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Bob Lutz: K-State’s Klein defies convention

  • Published Monday, Sep. 24, 2012, at 6:07 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013, at 6:05 p.m.

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Collin Klein deserves an award.

I don’t know if Kansas State’s senior quarterback is worthy of the Heisman Trophy or not. Time will tell. He’s not your typical Heisman winner, I can tell you that. The Heisman usually gives a nod toward flash, the kind that illuminates great statistical output.

There is not one thing about Klein that is flashy. And his statistics – especially his passing numbers – might not get him inside the doors to the New York Athletic Club in December.

But like I said, Klein deserves an award.

The Heisman? Who knows?

Certainly, there isn’t a more valuable college football player in the country. Klein has been one of the amazing stories in the game for the past couple of seasons. All you have to do is remember what folks were saying about Klein before the previous 2011 season and the questions that were posed. There were more than will be written on the note cards for moderators of the upcoming presidential debates.

Klein has answered those questions like an honor student - which, by the way, he is.

The 2011 Heisman vote came down to two quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III of Baylor and Andrew Luck of Stanford. They are two of the most iconic quarterbacks in college football history, they were the first two picks in the NFL draft last spring and they are both starting for their NFL teams.

Klein is not cut out of that mold. He is not regarded as an NFL prospect, at least not at quarterback. He is too clunky, the experts say, although they probably have a better word for it than “clunky.”

Yet all Klein has done as Kansas State’s quarterback is lead the Wildcats to a 15-4 record, with three of the losses coming against teams ranked in the top eight.

After Klein hard-nosed his way to helping K-State beat No. 6-Oklahoma on Saturday night in Norman, making plays when they needed making and avoiding the kind of mistakes that can shoot a team in the foot (I’m talking about you, Landry Jones), his name shot back into the Heisman discussion.

He’s not the frontrunner, mind you.

Yet I don’t think most of the football writers and broadcasters who vote on the Heisman really know what to make of Klein. Other than his inordinate amount of touchdown runs, Klein’s numbers don’t adequately tell his remarkable story.

Griffin and Luck are the kind of golden-armed quarterbacks who are awarded with gold. RG# passed for nearly 4,300 yards last season; Klein passed for 1,918 and is on pace for about the same yardage this season, although he has improved his completion percentage.

The contemporary quarterbacks who won Heismans are mostly guys who could fling the ball all over a football field.

You have to go back to 2007 and Florida’s Tim Tebow to find a quarterback who played with a comparable style to that of Klein.

We forget, though, that Tebow was a more-than-competent passer that season, throwing for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 895 yards.

A better comparison for Klein might be to 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch of Nebraska.

Crouch passed for only 1,510 yards for the Huskers that season, but rushed for 1,115 and was anything but clunky as he zigged and zagged around and through defenders.

Klein doesn’t have Crouch’s speed. But in 2011, the K-State quarterback scored 27 rushing touchdowns and gained 1,141 yards on the ground. He also passed for more yards (1,918) than Crouch in 2001. I suppose if there’s a comparison that works between Klein and previous QBs who have won the Heisman, it’s with Crouch, who was 35-7 as Nebraska’s starting quarterback and played in the 2001 national championship game.

Klein hasn’t yet gotten his team to such a big stage.

In a 29-16 loss to Arkansas in last season’s Cotton Bowl, Klein was only average. He completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 173 yards and rushed for only 42 yards on 24 carries against a well-schooled Razorbacks defense.

Despite his fantastic season and Kansas State’s 10-3 record, Klein was nowhere to be found in the 2011 Heisman voting in a loaded field that also included running backs Trent Richardson (Alabama), Montee Ball (Wisconsin) and LaMichael James (Oregon) along with other quarterbacks like USC’s Matt Barkley, Houston’s Case Keenum, Boise State’s Kellen Moore and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson.

This season’s field hasn’t yet shaken out. Some early front-runners like Ball and Barkley have started slowly. The early favorite is probably West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with contenders like Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor and USC receiver Marqise Lee lurking.

Klein is definitely in the mix. He’s the best offensive player on the nation’s seventh-ranked team, one that just pulled off a win in Norman.

But there is nothing conventional about Klein. If he wins the Heisman, he should tuck it under his arm and run through the streets of New York City.

Read Bob’s blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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