By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 9, 2007
When talking about his quarterback, Hawaii Coach June Jones tends to border on hyperbole except when he tosses out statistics such as this: Colt Brennan threw for more yards last season than Michigan's Chad Henne and Ohio State's Troy Smith combined. And Brennan did it in fewer attempts.
"That just blows me away," Jones said.
Brennan's mid-January decision to return to school for his senior season delighted an entire state and set the stage for one of the most intriguing story lines of the season. For Hawaii, this season is about more than trying to reach the rarefied heights of a BCS bowl game. It's also about whether a school can field a Heisman Trophy winner from half a world away.
Both Jones and Brennan realize that, barring unforeseen events, the quarterback who sometimes communicates with linemen in Samoan should again accumulate mind-numbing statistics. But they also know that to win the award, Brennan must overcome two factors beyond his control: perception and exposure. Among other strong Heisman hopefuls, Brennan is a man truly on an island, dealing with a unique set of obstacles.
"Something great would have to happen for him to get a shot at it," Jones conceded in a telephone interview. "I think he will be in New York as a finalist. Whether he gets it or not, who knows."
Brennan even acknowledged in a comprehensive DVD -- "A Colt Following," released by Hawaii as part of his Heisman campaign -- that "you need the right things to match up" to have a realistic chance to win the award as a player from a far-off land playing in the Western Athletic Conference. After breaking or tying 18 NCAA records last season, Brennan got his hopes up about a possible invitation to the Heisman ceremony in New York, only to finish sixth in the balloting.
One of the perceptions Brennan continues to fight is that he is a "system quarterback" who excels primarily because of the run-and-shoot offense of Jones, who has used the pass-happy attack throughout his career, most notably when he was quarterbacks coach with the NFL's Houston Oilers two decades ago. Last season, Brennan completed 406 passes, which was more than 83 Division I-A teams attempted.
During the week Boise State annually prepares for Hawaii's offense, "every player is excited to be the scout quarterback because he gets to throw all the time," said Broncos Coach Chris Petersen, who believes the offensive system should not detract from Brennan's ability. "It's hard to replicate that precision and the timing. He is as good as anyone in the country."
Brennan believes his completion rate of 72.6 percent, which was tops in the nation last season, runs counter to the belief that run-and-shoot quarterbacks often have low completion percentages. Jones characterized Brennan as "so unconsciously accurate," a quarterback who reminds him of former NFL quarterbacks Jeff George and Dan Marino.
"They are the only three guys I have watched on tape, for whatever reason, because of their quick release, the ball has not left their hand but their right foot is off the ground," Jones said. "Those three players are probably the three of the most accurate passers that I have watched."
Another question for Brennan is whether enough people will watch his aerial onslaught on a week-to-week basis. Only three Hawaii games currently are scheduled to start before 9 p.m. Eastern time. The closest Brennan will get to the media-heavy East Coast will arrive Sept. 8, when Hawaii visits Louisiana Tech. Jones acknowledged that most of Hawaii's games end too late for even final scores to make the East Coast newspapers.
For the first time, the WAC will promote players such as Brennan and Boise State's Ian Johnson with midweek video feeds of highlights. The WAC also released a magazine in the spring with the cover headline "Heisman Hopefuls: Two of the Nation's Best Make Another Run or Pass at the Heisman."
"Yes, the time zone difference is a disadvantage," WAC Commissioner Karl Benson said. "But the fact that [Brennan] is a known quantity hopefully will overshadow that. The fact that he is playing on an island establishes him as an intriguing and unique candidate. You get up on Sunday morning and watch the highlights or game. The record button can be used pretty regularly."
One criticism Brennan is bound to hear is that Hawaii's schedule is soft, which could give him a chance to eclipse last season's NCAA-record 58 touchdown passes. The Warriors' toughest road game is at Nevada, which finished 8-5 last season. They also will play Division I-AA schools Northern Colorado and Charleston Southern.
Jones isn't overjoyed by the schedule. He said he tried to schedule the likes of Southern California or Michigan, but many schools had difficulty finding an open week. Hawaii was scheduled to host Michigan State, but Jones said the Spartans paid Hawaii roughly $300,000 several months ago to pull out of the game.
Considering Brennan's record-breaking junior season and the attention he subsequently received from sports agents, Jones was surprised his quarterback decided to come back to school. By returning, Brennan should create a one-of-a-kind Heisman race.
"I have had a whole lot of guys in the Pro Bowl and two guys in the Hall of Fame," Jones said. "Colt is the best quarterback I have watched or coached in my 35 years."