By Kevin McGuire-
(CBS Local) No school has had more Heisman Trophy winners than Notre Dame. The Irish, tied with Ohio State for the most Heisman winners in school history, have had seven players win college football’s highest individual honor. As storied a history as the Heisman Trophy and Notre Dame football have, the Irish have had just one player win the award since before man first walked on the moon. This season’s quarterback, Everett Golson, looks to win Notre Dame’s eighth Heisman Trophy and first since Tim Brown won the award in 1987.
Golson has returned to the football field this season after missing the entire 2013 season as a result of academic integrity issues. Golson had led the Irish to the BCS Championship Game and an undefeated regular season the previous year, although he was not asked to do a whole lot with a really good Notre Dame defense setting the tone in 2012. The defense put Golson in a good position in 2012 and he made the plays needed for the Irish to take advantage and run the table before running into a brick wall that was Alabama in the championship game. How Golson would return on the field in 2014 was a mild concern, but he seems to be doing just fine.
You will not find Golson among the top quarterbacks in terms of passing yards, but through six games, Golson has completed 62.5 percent of his pass attempts for 1,683 yards and an average of 7.8 yards per attempt. To this point in the season, Golson has thrown 16 touchdowns and has been intercepted four times. There have been some concerns about Golson turning the football over, which is fair to point out and could be highlighted against some competition coming up on Notre Dame’s schedule. However, in close games, which will be defined as a game with no more than a seven-point differential, Golson has completed roughly 62 percent of his passes for an average of 7.7 yards per attempt, and 10 touchdowns (although with three interceptions under these parameters).
When it comes to comparing Heisman Trophy candidates, one intangible voters look for is a Heisman moment, a signature play that will serve as the top highlight for a Heisman candidate’s season. These highlights typically come later in the season, but Golson already has one play that can likely be considered a Heisman moment. At home against Stanford, Golson completed a touchdown pass to Ben Koyack in the back corner of the end zone on 4th and 11 with just two minutes to play. The score gave Golson and the Irish a 17-14 lead over Stanford in a defensive battle to keep Notre Dame’s perfect record in play. The following week, Golson passed for 300 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Irish to an offensive shootout victory over North Carolina. In a span of two weeks, Golson helped Notre Dame win two completely different styles of games.
This week, Golson leads Notre Dame to Tallahassee to take on Florida State, home to last year’s Heisman Trophy winner. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston sees his status in the Heisman race as a controversial one at this point, but there is no debating how important this game could be for Golson’s Heisman hopes. A win on the road against the second-ranked team would vault Notre Dame up a couple of spots in the polls and establish Notre Dame as a legitimate playoff contender. A head-to-head win against a former Heisman Trophy winner and candidate for this year’s award could also ignite the Heisman talk around South Bend and beyond.
Heisman Spotlight Game: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 5 Notre Dame
There is no disputing which game deserves the Heisman spotlight game this week. For all of the reasons listed above, Notre Dame and Florida State will offer the biggest stage for a pair of Heisman Trophy candidates, Everett Golson of Notre Dame and the reigning Heisman Trophy winner from Florida State, Jameis Winston. If this game is a close one, then a Heisman moment could be up for grabs. Of course, the looming cloud hovering above Winston and his eligibility at Florida State steers this conversation in a different direction. As of now, Winston is eligible and is expected to play, which means he will get a chance to make some more noise in the Heisman conversation moving forward.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer.