Greg Ward could become one of the best quarterbacks in the country. In fact, the Houston Cougars’ star could be one of the best overall players in the country before all is said and done.
We’re talking Heisman, folks. He has that kind of potential.
Ward is that good, and the #HTownTakeover head coach Tom Herman has started is that legitimate. Keep an eye out for the Cougars to make some big noise in 2016 — it all starts with No. 1.
Need proof? That’s fine. It’s not every day an AAC player is a Heisman candidate in a college football environment that features superstars such as Deshaun Watson, Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Jabrill Peppers and Dalvin Cook, among a few others.
In 2015, Herman’s first year with the program, Ward completed 232-of-345 attempts for 2,828 yards and 17 touchdowns (six interceptions). He also ran for 1,108 yards and an incredible 21 touchdowns on the ground.
Add it up, and Ward was part of 3,936 total yards for Houston and 38 touchdowns.
To put those numbers in context, consider this: The only quarterback who rushed for more yards than Ward was Navy’s future College Football Hall-of-Famer Keenan Reynolds, who rushed for 1,373 in a triple-option offense. Ward also barely edged Clemson’s Watson in rushing yards, by three. Watson almost beat Alabama in the national championship game thanks to his dual-threat skills.
So yes, Ward is definitely someone to keep an eye on when it comes to the Heisman Trophy, but there is a catch: All Heisman winners tend to have at least one “Heisman moment.”
Simply put, a Heisman moment is that play or collection of plays in a big game when a Heisman contender separates himself from the pack, clearly making his case as the best college football player in America.
Sure, sometimes a Heisman moment can come against an inferior opponent, especially if the play is incredible and almost “otherworldly,” but more often than not games against smaller opponents typically become just highlight material for Heisman candidates. What makes the actual Heisman moment “for real” are the stakes involved in the game. The bigger the opponent or spotlight, the better.
That’s good news for Ward, who tries to lead Houston to an upset to start the season against Baker Mayfield, Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Sooners are ranked No. 3 in the preseason AP Poll (Houston is No. 15). Going into this game at NRG Stadium in Houston, the Cougars have a chance to make a real statement and build on last year’s momentum. Houston is a Group of Five team that looks like a Power Five team. Ward is a Group of Five quarterback who looks like a potential Heisman quarterback. He’ll have a chance to prove that against one of the more notable programs in America, fresh off a trip to last year’s College Football Playoff.
Should he and Houston fail, though, his chances for a Heisman moment after Week 1 will be few and far between. That’s the bad news.
That’s not to say a loss would kill Ward’s Heisman hopes, because it all depends. If Houston loses but Ward looks great in the process and puts up some big numbers, anything is possible.
The problem becomes strength of schedule. The AAC is an intriguing and fun conference, but it’s not necessarily filled with world beaters just yet. An argument can be made that the game against Louisville in November would be Ward’s last chance to make a huge impression, but even that game’s hype is predicated on the Cardinals living up to expectations and playing consistently this season.
Other than that, even games at Cincinnati or against Navy won’t do much to gather the collective conscience of the college football world. Die-hard fans will tune in and Ward may put up Heisman-like performances, but it just wouldn’t be the same.
The fact remains that Ward’s best chance for a lasting Heisman moment, or at least a chance to set up that level of expectation, is against Oklahoma.
A win would be vital, and a great performance with a win would put him on the leaderboard.
Anything else would probably leave Ward on the contenders list throughout the season, but not necessarily as a realistic option.