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Brendan Bures | NCAA.com | September 16, 2014

The dark horse

Hand him the ... Trickett's career best

Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, West Virginia's Clint Trickett became the race's dark horse.

Clint Trickett’s story is one of redemption and return. Not only with regards to his West Virginia team, which lost to Maryland last year 37-0 in a particularly defeating fashion, but for Trickett himself, whose triumph has been a long time coming. While it might seem premature electing Trickett our Heisman player of the week in the long tail, his performance stands out more than you might think.

  West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett
Here’s a guy who’s had doubt and unfortunate timing follow him throughout his college football career like a sinister shadow. Fresh at Florida State, Trickett sat behind EJ Manuel, a guy with enough experience and talent to ensure his spot as a starter. He’d develop under Jimbo Fisher and his father, offensive line coach Rick Trickett, until Manuel left and then he might be prepared to lead the Seminoles.

Only, it didn’t happen that way. In FSU’s third game of the season against then-No. 1 Oklahoma, Manuel injured his left shoulder in the third quarter and Trickett had the weight of FSU’s return to national title dreams on him. Down 13-3, facing the country’s top team in front of a packed home crowd, he led FSU back with efficient passing into tight coverage, including a particularly brazen throw on a 3rd and 28 for a 58-yard touchdown to tie the game. However, the Sooners would go on to win and Manuel would recover well enough to replace Trickett in the second half against Wake Forest two games later.

Trickett would transfer his junior year to WVU following the message he wouldn’t be starting for FSU; that honor would go to last year’s Heisman and national champion Jameis Winston. Which harkens us back to Maryland-WVU, a painful loss Trickett watched as a backup, but largely convinced Mountaineer coach Dana Holgorsen to give Trickett a chance as a starter throughout the rest of the season. (Holgorsen did report then-starter had an injury issue with a pectoral muscle that seemed a dubious statement at best.) The next week, Trickett led WVU to victory against then-No. 17 Oklahoma State with 309 passing yards and a touchdown.

In this way, Trickett does seem like a quarterback who “rises” to the moment when needed by his team. He holds that ever-desirable clutch quality QBs have or don’t; he gives it his all, pulls out all the tricks, when it matters most.

And while his inexperience with Holgorsen’s system and a shoulder injury hampered him last season, those are no worries now. His mix of precision passes short and accurate bombs deep led to 511 passing yards (second behind Geno Smith for a single-game school record), four touchdowns. He had the Terrapin defense fully flustered, resulting in plays like this. 

If it’s numbers you want, Trickett has them this season. It remains early on, but Trickett sits in the top 5 of QBs for season totals in passing yards (1,224), completion percentage (75.4), completions (101) and average yards per game (408.0). Not only is Trickett racking up large volumes of yards and completions, he’s doing it at a wildly efficient pace. His performance against Maryland, and his final drive to set up the game-winning field goal, is the short evidence of who he’s become this season.

And so if there’s a “dark horse” candidate eligible to steal the Heisman this season, we’re sticking with Trickett. Currently, he’s got the numbers and his narrative is one we can attach to, that of struggle and adversity and eventual redemption achieved through dedication to his craft. (During his time at FSU, Trickett was diagnosed with Celiac disease, which doesn't allow him to digest gluten.) Plus, he gets major points for sharing his first kiss with Nick Saban’s daughter, at least in this writer’s eyes. If that’s enough to consider Clint Trickett as a Heisman, in addition to his performance this season, I don’t know what it is. 

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