Sep 8, 2012; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; USC Trojans wide receiver Marqise Lee (9) runs with the ball after a catch against the Syracuse Orange during the second quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Heisman Top 25: No. 18 Marqise Lee

Only 76 players in the history of college football have earned the designation of Heisman Trophy winners. First awarded in 1935, the Heisman Trophy is considered the sport’s pinnacle of individual achievement. is tracking the race to the 78th Heisman Trophy throughout the 2013 college football season via the Heisman Top 25. Every week throughout the season, we are tracking the progress of the contenders, both their on-field impact and media presence.

USC entered 2012 with plenty of undue hype that it failed to meet. However, it wouldn’t be fair to call the campaign wholly disappointing; not when Marqise Lee was on the field.

Lee evolved into USC’s best receiver by the end of his freshman year, and only improved into his sophomore season. He surpassed 1100 yards in his debut season, improved by more than 50 percent, and scored a double-digit number of touchdowns in each of his two years. That’s otherworldly production.

The bar is high for Lee entering his third (and presumably final) college season.

How Marqise Lee Wins The Heisman

Wide receivers have a difficult road to the Heisman, as their production is contingent on the play of their quarterbacks. When Matt Barkley went down with a shoulder injury for USC’s final two games, 2013 front-runner Max Wittek stepped in and relied far more on Robert Woods than Lee. Lee’s numbers in the Trojans’ losses to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech: 11 receptions for 116 yards and no touchdowns.

Woods is gone, though sophomore Nelson Algholor brings a similar skill set. That’s a good thing, as it prevents opposing secondaries from loading up to stop Lee. However, Wittek (or Cody Kessler. Or Max Browne) must make effective use of Lee. Not only is his Heisman candidacy contingent on it, the Trojan offense is just much better when Lee is the focal point of the passing game.

Marqise Lee’s talent should rise to the top, though. It doesn’t hurt that he can do so many different things, both at wide receiver and on special teams. Lee was one of the best kickoff return men in the nation during 2012, averaging over 28 yards per opportunity. He’s run one back to the house in each season.

Few plays in sports are as electrifying as the kick/punt return for touchdown, and certainly helps with a player’s Heisman candidacy. To wit, Tyrann Mathieu’s two late season punt returns in 2011 elevated him into the conversation. There’s another great example we’ll touch on later, too. Lee needs another big return — preferably late in the season in a key Trojan win — to really put a lovely Maraschino cherry on the Heisman sundae.

Statistical Overview
2012 statistics

• 118 receptions/1721 yards (14.6 per catch)

• 14 touchdowns

• 30 kickoff returns/865 yards/1 touchdown

• 13 rushes/106 yards (8.2 per carry)

Compared To Past Heisman Winners

  • Desmond Howard, 1991: Howard’s run to the 1991 Heisman is essentially the perfect template for Lee winning the award. Howard played in an era when teams generally passed less — Houston and BYU were anomalous then, where they’d be the norm today — thus he finished below 1000 yards in ’91. However, he caught 19 touchdowns.

    Lee’s career trajectory suggests a comparable jump isn’t just possible, but likely. Howard also rushed for a pair of touchdowns, a feat Lee has yet to match. However, Lee registered an impressive 8.2 yard per average when called upon for carries last season.

    And like Howard, Lee doubles as a kick returner. Howard had one of the most iconic Heisman moments ever on special teams:

    Marqise Lee is certainly capable of a comparable play.


Tags: Football Heisman Top 25 Heisman Trophy USC Trojans

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