In late May, an email popped into my inbox touting the odds of a couple dozen players to win the Heisman Trophy. Among them were the obvious contenders, guys like Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
But tucked down near the end of the list — and let’s face it, to be included on the list was something — was an unexpected name: Austin Kendall, the newest quarterback at West Virginia University.
This Las Vegas outfit tagged Kendall at 25-1 odds to win college football’s most prized award. I considered that a little ... optimistic. Sure, he sat behind two straight Heisman winners at Oklahoma in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, but he still sat behind them and his playing time in those two seasons was sporadic.
Fast forward to the present day in Morgantown and Kendall isn’t fighting to win the Heisman. He’s fighting to win the starting job for the Mountaineers. As of this past week, new WVU coach Neal Brown has not anointed any of the contenders as the 2019 starting quarterback, at least not publicly. And let’s face it, neither of the other two contenders — Jack Allison and Trey Lowe — were channeling Will Grier when they got their chance in last season’s Camping World Bowl, so the fact that WVU has not yet named a starter means Vegas should have pumped the brakes on any early Kendall Heisman campaign.
And it offers another example of why predictions based solely on potential can get you into trouble.
Take Miami quarterback Tate Martell, for example. After Justin Fields transferred from Georgia to Ohio State, Martell made a beeline out of Columbus and signed with the Hurricanes. He was the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2017 recruiting class, and guys with that pedigree don’t go places where they don’t think they can start. And everyone else figured Martell would be UM’s starter, too.
Everyone, that is, except Miami coach Manny Diaz, who named Jarren Williams the starter this past week.
These aren’t situations like what was seen a couple years ago when Grier transferred to WVU from Florida or now with former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts’ arrival at Oklahoma. They both had extensive bodies of work as starters in the SEC, a conference where defense is more than a myth. Moving elsewhere for starting jobs were a formality.
For players like Kendall and Martell, the bodies of work are much smaller and mostly were mop-up duty. Could they be starters? Sure, but let’s not run to the betting windows and throw down cash on their Heisman hopes just yet.
That being said, while Brown has yet to name a starter, he needs to. Soon.
And it’s not to appease the fan base. Whether they learn the identity of the No. 1 quarterback tomorrow or five minutes before opening kickoff against James Madison is irrelevant. The team needs to know who that guy will be.
It could very well be Kendall and he could emerge as a good field leader for the offense. Same with Allison and Lowe.
But even if Kendall (or Lowe or Allison) doesn’t jog onto the field and direct the team like Johnny Unitas, the Mountaineers should know sooner rather than later which guy will take the snaps. They need to get used to his throwing style and his demeanor. They need to learn who it is they have to rally behind. Draw out the competition too long, and that leaves open the possibility of players falling into separate camps behind each quarterback. So when that decision does get made, one camp is happy, but two camps aren’t. Not the formula for success to start a season.
Brown has said that this past Friday’s scrimmage should go a long way into determining a No. 1 QB. He has a press conference scheduled for Tuesday. Then would be a great time to announce his opening-game starter. But even if he doesn’t, at least the team should get the news. It’s one less thing to worry about as the season draws nearer.
Wait too long, and no one will be debating the odds of winning a Heisman. They’ll be busy debating the odds of a winning season.