Introducing College Football's Sleeper Heisman Trophy Candidate

Adam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterNovember 12, 2015

WACO, TX - SEPTEMBER 12:  Corey Coleman #1 of the Baylor Bears before a game against the Lamar Cardinals at McLane Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The video must have been altered. There's no other reasonable explanation. The sequence of football movements looked more like a lost scene from The Matrix.

During the infancy of a fourth-quarter blowout on October 17, with Baylor methodically doubling up West Virginia, wideout Corey Coleman caught an unassuming eight-yard curl. At first glance, it looked like a modest gain in a game that was already determined.

Instead of ducking out of bounds and avoiding contact in a game that demanded nothing more of him, Coleman turned upfield. He transformed an eight-yard pass into a physics-defying 30-yard gain, making two Mountaineers defenders hug air as they struggled to bring him down.

"I'm a physical receiver, and I know when I get a corner that hardly any of them try to tackle me up high," Coleman told Bleacher Report, retracing the play. "I stepped back quickly, and the guy just flew right past me. Then I had to go."

One could contend that Coleman's Heisman campaign started right then and there—smack dab in the middle of a blowout with the majority of the nation fixated on more competitive games. The reality, however, is that the push for an award he has dreamed about since he was six years old began at the onset of the 2015 season. His brilliance has had no intermission.

But before we immerse ourselves shoulders deep in numbers and state a most emphatic case, let's address the elephant in the room: Corey Coleman plays wide receiver, which immediately makes him an enormous long shot to win the Heisman. Plain and simple.

This is no deep, dark secret. Coleman is not numb to the history set out neatly before him.

"You don't see receivers normally in the running, but I see my name in there," Coleman said. "It's all about what the people think. We can't change the award; you just have to do a lot to win it."

Only two wide receivers have done enough in the eyes of Heisman voters. Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987 and Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991 are the only wideouts to win to date. Both campaigns were given significant enhancements through enormous special teams plays, which is not something Coleman has done much of in 2015.

Randy Moss logged a fourth-place finish in 1997 at Marshall, doing so against tremendous individual competition. Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald gave history all it could handle in 2003, finishing as the runner-up to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. Just last year, Alabama's Amari Cooper logged a third-place finish behind the historic seasons of Marcus Mariota and Melvin Gordon.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 13:  (L-R) Amari Cooper, Melvin Gordon, and Marcus Mariota pose for a picture with the Heisman Trophy during a press conference at the New York Marriott Marquis on December 13, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty
Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

It can be done, although it demands something more. To capture the attention of a Heisman audience stuck in ritual—a group that turns to quarterbacks first, second and third—something special is required.

That brings us to Coleman, who, through 10 weeks of the season, is nothing short of a statistical outlier.

Days before Baylor's game against Oklahoma, a moment that could ultimately tip Coleman's Heisman campaign one way or another, I ran down the long list of numbers and accolades while speaking with the 5'11", 190-pound junior.

The response? Laughter.

Coleman wasn't amused at the numbers or the absurdity of it all; he laughed at just how meaningless this all was in present time.

"Looking at your stats, it softens you a bit. You get happy about it, and you don't perform as well," he said. "I try not to look at that. I don't want to get complacent or anything. Once it's all said and done, that's when I will look at them."

There are some Steve Smith qualities to this young man—a dimension to his character that is both inviting and infectious. Physically, Coleman is built much more like Smith than he is Calvin Johnson. And the competitive edge seeps through, even when he lets out a friendly laugh.

Coleman admires the way Smith, the former Carolina Panther and current Baltimore Raven, "attacks the game." If personality is part of the Heisman voting process—and for some, it likely is—Coleman meets all checkboxes.

MANHATTAN, KS - NOVEMBER 05:  Defensive back Duke Shelley #8 of the Kansas State Wildcats brakes up a pass in the end zone intended for wide receiver Corey Coleman #1 of the Baylor Bears during the second half on November 5, 2015 at Bill Snyder Family Sta
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

He is exceptionally confident but not to a fault. He is completely aware of what's at stake but not infatuated with an individual award.

"I have a lot of confidence, and I hope I can win it, but it's not about that," Coleman said. "It's about winning. I want to do it in a winning fashion, not in some selfish way."

That seems like an ideal transition to the statistical portion of this Heisman conversation. Numbers aren't everything, of course, but they do loom large, especially for a wide receiver.

The record for most receiving touchdowns in an FBS season is 27, which Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards set in 1998. This is a noteworthy place to begin given the fact that Coleman has scored 20 touchdowns in only eight games; he has four more regular-season games left.

If his season would end right now, Coleman would still be tied for ninth all-time for single-season touchdowns.

Coleman's 1,178 receiving yards are third-best in the nation; his 147.3 yards per game are tops overall. His game-by-game totals look more like some sort of unsolvable calculus equation.

Corey Coleman's 2015 Season
DateOpponentCatchesYardsTouchdowns
September 4@ SMU51781
September 12Lamar61824
September 26Rice61003
October 3Texas Tech71103
October 10@ Kansas71082
October 17West Virginia101993
October 24Iowa State6852
November 5@ Kansas State112162
ESPN

By all accounts, he's been one of the nation's most dominant players. He has met all criteria necessary to be seriously considered for the Heisman—not just with his numbers but with the way he has powered the nation's top offense.

"He's been mentioned in the conversation, and I don't think that's going to diminish," Art Briles said this week at his press conference. "He'll keep playing at a high level, being very productive, and we'll see where it ends up. But right now, he's a guy who certainly deserves that attention by the way he's played on the field."

The stigma Coleman will have to counter, outside of playing an unfavorable position, is playing in an offense that is conducive for these kinds of numbers. When the statistics are from another planet—as they are here—the argument becomes less audible.

Yet there are many out there who believe Coleman is simply a product of his head coach and the favorable offense. Others will cite a favorable schedule, which has unquestionably allowed him to thrive early on. Still, there are ample opportunities against quality opponents left, starting this Saturday.

"You can find talent from any level. If a guy can play, he can play. It has nothing to do with the system," Coleman said. "If other teams think it's the system, then why can’t they stop it?"

It'll be up to voters to decide what these numbers mean in the coming weeks. Of course, Baylor's finish will ultimately seal Coleman's Heisman fate more than the touchdowns to follow. The numbers are already astronomical; now the Bears need to win. And yeah, it wouldn't hurt for Coleman to be a large factor in these positive outcomes either.

This is the most difficult and potent ingredient for any Heisman resume. Winning. It's also the most difficult item for a wide receiver to control. Beating a defensive back is one thing; being on the same page with your quarterback—in this instance, freshman sensation Jarrett Stidham—is another. This is where the task grows teeth.

But with losses and underwhelming individual showings from LSU running back Leonard Fournette—the overwhelming favorite entering last Saturday—along with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Coleman suddenly has an opening. There is no longer a clear-cut No. 1 for the award as the homestretch approaches.

Even the season-ending neck injury to Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, which was dreadful news for the Bears to stomach, was an odd boost to Coleman's Heisman cause.

Obviously, Baylor would much rather operate in a world where its starting quarterback is healthy and dominant. The injury was by no means a positive. But the potential Heisman ramifications are undeniable. Some voters who would've voted for Russell may turn their attention to the other part of the high-powered battery.

"I have him No. 1 right now, but that's with the caveat that there's a month to go and so much can change," a Heisman voter told me this week when speaking of Coleman. "If he breaks the NCAA touchdown record and Baylor is in the playoff with a true freshman starting quarterback, Coleman will absolutely merit serious consideration."

An NCAA record certainly wouldn't hurt the cause. And although seven touchdowns in four games would seem like an unreasonable avalanche of output, there will be ample opportunities to continue this torrid pace.

In Baylor's final four games, this is what Coleman is up against.

Baylor's Remaining Schedule
DateTeamPassing Defense Rank
November 14OklahomaNo. 16
November 21@ Oklahoma StateNo. 84
November 27@ TCUNo. 77
December 5TexasNo. 85
CFBStats.com

"I've got Coleman in my top three this week on my Heisman ballot," another voter told me. "He's certainly deserving. But bottom line, I think he would also need to be a punt or kick returner—a la Desmond Howard and Tim Brown—to help boost his chances."

The best, according to Coleman, is yet to come. If that's the case, he most certainly has a shot.

While the dazzling bit of CGI against West Virginia was a season highlight in itself, he's not satisfied with a series of jukes or even 20 touchdowns.

There will be time to appreciate what he's done, when this season has been decided and all numbers and accolades are accounted for. In time, the greatness will come into focus, whether it includes a Heisman or not. But not now. Not yet.

"I think I still have some more in me," he said, uncorking another confident laugh. "It's still out there. I'm going to keep you waiting."

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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