Casey Pachall may be one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football today.
With the Horned Frogs losing four-year starting quarterback Andy Dalton to the NFL, many expected the Frogs offense to struggle while transitioning to a new quarterback.
Thanks to Pachall that simply wasn't the case.
The Frogs scored early and often as Pachall led a dynamic offense that put up 40.8 points per game, good for ninth in the country.
In fact, Pachall's first season as starter was statistically comparable to Dalton's final season—Pachall had more yards and a slightly better completion percentage while Dalton threw two more touchdowns and one fewer interception.
If Pachall can improve upon those numbers, he could be a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy in 2012.
Despite the Heisman being the highest of individual awards, you almost always hear the winners thank their teammates. That's not just a kind gesture, there's a reason for it.
Almost no one has won a Heisman without some stellar players surrounding them. Even last year's winner, Robert Griffin III, had Kendall Wright and a solid running game led by Terrance Ganaway to thank for allowing him to shine.
Think Matt Leinart wins a Heisman without the likes of Reggie Bush, LenDale White and Steve Smith? Probably not.
For a quarterback to win the Heisman, he needs weapons—Pachall will have weapons aplenty in 2012 as the Frogs lose very little in the way of offense from last season.
For starters, the Frogs will once again have a potent running attack spearheaded by Ed Wesley, Michael Tucker and Waymon James.
When Pachall drops back to pass, he will have a deep corps of receivers to which to throw. Led by 2011 All-MWC selection Josh Boyce, this group of receivers features a lot of big play ability in speed in Brandon Carter and Skye Dawson.
Despite losing playmaker Antoine Hicks, there are many receivers with experience to give Pachall options.
If TCU were still in the Mountain West, Casey Pachall would have absolutely no chance to win the Heisman.
As Houston quarterback Case Keenum showed us last year, you can have all the success you want as an individual or team, but if you aren't from a power conference, you won't win the Heisman.
Luckily for Pachall, 2012 will mark TCU's first season in the Big 12. Because of this, the Frogs' ceiling as a team is higher than ever before—a spot in the BCS National Championship game is much more attainable—and so it is for players looking to get individual awards.
Pachall could have put up video game-type numbers in 2012 against a Mountain West schedule and still would not have been invited to New York.
Now, there's an opportunity for the team to have a great season and for Pachall to gain consideration for the Heisman.
With a move to a power conference comes a move to a greater TV audience.
Unless you had the best possible sports package from DirecTV, chances are you only saw TCU take on Baylor at the very beginning of the season—Casey Pachall's first start—and TCU's bowl victory over Louisiana Tech.
Other than TCU fans, not too many people go out of their way to watch the Frogs. And, you can be sure that Heisman voters won't go out of their way either.
With TCU's move to the Big 12, they will have many more marquee matchups throughout the season and that means a much bigger stage for Pachall to shine on.
Matchups against the likes of Baylor, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma are surely going to draw more viewers than TCU taking on Wyoming and New Mexico State.
So, it will be harder for Pachall's play to go unnoticed in 2012.
The advantage of moving to the Big 12 and the increased exposure will mean nothing if Casey Pachall can't capitalize on all of these opportunities to impress Heisman voters.
Fortunately, Pachall seems to have his biggest games when the spotlight is the brightest.
For the perfect example look no further than last season's shocking upset victory over Boise State. With TCU entering the game as a huge underdog to the undefeated Broncos, it seemed as though Boise State held a distinct advantage in quarterback play. Coupled with Boise's experienced defense, it appeared a recipe for a Boise blowout.
However, Pachall had something to say about that.
He played his best game of the year—hands down—throwing for a staggering 437 yards on 25-for-37 passing and five touchdowns. Without Pachall's tremendous play on the road, the Frogs wouldn't have stood a chance, as they narrowly escaped by a one-point margin to win 36-35 in one of the best games of the year.
If Pachall can show that much moxie with all the tough road games TCU will face in 2012, he will not only contend for the Heisman but also he will be a favorite.
An unofficial caveat to winning the Heisman is that your team has to be successful—quarterbacks from 6-6 teams simply don't win the award.
For Casey Pachall to have a chance, the Horned Frogs must achieve success as a team.
Robert Griffin III was able to win the award with a Baylor team that went 10-3, and despite suffering two blowout losses in the middle of the season to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State, Baylor won enough to keep Griffin III in contention.
However, that won't be enough this year.
Griffin III was largely given the benefit of the doubt, despite the blowout losses, because Baylor has been a historically bad team for so long. Pachall will not get this benefit as TCU has perennially had double-digit season win totals for the better part of a decade now.
The Big 12 should be wide-open this year, as many teams that were at the top last year will be looking to replace long-time starters, and teams that struggled last year should be improving. The conference is up for grabs at this point.
TCU is as good a candidate as any to seize the conference; a successful run to the Big 12 title game should help Pachall's Heisman candidacy become a reality.