Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. Emerging in the Heisman Race?


Greg Ward Jr. had a pretty typical game Friday for undefeated Houston: 77 yards rushing and three touchdowns, another 222 passing yards and a score through the air.

For plenty of quarterbacks around college game, that would be a spectacular outing. But, again: pretty typical of Ward.

The longer Greg Ward Jr. continues to make the spectacular his version of typical, the more the junior quarterback deserves consideration for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

Ward replaced John O’Korn as Houston’s starter a season ago and was impressive in the back-half of the Cougars’ campaign, finishing 2,010 passing yards and 12 touchdowns, and another 573 and six on the ground.

Since the arrival of Tom Herman as head coach from Ohio State, however, Ward’s production has gone to another level. Friday’s 77 rushing yards were actually his fewest in any game this season, but he now has five multiple rushing-touchdown contests, and three of three or more.

Entering Week 7, Greg Ward Jr. ranked No. 28 nationally in rushing yards, and second among quarterbacks. Of the nation’s signal-callers, only American Athletic Conference West divisional counterpart Keenan Reynolds outpaced Ward on the ground — and Reynolds runs an option offense largely devoid of pass plays.

Ward, on the other hand, has improved his passing touch from a season ago. His first attempt Friday went for a touchdown.

He was intercepted at Tulane, but was only his second pick on the year. He’s on pace to finish 2015 with four interceptions, two fewer than he threw in nine games as the Cougars’ primary quarterback a season ago.

Meanwhile, Ward’s nine passing scores are just three shy of his 2014 total, and he’s completing better than 70 percent of his overall attempts.

The staggering two-way numbers bring to mind past Herman proteges Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, both of whom registered statistics worthy of Heisman consideration in their own right.

But if anything, it’s Greg Ward Jr. inspiring Ohio State’s quarterback play; not vice versa.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said, via Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, Ward’s role in the Houston offense inspired Ohio State coaches with their use of Barrett last week against Maryland.

Barrett rushed for three touchdowns.

As both Ward and the nationally ranked Cougars continue to roll along, national media will have to take notice of his remarkable play.

It’s already started to a small extent, with Fox Sports’ Stewart Mandel slotting Ward fourth in his Heisman rankings through Week 6. Ward certainly did nothing to dissuade such a lofty vote of confidence with his Week 7 effort, and if anything, should pick up more support.

And Ward’s burgeoning candidacy may not be an empty nod to the Group of Five, either. The impressive play of the American’s top teams has commanded attention.

Though the Cougars are the conference’s sole ranked team, Temple and Memphis were the top two “Others Receiving Votes” in the most recent Associated Press Poll. Both the Owls and Tigers have opportunities in the coming weeks to score marquee wins: Memphis tomorrow vs. Ole Miss, and Temple on Halloween against Notre Dame (in addition to Temple’s impressive Week 1 defeat of Penn State).

Memphis visits Houston on Nov. 14. The Cougars would have to wait for a hypothetical conference championship game to get Temple, but certainly the more Top 25 matchups to Ward’s credit, the better for his Heisman prospects.

A Group of Five player like Greg Ward Jr. needs all the contingencies possible to break his way just to get an invite to New York City, let alone break the power leagues’ 25-year stranglehold on the award.

Maybe it’s a long shot, but it’s not unfathomable.