In the span of five months, Russell Wilson has gone from a quarterback without a team to a top Heisman Trophy candidate.
Wilson, the former N.C. State quarterback, has become one of the stories of the college football season with his outstanding start for No. 4 Wisconsin. He not only has the on-field credentials to win the Heisman, but two other essential elements for any candidate: exposure and opportunity.
You have to have the numbers to compete for the Heisman, but you can't win it without exposure and opportunity.
With a breakout performance (255 yards passing, two passing touchdowns and one rushing in a 48-17 win) against Nebraska last Saturday, Wilson has the Heisman trifecta lined up.
After the clinic he put on against the Cornhuskers on ABC's national primetime broadcast, he was on the ESPN "GameDay" set with Chris Fowler. The next day he did an interview with nationally-syndicated radio host Dan Patrick and on Tuesday he made an extended appearance on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption.
He also has a clever, Wisconsin-run Twitter campaign going for him (with the hashtag, "RussellManiaXVI").
The national media, which had largely ignored him despite his production at N.C. State, has eagerly devoured his unique story (the public split with Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien, the dalliance in minor-league baseball, the Cam-Newton-like instant success at a major school, etc.). Both ESPN and Sports Illustrated have Wilson ranked second on their Heisman watch lists, behind Andrew Luck, the Stanford quarterback who entered the season as the favorite and has done nothing to erode that status.
With the statistics (13 touchdowns, one interception, 1,391 passing yards and a 74.8 completion percentage) and the exposure covered, opportunity could be the key to Wilson's Heisman chances.
The Badgers, off to a 5-0 start, have already played two games on ESPN and two in primetime telecasts. They have an open date this week but both road games, at Michigan State and Ohio State, in late October are set for an 8 p.m. start and will be broadcast by either ESPN or ABC.
Then there's a potential spot in the inaugural Big Ten championship on the first Saturday of December, which would be another opportunity to impress Heisman voters. As long as Wisconsin keeps winning, Wilson will remain in the spotlight and a viable candidate.
With the right breaks, the fourth-ranked Badgers could find a way into the BCS title game. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, the last winner from the Big Ten, followed a similar path to the 2006 trophy.
Up for grabs
In contrast, Luck has lacked exposure this season. He has similar numbers (11 TDs, 1 pick, 1,013 yards, 71.4 percent) to Wilson for a similarly ranked team (No. 7), but Stanford has yet to play on the national stage.
Luck's turn in the spotlight will come in November against No. 9 Oregon (Nov. 12) and Notre Dame (Nov. 26). There's also a potential spot in the Pac-12 championship game.
Given the recent trend of Heisman voting (the best player on the best team), early losses have hurt Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, Oregon running back LaMichael James and South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore.
A pair of Big 12 quarterbacks, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, are still on the radar, as is Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, but the primary threat to Luck and Wilson is Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
Richardson has come on after a slow start with four straight 100-yard rushing games. The second-ranked Tide plays No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5, the annual Auburn game on Nov. 26, and possibly the SEC title game on Dec. 3.
Too much modesty?
With the strong start, Wilson has positioned himself as a contender. Perhaps the only aspect Wilson needs to improve is his self-promotion.
On "PTI" on Tuesday, Wilson dug deep into his bag of cliches, despite being pressed by co-host Tony Kornheiser for meatier answers.
"I just work hard every single day and I'm just trying to be the best player than I can be," Wilson said Tuesday, which is a variation of a stock answer he provided to the media for three years at N.C. State.
Luckily for the ever-modest Wilson, he's getting a public-relations push from his new coach. After Saturday's destruction of the Cornhuskers, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said: "If there's a better player in college football right now, I'd like to see it."
Come Dec. 10, when the trophy is awarded, he might just be right.