By Nick Shepkowski-

(CBS) Not a soul with an ounce of college football knowledge thinks for a second that Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has a snowball’s chance of winning the next Heisman Trophy.

Of the last eight young men to win the award, only one didn’t play in the BCS National Championship that year while the last eight winners have hailed from traditional powerhouses Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma (2), Florida, Ohio State and USC (2).

So what is a small private school with very little football tradition like Northwestern doing spending money on billboards across the country to promote Dan Persa’s Heisman Trophy campaign?

Even most at Northwestern likely don’t think there is a chance in Hell that Persa wins the award, but they have instead already accomplished their goal of the entire campaign and this post only furthers the point.

When is the last time Northwestern football was talked about at the national level in any capacity in the middle of the summer? Even after winning back-to-back conference titles in 1995 and ’96, the Wildcats didn’t get the same press nationally that their peers would, had they accomplished the same feat.

Does anyone at Northwestern really think by sending “PersaStrong” dumbbells that it will sway how someone potentially casts their Heisman ballot later this year? Absolutely not, the play on the field will determine that.

Instead, the entire “PersaStrong” campaign has pushed Northwestern athletics to at least be discussed nationally, instead of being made fun of. The same thing goes for the Wrigley Field game last year and the potential purple basketball court.

It wasn’t long ago that Northwestern was the laughing stock of college football as “Laking the Posts” became tradition after wins over even the least competitive of opponents. It’s the same football program that saw the Wildcats win just 3 of 69 contests from 1976 through the first 3 games of 1982.

Now there are plenty of media types around the country both tweeting and writing about the “PersaStrong” campaign, giving Northwestern that much more attention with every tweet, blog post and article that mentions this unique marketing approach.

Northwestern athletics as a whole have come a long way from where they once were. The football program has become a regular in college football’s postseason while Bill Carmody has the basketball team finally playing at a respectable level.

The media attention that comes garners more interest from the media which in turn influences more people to be fans and more potential recruits to seriously consider spending their college years in Evanston.

Obviously there is work that remains to be done as the football team still hasn’t won a bowl game in over 60 years and the basketball program remains without an NCAA Tournament appearance.

Both Pat Fitzgerald and Bill Carmody still have plenty of work cut out for themselves to get where they eventually want to go, but college sports fans and media types are talking about Northwestern’s football and basketball programs positively for the first time in ages.

The Northwestern athletic program is no longer the laughing stock of major college athletics; instead its marketing has brought attention to a couple of athletic programs that once seemed impossible.

Whether Dan Persa ends up an actual Heisman Trophy finalist or if he’s slightly above average and Northwestern barely sneaks into a bowl game, the “PersaStrong” campaign is already accomplishing its goal of furthering the Northwestern brand as Athletic Director Jim Phillips continues to turn heads.

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