2014 Heisman Sleeper: East Carolina QB Shane Carden

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

Operating in head coach Ruffin McNeill’s free-wheeling offense, Shane Carden recorded some impressive passing statistics: 4,139 yards on 70.5 percent completions, 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. Carden even carried the ball to the tune of 10 scores.

But Carden’s most memorable play from the 2013 season was a reception. He broke to the end zone after a lateral to Cam Worthy, hauling in the ensuing pass back to slam the door on Ohio in December’s Beef-O-Bradys Bowl.

Carden detailed the play to Sammy Batten of the Fayetteville Observer:

“There are times in games when you have to step up and make a play, and that’s what that was. Of course, in practice I’m a little more open, I’m not going to lie. But we made it work. It was actually a heck of a throw and I just had to go up and make a play.”

Don’t expect Carden to do much, if any of that in 2014. The East Carolina quarterback certainly won’t need to with star Justin Hardy lined up at wide receiver.

Nevertheless, that play demonstrates Carden’s game-changing athleticism, a quality that should command plenty of attention as he looks to plant the Pirates’ flag in a new conference.

Carden and Hardy lead East Carolina into its first season as members of the American Athletic. Coming off a 10-win farewell season in Conference USA, the Pirates could be immediate championship contenders in their new conference.

Blake Bortles helped UCF achieve the very same feat a season ago, which helped build his considerable NFL draft buzz. Expect similar love for Carden in 2014, as evidenced by NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks tabbing him one of the top 7 quarterbacks to watch.

However, NFL draft and Heisman hype are not one in the same, as evidenced by Bortles finishing out of the top 10 in Heisman balloting a year ago.

Carden needs to put up astronomical numbers–a distinct possibility, given McNeill is a branch off the Mike Leach coaching tree. Pirate quarterbacks have finished in the top 25 among all passers in three of McNeill’s first four seasons there, including Carden’s eighth-place finish a season ago.

With 43 combined touchdowns a season ago, Shane Carden was not far behind Heisman finalists Johnny Manziel (46), Jordan Lynch (47) and winner Jameis Winston (44).

Of course, level of competition matters and despite enjoying BCS automatic-qualifier status a year ago, the American is decidedly on the outside in the College Football Playoff era. However, Carden gets plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff against the Power 5.

East Carolina faces three opponents from the power conferences: two from the ACC (North Carolina and Virginia Tech), and one from the SEC (South Carolina). Should the Pirates score some upsets and Carden shines, his national stock should skyrocket.