10 things that need to happen for Amari Cooper to have a shot at the Heisman Trophy
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Bovada Sportsbook has him in the top eight, NFL.com lists him fourth, and ESPN’s voters place Amari Cooper third.
Following his 10 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday, the University of Alabama junior wide receiver has not only become a viable candidate for the Heisman Trophy but one of the frontrunners.
Granted, the regular season is only one-third complete and the heart of the Crimson Tide’s schedule is still coming up, however with 43 receptions for 655 yards (15.2 yards per catch) he’s putting up unparalleled numbers for both the Crimson Tide and the Southeastern Conference.
Cooper is on pace to finish the regular season with 130 catches, 1,965 yards and 15 TDs. He could also potentially play in the SEC Championship Game before the voting takes place.
Over the years only five players who were not a quarterback or running back have won:
- 1936: Larry Kelley of Yale won the second Heisman Trophy while playing end, the position Don Hutson and Paul W. “Bear” Bryant played at Alabama. Kelley was credited with 15 touchdowns and also known as an outstanding defensive player. Allison Danzig of the New York Times called him a “genius who gets the touchdown regardless of the odds.”
- 1949: Notre Dame’s Leon Hart, who was also named the Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press, won in a landslide after carrying all five regions in the voting. During his college career he caught 49 passes for 742 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was the first-overall selection of the 1950 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions, was named All-Pro as a rookie and in 1951 was the last player selected All-Pro on both offense and defense.
- 1987: Although Notre Dame wide receiver Tim Brown set 19 school records during his career at Notre Dame giving him the name “Touchdown Timmy,” he didn’t have eye-popping numbers while beating Syracuse quarterback Don McPherson for the award. After setting a Fighting-Irish single-season record with 1,937 all-purpose yards as a junior, Brown won as a senior when he only had 846 receiving yards on 39 catches and three touchdowns. What won him the award was his versatility. “He is the most intelligent player I’ve ever been around,” Lou Holtz said.
- 1991: Michigan’s Desmond Howard made 62 receptions for 950 yards and 19 touchdowns (23 total TDs), and was the first receiver in Big Ten conference history to lead the league in scoring with 138 points. He was second in the nation in punt returns and scored 37 touchdowns during his career. He easily beat out Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon, BYU quarterback Ty Detmer and Washington defensive tackle Steve Emtman in the voting.
- 1997: Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson was the only defensive player to win the award. The cornerback finished the season with eight interceptions, but also bolstered his resume by lining up as a receiver and punt returner.
Only six times has a wide receiver been invited to New York for the announcement ceremony, the most recent being Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. The others were Marshall’s Randy Moss (1997), Alabama’s David Palmer (1993), Howard, Notre Dame’s Rahib Ismail (1990), and Brown.
With that in mind, here are 10 things that have to happen for Cooper to have a real shot at winning the Heisman.
1. He has to stay healthy: This pretty much goes without saying for any of the contenders, but considering his injury issues last season (knee, foot and toe), it has to be mentioned. Everything from here on assumes no significant injuries to any of the candidates.
2. He has to clearly be the best player at his position: If there’s any doubt about him being the best wide receiver in the nation Cooper will have no chance. The player to watch is probably Rashad Green of Florida State, who has 24 receptions for 418 yards. Alabama fans are already familiar with the receiver who has posted the closest numbers so far, Kevin White of West Virginia (10.5 catches and 158.3 yards per game, but second in the nation to Cooper’s 10.8, 163.8).
3. Cooper has to be the best candidate from the Crimson Tide: In the latest odds from Bovada he’s listed 18 to 1, while running backs Y.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry are both 50 to 1. The player who will soon start getting support if he continues at his current high level of play is the best story in college football this season, Blake Sims.
4. He has to be the best candidate from the region: This will be a little tougher considering the competition. Both fans and voters are clearly fed up with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but Todd Gurley has already moved into fourth on Georgia’s all-time rushing list. Working against him is the schedule as the Bulldogs only have one more game against a ranked opponent, Auburn.
5. Cooper has to avoid Marqis Lee comparisons: In 2012, the Southern California wide receiver had 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns to finish fourth for the Heisman. If Cooper finishes with worse numbers critics will claim he’s just a manipulation of Lane Kiffin, even though Cooper is facing much tougher defenses.
All-time leading SEC receivers
1. Josh Reed, 1740, 2001, Louisiana State
2. Alshon Jeffery*, 1517, 2010, South Carolina
3. Jordan Matthews*, 1477, 2013, Vanderbilt
4. Mike Evans*, 1394, 2013, Texas A&M
5. Travis McGriff, 1357, 1998, Florida
6. Cobi Hamilton, 1335, 2012, Arkansas
7. Carlos Alvarez, 1329, 1969, Florida
8. Jordan Matthews*, 1323, 2012, Vanderbilt
9. Craig Yeast, 1311, 1998, Kentucky
10. Robert Meachem*, 1298, 2006, Tennessee
11. Reidel Anthony, 1293, 1996, Florida
12. Wendell Davis, 1244, 1986, Louisiana State
13. Boo Mitchell, 1213, 1988, Vanderbilt
14. Jarvis Landry*, 1193, 2013, Louisiana State
15. Jabar Gaffney, 1191, 2001, Florida
16. Jabar Gaffney, 1184, 2000, Florida
17. Marcus Nash, 1170, 1997, Tennessee
18. Darrell Jackson, 1156, 1999, Florida
19. Earl Bennett ,1146, 2006, Vanderbilt
20. Sidney Rice*, 1143, 2005, South Carolina
21. Shay Hodge*, 1135, 2009, Mississippi
22. Julio Jones*, 1133, 2010, Alabama
23. Josh Reed, 1127, 2000, Louisiana State
24. Odell Beckham Jr.*, 1117, 2013, Louisiana State
(tie) Jarius Wright*, 1117, 2011, Arkansas
*Bowl games included
Incidentally, Reed’s coach at LSU was Nick Saban. He won the Biletnikoff Award but didn’t place in the top 10 in Heisman voting.
6. More stupid stuff has to happen: This is pretty much a given, but the dumb things other candidates do the better Cooper looks. After Winston, Johnny Manziel and, yes, Cam Newton, voters only need an excuse to scratch a player of his or her ballot and many are looking to stop the growing trend of voting for players with possible character issues.
7. Oregon probably has to lose two games: One of the reasons why it’s so hard to weigh candidates in different conferences was on display last Saturday night. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 21 of 25 attempts for 329 yards and five touchdowns, along with 58 rushing yards. On paper it looks good until you realize the Ducks were playing Washington State and never had control of the game. Mariota is perceived to be the frontrunner assuming Oregon makes the playoff. If he doesn’t, forget it. Similarly, Everett Golson has Notre Dame off to a good start, but considering what Notre Dame did in the national championship game two years ago he needs a ton of breaks to go his way.
8. Alabama almost has to run the table: That’s the only way Mark Ingram Jr. won in 2009, and it was still the closest voting in Heisman Trophy history.
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. Alabama still has big games with top-10 opponents Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Auburn in addition to Mississippi State and LSU. That’s five spotlight games and a potential sixth with the SEC Championship. Cooper will have more opportunities to shine than the other top candidates. He also has to have a signature moment in one of those games, and not have a game in which he vanished from the box score.
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. However, that Alabama has only had one serious Heisman candidate as a wide receiver over the years may eventually work to his advantage because it’s so unusual. In the traditional sense it would be like Penn State changing uniforms every week like Oregon.
Alabama players in top 10 of Heisman voting
Player Year Finish Points Position Class
Joe Kilgrow 1937, 5th, NR, HB, senior
Harry Gilmer 1945, 5th, 132, HB, sophomore
Harry Gilmer 1947, 5th, 115, HB, senior
Pat Trammell 1961, 5th, 362, QB, senior
Lee Roy Jordan 1962, 4th, 321, LB, senior
Steve Sloan 1965, 10th, 92, QB, senior
Johnny Musso 1971, 4th, 365, HB, senior
Terry Davis 1972, 5th, 338, QB, senior
Steadman Shealy 1979,10th, 32, QB, senior
Walter Lewis 1983, 9th, 54, QB, senior
Cornelius Bennett 1986, 7th, 96, LB, senior
Bobby Humphrey 1987,10th, 63, HB, junior
Derrick Thomas 1988,10th, 20, LB, senior
Eric Curry 1992,10th, 47, DE, senior
David Palmer 1993, 3rd, 292, WR, junior
Jay Barker 1994, 5th, 295, QB, senior
Shaun Alexander 1999, 7th, 171, TB, senior
Mark Ingram 2009 1st, 1,304, RB, sophomore
Trent Richardson 2011, 3rd, 978, RB, junior
AJ McCarron 2013, 2nd, 704, QB, senior