Much of the preseason Heisman Trophy hype will be directed away from the Big Ten.
Although Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson finished sixth in the 2010 Heisman voting and led the race through September, he's adjusting to a new offensive scheme and a new coaching staff. Few other Big Ten players have the right combination of name recognition, on-field accolades and national appeal to generate preseason buzz.
But one Big Ten player should be on the Heisman radar. At least according to his coach.
"To have a Heisman Trophy candidate come back at quarterback for us is something that gives me a little bit extra sleep at night," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday.
Fitzgerald referred to senior quarterback Dan Persa, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010 who put up big numbers before rupturing his Achilles' tendon Nov. 13 against Iowa. Persa hasn't done much this spring but remains ahead of schedule on his rehab and should be cleared for full participation by June 1, if not sooner.
What did Persa think of his coach's proclamation?
"That's pretty cool," he said. "It's a pretty prestigious award and to be mentioned with that is a high honor. At the end of the day, it's out of my control."
Northwestern hasn't had a Heisman candidate since 2000, when running back Damien Anderson finished fifth in the voting. Although Persa is a known name in Big Ten circles, he could struggle to gain national attention because of Northwestern's profile and the fact the Wildcats likely won't enter the season ranked.
The quarterback is focused on other things, namely getting back to 100 percent. He started jogging in early March and has been focused on agility drills.
Thursday marks the five-month point since his injury and his surgery.
"These past couple weeks I feel like I’ve turned the corner in my rehab," Persa said. "It’s still sore, but it’s not as sore as it was. ... Hopefully by the middle of May, end of May I'll be pretty much full-go."