I’ll admit it, fantasy sports have rotted my brain. As an avid fantasy participant in three of the four major sports, much of my sports viewing consists of turning into a statistic junkie, begging for a hit of my running back hitting that next hole for 8 yards, score be damned. Combine the fantasy phenomenon with Chicago/Illinois fandom and you have dangerous cocktail. One whose side effects rival anything you find on the street. I’m so used to cheering for individual performances over wins and losses; it’s unconscious. Illinois lost to Michigan State? My only visit to Memorial Stadium was, so far, the biggest disappointment of the season? Okay, but really quick, let me just look up Chase Brown’s yards per attempt.
This is all to say that I am fixated on the idea of how high Chase Brown can climb in the Heisman Trophy race. It runs concurrent with my warped perception of sports, carefully cultivated by years of box score watching. We all love stats, we love comparing stats, and I KNOW we can’t stop talking about whose stats make the better player. That’s why the Heisman race is so fun. It’s peak box score watching. Peak statistical comparisons. Chase Brown has a 200-yard game and we wonder how loud the national chatter grows. Maybe we even break out the keyboard and argue he’s better than Michigan’s Blake Corum (more on him later).
Obviously, Chase Brown is not likely to win the Heisman Trophy. We can get that disclaimer out early. But the overall race? It’s as wide open as I can remember. Google “Heisman race” and you’ll find plenty of pundits punting bad performances by frontrunners and postulating which players will take advantage. Let’s also be clear: Chase Brown is still in the race. Fox Sports has him tied for eighth with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young. Not bad company, eh? Despite a mixed performance in a loss, the Illini’s superlative back has a clear path to bulldozing his way into the top five and securing his spot as Illinois first player to receive votes in 40 years (!!!). Yes, Brown’s battle is a big deal, even if he doesn’t win.
How can No. 2 cement his spot in the voting?
A bounce-back game against Purdue is a good place to start. The Boilermakers’ rushing defense is middle of the pack, allowing 118 yards per game. Did I mention they were eviscerated by Iowa’s Kaleb Johnson for 200 yards and a score last week? Keep in mind there is not a team on earth that gameplans for Spencer Petras. Purdue’s only challenge was to stop Johnson and they failed spectacularly. Brown doing his best Johnson imitation in an Illinois win seems absolutely possible.
Secondly, Brown simply needs to find the endzone more. Remember Blake Corum from earlier? Yeah, he’s THIRD on that Fox Sports list despite falling 250 yards short of Brown’s total. Blake Corum is the blueprint to Chase Brown’s ascent. How is Corum in line to make the finalist selection? Well, he plays for a national title contender for starters. But he also has 17 total touchdowns, more than double Brown. I’ll try not to mention that Corum scored 30% of his touchdowns against beacon-of-stability UConn. Regardless of opponent, touchdowns are what matter. Touchdowns get you paid. Five touchdowns against a bad team could be the sole difference between getting Heisman votes and being at the selection show as a finalist. Let’s get Chase some touchdowns, okay?
Following the Corum blueprint, Brown needs something that isn’t totally in his control, he needs those spicy national Illinois conversations from a week ago back. National relevance matters, and voting is always a popularity contest. The path is straightforward enough; solidly stomp Purdue and set up an nationally televised ABC/ESPN matchup with… Blake Corum and Michigan.
This is big. We’re talking about a chance with one win to:
- Clinch the Big Ten West
- Secure a top-10 spot in the AP Poll
- Defeat the only running back ahead of Chase Brown in the Heisman race
- Generate national buzz — can the Illini compete in the Big Ten Championship game?
This is also a longshot. Michigan is great. A title contender. But Illinois is good, too, and have a great running back who will be leaned on to make a longshot possible. And if the longshot comes to fruition… how high could Chase Brown climb?
Enough getting ahead of ourselves, the path to a finalist spot is there, and it starts with a great game against Purdue.
I’ll be watching for your box score, Chase.