By Jon Wilner
It’s not even October, and DeSean Jackson has already reached a make-or-break moment in his Heisman Trophy chase. A big game at Oregon featuring big plays, and he stays alive. Another do-nothing game, and he’s done. After a huge opening day, with that sensational punt return against Tennessee on national television, Jackson has done very little (partly because of a sprained thumb) on games seen by very few people:
A 73-yard touchdown run in the cave of Ft. Collins, and then uneventful afternoons against Louisiana Tech and Arizona. And during his big-play drought, other candidates have posted huge numbers: Florida’s Tim Tebow, Arkansas’ Darren McFadden and USC’s John David Booty, to name three. It could be worse for Jackson. He could have had bad games in big games. Rule No. 3 of Heisman races — I’m not sure what Nos. 1 and 2 are, but this feels like a 3 — is that it’s always better to have off-days when nobody’s watching. But people will be watching on Saturday. ESPN’s Gameday crew will be there. ABC will show the game regionally. Reporters from across the region and the country will attend. Huge game against a ranked team … those are made-to-order settings for Heisman candidates. Those settings were crucial for the only other receiver/returners to win the Heisman: Notre Dame’s Tim Brown and Michigan’s Desmond Howard. (Brown did it against Michigan, Howard against Notre Dame.) I don’t think Jackson needs huge numbers against Oregon. He doesn’t need 10 catches for 180 yards or anything like that. What he needs are big plays, spectacular plays, plays that change or win the game — plays of which Heisman candidates are made.
Now, the Hotline’s weekly look at the contenders (in some semblance of order):
***Cal receiver DeSean Jackson
Last week: Caught three passes for 39 yards in victory over Arizona.
This week: at Oregon.
Season to date: Has 17 catches and no receiving TDs. Averaging 8.9 yards per catch.
How he stacks up: Fading. Needs a big game at Oregon.
***Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon
Last week: Threw for 367 yards and 4 TDs in win over Stanford.
This week: vs. Cal
Season to date: Passer rating of 188, with 11 TD passes and has not thrown an interception.
How he stacks up: Probably has too far to climb. Like Jackson, he needs a big game this week.