Marqise Lee: Heisman Prediction and Season Outlook for USC's Star WR
When it comes to gridiron excitement, there aren't many college football players who can match USC's All-American wide receiver Marqise Lee. Fast and elusive, Lee is a pure adrenaline rush every time he touches the ball.
Now in 2013, he is poised to deliver even more thrills as he attempts to build on a 2012 season that saw him snag an eye-popping 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Add to that another 856 yards on kickoff returns (28.5-yard average), and it is easy to see why Lee is considered one of the favorites to be on hand in New York when the winner of the Heisman Trophy is announced.
Can he take home Mr. Heisman's stiff-arming little fella? Let's look at the odds of that occurring and offer some analysis on what Lee's obstacles are in his pursuit of this prestigious award.
Who He Is
Weight: 200 lbs
Position: Wide Receiver
Potential Awards/Watch Lists for 2013: Heisman, Biletnikoff, All-American
Why He Can Win It
Going into the 2013 college football season, Lee finds himself as one of the premier players in the sport, and he has the publicity to prove it.
Featured on magazine covers far and wide, his high-profile image gives him an advantage going in, but it's his supreme athletic ability that will tell the tale.
When it comes to delivering the goods, there aren't many who can hold a candle to Lee. His ability to get open as a receiver is difficult to match. But what he does after the catch sets him apart, as shown by his 58 receptions of 10 yards or more in 2012, tied for first in the nation.
Add to that Lee's ability to return punts and kickoffs, and it is easy to produce reasons why No. 9 could add the Heisman to his hardware in 2013.
It doesn't hurt that he plays for a prestigious program like USC.
While Lee has many things going for him in his pursuit of the Heisman Trophy, he does face obstacles along the way. One of those obstacles is having to break in a new quarterback after Matt Barkley's graduation.
While either Cody Kessler or Max Wittek—USC's prospective QBs for 2013—has the ability to get Lee the ball on a routine basis, you can be sure that head coach Lane Kiffin will be focusing on the run while he gets his signal-callers acclimated to the starting gig.
As Lee and his new quarterback get to know each other, you can also be sure that opposing coaches will design ways to keep him from getting the rock.
Double- and triple-teams and the maturation process of USC's quarterback could conspire to keep Lee's trophy case Heisman-less.
With USC one of the college football's premier programs, Lee is sure to get plenty of television exposure.
USC will be on national television a number of times, including the annual matchup against Notre Dame on Oct. 19 on NBC.
Other important games include the UCLA and Stanford games, which have yet to draw national television assignments but surely will.
Most, if not all, of the remaining games on USC's schedule will be televised regionally.
What People Are Saying About Him
Analysts and opponents alike marvel at Lee's ability. Stanford head coach David Shaw called Lee the best receiver he had seen since scouting Randy Moss, according to Bryan Fischer, senior correspondent for Pac-12 Networks.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit labeled Lee the best receiver in the country in his annual "Herbie Awards"—and that was before Lee's record-setting 2012.
But Lee's real value—at least to his teammates—lies in his ability to make his team better. Said fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor, via Euno Lee of the Daily Trojan, "Whatever Marqise does, it’s always for the team. He does whatever it takes to make the team better."
Stat Predictions for This Season
For the reasons I articulated earlier, look for Lee's receiving stats to drop off this year. But in terms of the benefit for the team, that may be a good thing.
With USC likely keying on the run early on, as well as the increased attention that opposing defenses will give him, the likelihood of Lee matching last year's ridiculous 118 catches seems remote. Instead, look for him to snag around 90 passes this year.
At the same time, his overall yardage should be in the neighborhood of the same 1,700 yards or so, as his per-catch average will actually increase—especially later in the season, when the running game and the emergence of fellow wide receiver Nelson Agholor capture the attention of opposing coaches.
On special teams, look for Lee to increase his stats, as he now will be used to return punts as well as kickoffs.
Predicted Heisman Finish
Because of the somewhat diminished stats Marqise Lee will garner in 2013, I see him snagging an invite to New York for the ceremony but falling just short of securing the little bronze statue.
Of course, much depends on his health and how USC performs as a team in 2013. If everything goes perfectly this year for the men of Troy, Lee could win the Heisman. Realistically, I see a top-three finish for No. 9, with someone else winning the award.
That won't mean he isn't the best player in college football, because he is just that: the best player in the game.