Southern voters: When Ingram won the Heisman he topped the voting in four different regions — South, Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Midwest — while the player he beat out, Toby Gerhart, only carried the West.
10. Cooper has to appear to be a better candidate than Ingram: It’s unfair, but that’s the way it goes because a running back will get the benefit of doubt over a wide receiver, and a quarterback will get it over both.
And that’s the bottom line when it came to Cooper’s chances.
Mariota’s numbers are nothing short of eye-popping. He’s the nation’s top-rated passer (186.3), has thrown for 3,783 yards and 38 touchdowns with just two interceptions. He’s also run for 669 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading his team to both the Pac-12 championship and the inaugural playoffs.
There’s simply no way to compare those statistics with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Yet to be a finalist while playing a position that’s usually nothing more than an afterthought when it comes to the Heisman can be called nothing short of remarkable.