Is 22 Red for the Maxwell Award a Good Bet?

By at July 15, 2012 | 8:00 AM | Print

Is 22 Red for the Maxwell Award a Good Bet?

There’s been some chatter about Rex Burkhead’s potential for winning any postseason awards. The Heisman’s near impossible, but what about the Maxwell Award?

Voted on by both writers and coaches, the award doesn’t always go to the Heisman’s owner. While Burkhead doesn’t have they hype of Landry Jones or Montee Ball, he does have situational advantages that could elevate him to the level of Maxwell finalist.

The problem that Burkhead has contending for any major awards is that he doesn’t have many elusive or long runs. As a result, his highlights don’t play as well on SportsCenter or YouTube away from the eyes of hardcore fans.

Even while scheduled to be featured in two prominent games on ESPN at the beginning and end of the season (Southern Miss and Iowa), Burkhead’s straight-ahead style won’t be send Twitter birds chirping for him to win awards outside Husker Nation.

However, if Nebraska continues to struggle on offense, the Huskers’ lack of firepower could give Burkhead the best chance to win in an amusing coincidence. Consider past winners of the Maxwell: Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and, going back a decade, Eric Crouch.

These are all players who went on to elevate offenses that would have otherwise been mediocre. Should Nebraska’s best (and only) chance to succeed on offense be Burkhead operating out of the wildcat formation, it could benefit the Big Red, even if it causes fans to invest in antacid.

Husker Nation need only look to the last major college football team carried by the wildcat – or wildhog, in this instance – to see its limitations, though. Darren McFadden’s contributions at Arkansas led to an 18-9 record over two years matching Nebraska’s total over the last four.

Granted, McFadden’s 2006 team made the SEC championship game, but he couldn’t get that team over the hump alone the following year. The Razorbacks went 8-4 and McFadden missed out on both the Heisman and Maxwell.

This underscores the biggest question when it comes to running backs winning major awards: how much of a team’s success is owed to their presence?

A running back hasn’t won the Maxwell since Penn State’s Larry Johnson in 2002, and given how passing-oriented football has become, it will be hard for Burkhead to shove his way into the conversation

If he’s throwing the ball from the wildcat on a regular basis – something Nebraska didn’t do last year – that could help his case, but the Blackshirts would have to play well above 2011 levels.

The best-case scenario for Burkhead to win the award demands an amazing defense as he, not Taylor Martinez, leads an offense that scores consistently.

Bo Pelini might want to dust off some of Mack Brown’s vintage “Let’s win to help Ricky succeed” speeches to pull such a feat.

Despite all that’s working against Burkhead, there is a glaring positive already mentioned: coaches vote on the award.

While Burkhead may not light on-the-field fireworks, he is a put-his-head-down, lunch pail player that coaches love. Last year, Andrew Luck, a coaches’ dream at quarterback who was his own offensive coordinator won the Maxwell over Robert Griffin III, a player whose improvisation made game plans obsolete.

Superman might even get some Big 12 coaches’ love, as hard as that is to believe. Bob Stoops would likely support his family friend’s player and Bill Synder may do so due to his friendship with Tom Osborne. Wouldn’t count on that ballot from Mack Brown, though.

Bottom line: Does Burkhead have a legitimate shot at the Maxwell Award?

Logic dictates that a major award winner has to do one of two things: have a large part in taking a good team into national title contention (See: Mark Ingram’s default win in 2009 after almost no talk during the season) or elevate a bad program to being a pretty good one as last year’s Heisman winner did.

Nebraska’s already a good program, so a serious award run is going to require Burkhead to help get the Huskers to their first BCS bowl in over a decade.

If the Big Red musters what passes for a Bo Pelini defense with a little more offense, No 22’s got a shot.

Just don’t mention the odds.

Follow Derek on Twitter: @DerekJohnson05

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