A reality -- and history -- check for Dan Persa
    Dan Persa versus Penn State in 2009. Photo by Katherine Tang / North by Northwestern file photo

    This football season, keep your eyes on Dan Persa. The Wildcat quarterback and his arm are reaching for the elusive Heisman Trophy. After three consecutive stellar performances to begin his career as starting quarterback, Persa is on the verge of the first truly serious Heisman bid Northwestern has had in 60 years. And the media is beginning to take notice.

    ESPN Chicago’s Scott Powers first broached the subject in a recent blog post, arguing that Persa’s stats this season compare favorably to the more mainstream Heisman contenders. Persa’s passer rating of 192.63, Powers points out, is ranked 3rd in the nation and his 10.1 yards-per-pass attempt are ranked fifth. These stats equalize Persa’s numbers against those of quarterbacks in pass-heavy offenses (such as Arkansas’ Ryan Mallet).

    In addition to Powers’ article, ESPN Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg ranked Persa third in the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year race. Ahead of Persa are Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who are emerging as major contenders based on phenomenal performances against higher-profile opponents.

    It is worth noting that the pace Persa has set is probably unsustainable. As the Wildcats face better opponents, Persa and Co. will begin to rely more heavily on the passing game. This should be a double-edged sword for Persa. With more attempts will come more gaudy yardage statistics and perhaps more media attention — consider how former Wildcat quarterback Mike Kafka’s NFL prospects rose after his 500+ yard Outback Bowl performance. But Persa’s 6-to-0 ratio of touchdowns to turnovers will almost certainly take a serious hit — consider again, Kafka’s five interceptions in said Outback Bowl.

    Unfortunately for Persa, in attempting to win this award he may have to shoulder the burden of history in addition to carrying the Northwestern offense. Only three Northwestern players have placed in the top 5 in Heisman voting in the award’s history, with Otto Graham coming closest in 3rd place all the way back in 1943. This means that Persa’s largest impediment towards winning the award will be Northwestern’s legacy in and of itself. Whereas a player like Michigan’s Robinson would likely remain a contender for the award based on individual performance even on an average Michigan team, Persa’s chances hinge on the Wildcats’ success as much as they do his passer rating or completion percentage.

    By nearly every measure of his season so far, Persa’s performance has been close to perfect. Whether that pace can be sustained against the significantly more impressive opponents to come, as well as the ever-increasing scrutiny he is beginning to bear, will determine whether or not Persa is in New York in December to strike that famous pose.

    Spelling on the front page headline corrected. Thanks to commenter Ben for pointing out the error.


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