Brandin Cooks' face isn't popping up on every website, magazine cover or newspaper in the country, but his numbers command the kind of attention given to the nation's best player. The Oregon State junior wide receiver leads the NCAA in receptions (76), yards (1,176) and touchdowns (12).
But when asked Wednesday if his candidacy for the Heisman is at least a topic of conversation on his own campus, Cooks said, "No, I don't really hear [Heisman talk].''
Cooks is just fine with flying under the radar.
"I don't like to think about it," he said. "I'm just focused on winning games. All the other stuff, I can wait until the end of the season for those discussions."
Still, the production is worthy of discussion for individual honors. Cooks has to be an early front-runner for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top wide receiver.
He's also a dark-horse contender for the Heisman Trophy, which wide receivers have only won twice. One of the two, Michigan great Desmond Howard, doubled as a returner.
Yet, Cooks' production isn't like any receivers before him. He's on pace to become just the second player in NCAA Division I history with 2,000 or more yards in a single season.
Continuing on his 168-yard per game clip, he'll surpass all-time record-holder Trevor Insley's 2,060 yards for Nevada in 1999 by season's end.
The odds of winning college football's most coveted award are stacked high against the 5'10", 186-pound Cooks, but he has at least one advocate in head coach Mike Riley.
"I don't really know why not," he said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "A lot of stuff has to happen [but] with those numbers, he can be in any conversation you want as far as players around the country."
Even though it's had just one Heisman winner—quarterback Terry Baker in 1962—Oregon State's athletic communications department isn't launching an elaborate campaign. Instead, it's showcasing his highlights—of which there are plenty—on social media platforms Twitter and YouTube.
It's a very grassroots approach, but Cooks' play does enough talking, as coaches in the Pac-12 can attest.
"I watched the explosive pass cut-up [Monday] night and...Wow," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "Cooks is just running by everybody."
Shaw's team travels to Corvallis, Ore. on Saturday, tasked with stopping Cooks and the rest of the nation's No. 2 passing offense. A season ago, Stanford spoiled Oregon State's Pac-12 championship aspirations, handing the Beavers a 27-23 defeat.
That's an outcome Cooks said stuck with his team.
"It's definitely motivation. We felt like we had that game at the tip of our fingers last year," he said.
Much has changed for Oregon State in the year since, though few could have projected just how different the Beavers would look.
A quarterback controversy that extended until just days before the 2013 season opener was just beginning on Stanford week last November. Cody Vaz started ahead of Sean Mannion, one game after Mannion threw four interceptions in a loss at Washington.
Since taking the reins as starting quarterback, Mannion has thrown three interceptions all of 2013.
"He's on fire, and that's what we love from him," Cooks said. "We all look up to him as a leader."
Even with a clear-cut No. 1 at quarterback, Oregon State also had to replace leading wide receiver Markus Wheaton, who is now with the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers. Wheaton left Corvallis with 2,994 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.
"Obviously, [Wheaton] was a great player, but we had other good players ready to step up," Cooks said. "Our tight ends were ready for a wonderful year, and they're doing that. I just needed to step up and be the leader."
He's certainly done that. Last year as the No. 2 target complementing Wheaton, he caught 67 passes for 1151 yards—impressive numbers to be sure, though well off the incredible statistics he's posting in 2013. Riley credited 10 pounds of added muscle to making Cooks more durable to go along with his speed.
"That strength has helped him a lot, playing against all different kinds of coverages and cornerbacks," Riley said.
Yet even with a bulkier physique, few could have foreseen such a huge step up in production—save Cooks himself.
"You expect a lot from yourself, so I guess you could say I did anticipate it," Cooks said. "With the hard work that was put in this offseason between the whole team, yeah. I did expect this from the whole team and myself."
Cooks may have had an inclination he would have such a prolific junior campaign, but count Riley among the surprised.
"I don't know how you anticipate the numbers he's got," Riley said.
His production may be unexpected, but it can't be ignored for much longer. Stanford is the first challenge in a season-defining second half of the Beavers' schedule that also features USC, Washington and rival Oregon.
|Player (Games Played)||Receptions (Rank)||Yards (Rank)||TD (Rank)||YPG (Rank)|
|Brandin Cooks, Oregon State (7)||76 (1)||1176 (1)||12 (1)||168.0 (1)|
|Mike Evans, Texas A&M (7)||43 (30)||1024 (2)||9 (4)||146.3 (2)|
|Antawn Goodley, Baylor (6)||36 (58)||851 (4)||8 (5)||141.8 (3)|
|Jarvis Landry, LSU (8)||53 (13)||795(8)||8 (5)||99.4 (22)|
|Jeremy Gallon, Michigan (7)||45 (21)||831 (5)||7 (9)||118.7 (9)|
|Paul Richardson, Colorado (6)||43 (30)||782 (9)||6 (17)||130.3 (4)|
|Davante Adams, Fresno State (7)||60 (4)||717 (16)||11 (2)||119.5 (7)|
|Allen Robinson, Penn State (6)||43 (30)||705 (18)||5 (32)||117.5 (10)|
Three of those four beat Oregon State a season ago.
In Stanford, the Beavers' 44.1-point per game scoring offense is opposite one of the Pac-12's premier defenses.
"I really see no weakness in their defense. They're smart; they play physical, and they're tough," Cooks said.
Another stellar performance, this time against one of the nation's most celebrated defenses, and a Heisman campaign will make its way to Corvallis.
And even with that, Cooks could still be going under the radar—at least, if he has it his way.
"For myself, I couldn't care less about that. But for Sean, I definitely feel like he deserves to be in the Heisman race with the numbers he's putting up," Cooks said.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer for B/R. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.