Today, with quarterback Matt Barkley's Heisman campaign over, the USC Trojans have started campaigning for sophomore receiver Marqise Lee's trip to New York by releasing a video of highlights (below).
Though Kansas State's Collin Klein is the front-runner, Lee is giving Oregon's Kenjon Barner some competition as the Pac-12's best player. Barner is an outstanding talent, but Lee has made a serious case for himself.
He doesn't receive as much attention because, like Manti Te'o of Notre Dame, he is a victim of his position. Only three wide receivers have ever won the Trophy. The last was Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991.
Perhaps it's the Trojans' 6-3 record that has taken away from Lee's attention, but that's unfair since a receiver cannot carry a team.
Lee is currently ranked No. 1 in receptions, No. 2 in receiving yards, No. 3 in receiving touchdowns, No. 2 in receptions per game and No. 2 in yards per game. That's the top three of every statistical receiving category (except yards per catch). Aside from not catching a lot of deep balls, he has shown tremendous speed and strength when racking up yards after the catch.
He has recorded double-digit receptions in six games this year, gained 100-plus yards in six games, caught at least one touchdown in seven games and has scored at least two touchdowns in five games—all while having the equally-capable Robert Woods opposite him.
Barner may have had a record day against USC last Saturday, but Lee had a record day the week earlier against Arizona, setting a Pac-12 mark with 345 yards receiving.
Let's not forget Lee's explosiveness on kick returns. His 75.2 return yards per game ranks him 10th in the nation and is much more impressive than the 17.3 kick return yards per game and 24.4 punt return yards per game averages of Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas, who was receiving Heisman attention earlier this year.
Combining his offensive and special teams play, Lee is leading the nation in all-purpose yards and all-purpose yards per game; he ranks sixth in all-purpose yards per play.
This is not to take away from Barner's spectacular season. He should be a shoo-in for the Doak Walker Award, which is given to the nation's top running back. If he continues to have big games against Stanford and Oregon State, then he deserves enough votes to at least place second in the Heisman voting behind Klein.
And it's not that I think Lee necessarily deserves the Trophy more than Barner, or that he should receive more votes. But he definitely deserves to be a finalist—at least more so than Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, who rank higher than Lee on ESPN's Heisman Watch.
Miller and Manziel have also played well all season, but for Miller, as exciting a runner as he is, there is nothing spectacular about his inconsistent passing game; he is completing only 56.9 percent of his passes for the season.
Manziel had a mediocre game against Florida, throwing for only 173 yards and scoring one touchdown on an 11-yard run. He played abysmally against LSU, completing only 51.8 percent of his passes and throwing three interceptions and no TDs.
I realize that one game should not define a player's season, but like it or not, the rules for quarterbacks are different than the ones for receivers. Quarterbacks get more attention for the Heisman; so much more is expected of them.
Now, Lee caught only two balls for 32 yards against Washington, but again, that's because he is a victim of his position.
In that game, USC featured a heavy run offense. On average, the Trojans give Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal 15 and 6.5 carries per game, respectively. Against Washington, Redd carried the ball 26 times and McNeal 11 times. Barkley also completed only 10-of-20 passes for the day. Lee's production simply relies on Barkley's play.
Lee may not win the Heisman, but he should definitely be regarded as one of the five most outstanding players this year.
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