He's not quite Famous like Jameis, and his name doesn't hold the same cachet as Johnny Football, but Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has flown under the radar as a Heisman Trophy candidate—not to mention prospective national champion—all season long.
On Thursday evening, he was tasked with playing against an elite defense for the first time this season, and in leading his team to an easy 41-12 win over Oklahoma, he solidified his case to be named America's top player in 2013.
Despite a slow start, Petty led the Bears to 459 yards of total offense, completing 13 of 26 passes for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He also set career highs in both rushing yards (45) and rushing attempts (16), scoring two more touchdowns on the ground for a total of five on the evening.
Baylor's offense has gone about its business unimpeded all season, toying with opposing defenses and generally doing whatever it pleases, whenever it pleases.
But Oklahoma punched it in the mouth during the first quarter, revealing some potential chinks in the Bears armor. The offensive line was challenged for the first time all season, and with his offense's back against the wall, Petty led his team out of the funk.
"It was an ugly game," said Petty, according to quotes published by the university. "We didn't play as well as we wanted to, myself included. To come from the start of the game and then end it how we did is big."
Therein lies the beauty of Petty's performance—and really, his entire body of work this season. Thursday's game was not his finest effort, but Petty still finished with five TDs and led his team to 42 points against a very good defense.
That's how high he has set the bar.
But Petty didn't just increase his raw Heisman stock by virtue of scoring five touchdowns against Oklahoma; he also saw his Heisman stock rise thanks to checkered performances this past weekend from his main competitors.
Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston of Florida State threw two picks and posted a season-low rating of 124.84. Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel racked up 493 total yards but the quarterback also threw three picks, increasing his season total to 11, which is tied for seventh-worst in the country. And Oregon's Marcus Mariota choked in front of a national audience against Stanford, going three-and-a-half quarters without directing his offense to a single point.
Because Petty has only played eight games (and most teams have played more), his season totals do not reflect his statistical dominance. But of the stats that reflect game averages, many are working in Petty's favor:
|Name||Passer Rating (Rk)||YDS/ATT (Rk)||Total QBR (Rk)|
|Johnny Manziel||186.86 (3)||10.5 (4)||88.5 (4)|
|Marcus Mariota||173.43 (7)||9.8 (6)||93.3 (T-1)|
|AJ McCarron||169.06 (8)||8.9 (14)||83.3 (9)|
|Bryce Petty||210.64 (1)||13.2 (1)||93.3 (T-1)|
|Jameis Winston||192.23 (2)||11.1 (2)||92.8 (3)|
Source: cfbstats.com; ESPN
You read that right.
He's also, you know, undefeated, so it's not like he's posting these stats in vain. Unlike Manziel, who leads that group in most volume-related metrics, he has not had to keep his pedal on the gas for 60 minutes each game—in fact, Petty is usually resting on the bench with a massive lead by the start of the fourth quarter.
The only argument against Petty as a Heisman candidate would be one of system. Art Briles' offense produced a Heisman winner just two years ago in Robert Griffin III; the following season, Nick Florence stepped in and set a single-season school-record with 4,309 passing yards.
That argument is a bit unfair to Petty and the level he has played at, but the point is not completely moot. Briles' system does produce stupid-good numbers, and unless he leads Baylor to an undefeated season, it will be hard for Petty to win the award.
According to Chris Huston—better known as the "Heisman Pundit"—even running the table would not ensure him the hardware in a year where Winston might do the same thing:
Overall, it looks like Petty is on his way to a special season. He already leads the nation in passing efficiency and is on pace for 4,100 yards of offense and 44 total touchdowns. But he’ll need to lead Baylor to an undefeated season if he is to have a shot at winning and, even then, it may not be enough. If he finishes really strong, he has the potential to overtake the race’s current front runner if that player’s numbers fall off a bit.
Petty needs some things to break the right way if he wants to go down in history, and in Week 11, he started to get some of those breaks. Winston was underwhelming against Wake Forest while Petty helped shred Oklahoma.
Despite needing some help from Winston, though, Petty cannot get preoccupied with his current Heisman standing. All he can do is stay laser-focused on the task at hand: playing as well as possible in each of the Bears' remaining games.
If he can do that and trust the rest to take care of itself, the Heisman Trophy might not be the only piece of hardware in play.
There might also be a shiny, crystal football with Petty's name on it.