If there was ever a legitimate candidate to become the first Heisman Trophy Award recipient from a Group of Five program since Ty Detmer in 1990, its Western Kentucky redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty.
Had the Hilltoppers been the premier team in Conference USA – along with the exceptional talent of Marcus Mariota, Melvin Gordon, and Amari Cooper – Doughty might have received some national recognition via Heisman votes for his performance last season.
Instead, Western Kentucky battled its way to an 8-5 (4-4) record, and Doughty’s NCAA-leading 4,830 yards and 49 passing touchdowns as the 2014 C-USA Most Valuable Player went completely under the radar.
Thanks to an invitation to the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl – one of the newest additions to the never-ending postseason slate – Doughty’s abilities as college football’s most undervalued gunslinger was put on display in front of the Christmas Eve crowd. The Sammy Baugh Award winner went 31-of-42 with 486 yards and five touchdowns – all of which came in the first half – as the Hilltoppers survived a ridiculous comeback attempt against Central Michigan in what was one of the more exciting games of the bowl season, 49-48.
That wasn’t even the best we had seen from Doughty. Not even close.
Three weeks prior to WKU’s bowl game, the Hilltoppers knocked off previously unbeaten and then-No. 24 Marshall. It sent a ripple through the G5 community, considering the Thundering Herd were the consensus favorite to make an appearance in a New Year’s Six bowl.
But here’s the real kicker: Western Kentucky won 67-66 on a game-winning two-point conversion in overtime, and Doughty finished with a Conference USA-record eight touchdown passes.
You can knock him for playing opponents such as Old Dominion, UTEP, Army, and UTSA, but when it came down to it, Doughty played up to his competition – and it shows in the numbers; five of his last six games of the season were against Top-50 defensive units, where he combined to complete 65.3 percent of his passes for 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Take away the all-around disastrous team effort that was the Louisiana Tech game giant ball of crap, and those numbers stand firm at 70.1/21/2.
In addition to his outstanding single-game performances, Doughty finished first among all Group of Five quarterbacks in Total QBR at 79.6, which was also good for No. 9 in the NCAA. The next closest was Western Michigan QB Zach Terrell, who posted a 73.3 rating with a No. 21 spot overall and 23 less touchdown passes.
On December 10, C-USA defensive coordinators received some devastating news: Doughty had been granted a sixth year of eligibility after sustaining season-ending injuries in both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
This means one thing: more records will be broken in 2015.
“My time at WKU has been very special and I am looking forward to the opportunity to come back for my sixth year to build on what we’ve started this season,” Doughty said in his statement. “Having to deal with injuries for two seasons was really tough and I never would have made it through without my faith in God and the support from my coaches, teammates and the athletic department staff. The players in that locker room are like brothers to me, and I am blessed to get to go through one more season with them.”
With Doughty set to return, competition for the Heisman trophy becomes all the more interesting. Yes, Detmer was the last non-Power Five player to win the award when he did so for BYU nearly 25 years ago, but it’s a rarity to see someone make putting points on the scoreboard so effortless like he did more often than not last season.
Doughty will be contested by the likes of Trevone Boykin, J.T. Barrett, Nick Chubb, Cody Kessler, Derrick Henry, and many other high-profile players that are the main catalysts for the achievements of their respective Power Five teams. Nonetheless, if he can replicate his success from 2014 and improve in some particular areas – as is the goal for every QB over the course of an offseason – while also lead Western Kentucky to a very attainable Conference USA title, there’s no valid reason to think he can’t be in the mix by next December.
It might take a little luck – and a lot of help from his teammates – but with a non-conference schedule consisting of road games at Vanderbilt, Indiana, and LSU, while keeping his nationally televised bowl performance fresh in everyone’s mind, you can count on him having a real opportunity to make some noise as a future Heisman candidate.