Deion Sanders is a master of self-promotion. Whether it was his Primetime or Neon Deion personas, he is a bonified gridiron influencer. Those personas have blended these days into Coach Prime and his dad duties. The Jackson State coach’s new passion project has been building an HBCU powerhouse spearheaded by his starting quarterback — and son — Shedeur Sanders.
During the SWAC weekly media press conference this week, Deion suggested Shedeur should be tossed into the thick of the Heisman race.
“I want you guys to push those pens and computers and do what you can because when you put his numbers up against those guys in the Power Five, he is doing as much if not more than they are doing right now. When they start talking about Heisman, which I saw before the previous game, I got a little upset because they did not mention us period.” Deion said.
Even LeBron James would blush at the hyperbole Coach Prime wants buzzing around Shedeur. “Shedeur for Heisman” can’t match the frenzy of Bronny and Bryce James, but you gotta admire the media savviness of Deion. Tossing Shedeur’s name into the Heisman discourse the same week his son was being associated with Brett Favre’s alleged involvement in a criminal conspiracy, changed the narrative. On the other hand, putting those expectations into the ether at this point sounds like an ayahuasca-induced pipe dream.
Shedeur switching his commitment to Jackson State in 2021 didn’t create the same shockwaves as Travis Hunter shifting from Florida State to Jackson State, but it was significant. In high school, he declined offers from larger programs to compete for starting jobs with 4-star and 5-star peers at Florida Atlantic before his dad took the Jackson State gig.
Four games into Shedeur’s sophomore campaign, he and Jackson State are hitting on all cylinders. That electric energy permeates throughout the offense. But has he been Heisman-worthy?
Steve McNair’s ‘94 masterpiece vs Shedeur Sanders’ sip n’ paint
No FCS player has ever won a Heisman. Few small school FBS quarterbacks have ever even been named the winner of college football’s most prestigious individual award. Jerry Rice in 1984 and Steve McNair a decade later distinguished themselves so immensely on the FCS level that they earned Heisman votes. Deion attempted to make Shedeur’s case by comparing him to the reigning Heisman winner, Alabama’s Bryce Young.
Rather than tracing Young’s outline, Shedeur should be aiming to recreate Steve McNair’s circuitous route to the Heisman. “Air” McNair’s 1994 season is the stuff of folklore. His 5,799 yards of total offense shattered the I-AA single-game record multiple times. It also took four years to build. Shedeur is only a sophomore. He’d likely have to stick around two more years to develop both as a player and as a name brand to even entertain the presence to earn a once-in-a-lifetime Heisman bid. So far, Schedeur has given us the sip n’ paint version.
McNair’s Heisman-caliber season opened with a 62-56 loss to Grambling State. Alcorn State tied with Sam Houston State and McNair ended his collegiate career on No. 1 ranked Youngstown State’s skewer in a 43-point loss. Sanders’ advantage is that he’s the quarterback of a team that is currently steamrolling their opponents by nearly 40 points per contest. However, being the best player on a team that’s head and shoulders better than everyone else isn’t all it’s cracked up to be — especially because Jackson State’s schedule is lacking in FBS measuring stick games.
SWAC and MEAC competition aren’t even comparable to the top 25 FCS programs. The downside of winning by wide margins is that Shedeur has no real opportunity for a Heisman moment. Alcorn State was outgunned all season, yet McNair was a one-man army. That allowed him to put up prodigious numbers in comparison to his contemporary peers.
At his current pace, Sanders would complete his sophomore season with 42 touchdown dimes to just three interceptions. However, for context, McNair led Division I-A and Division I-AA with 44 touchdown passes in 1994. That same season, BYU’s John Walsh and Nevada’s Mike Maxwell’s 29 touchdown strikes led all FBS signal callers.
Last season’s FBS leader, Young, struck endzone gold 62 times. Sanders’ 14-1 TD-INT ratio is double the previous Heisman winner’s 7:1 TD-INT ratio during the season he won in. Young threw for nearly 5,000 yards, 47 touchdowns, and seven interceptions against the toughest conference schedule outside of the AFC West. The game and the definition of prolific passers have evolved.
How could Sanders do it?
But if were to posit a Shedeur Heisman possibility, it would be a future in which Sanders eclipsed an FBS scoring or yardage record within Jackson State’s Air Raid offense. McNair did so by gaining nearly 1,000 yards with his legs as well as throwing for nearly 5,00 yards en route to setting the total offense record books ablaze. Sanders is a more traditional passer who can improvise, but who only gained one-yard rushing as a freshman. Jackson State has blown out three of their first four opponents, which has also kept Sanders from continuing to pile up numbers. He’s already won the Jerry Rice Award, given to the nation’s top freshman. Winning a Walter Payton Award, the FCS’ Heisman, is the next stage of his evolution.
McNair’s Heisman ceremony invite was also a career acknowledgment as much as it was about his single-season accomplishments. Midway through his senior campaign, McNair became the NCAA’s career leader in total offense. The only way Shedeur could earn an invite to the Heisman ceremony would be as a junior or senior if he and Jackson State continue ascending. 2022 does not possess the massive swell he needs.
But just by willing this discussion into the college football discourse, Coach Prime and Daddy Sanders has done his job — both his jobs, really.