Drake Maye for Heisman? It could happen

The Tar Heels’ freshman quarterback has emerged as a contender

UNC quarterback Drake Maye, who has led the Tar Heels a 9-1 record and a berth in the ACC Championship Game, has emerged as an unlikely Heisman Trophy candidate. (Hakim Wright Sr. / AP Photo)

Election Day took place around the nation last week, which means that politicians everywhere are turning their attention toward the next big vote and deciding when to announce what they plan to run for next.

One campaign has already started. On Sunday evening, UNC Football’s Twitter account tweeted out a hype video officially announcing Drake Maye as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. The video features talking heads from football analysis shows and tweets from the national media taking notice of the Tar Heels’ freshman quarterback and coining the hashtag #MayeForHeisman.

A year after junior Sam Howell was supposed to be UNC’s best candidate in generations to win college football’s top individual award, his rookie replacement is the one getting the Heisman buzz.

It’s a buzz seldom heard in these parts.

It’s been 21 years since a UNC player has finished in the top 10 (the only voting results that are released for the award) for Heisman voting and 19 since any player for a North Carolina school has finished in the running.

Even then, it would be a stretch to call those two players, Julius Peppers in 2001 and NC State’s Philip Rivers in 2003, true Heisman candidates. — Peppers finished 10th and Rivers seventh.

In the history of the program, a grand total of four Tar Heels have finished in the top 10 Heisman finishers. In addition to Peppers, running back Mike Voigt finished eighth in 1976, and Don McCauley was ninth in 1970. Legendary halfback “Choo Choo” Charlie Justice was the only UNC player who could be considered a true Heisman contender, finishing second in back-to-back years —1948 and 1949. Doc Blanchard, who started his career with the Tar Heels, won the Heisman in 1945 after transferring to Army.

Justice is really the only true finalist that any of the state’s programs have produced. The other North Carolina teams have had a total of 10 players finish in the running, none higher than sixth.

In addition to Rivers, State had Torry Holt finish eighth in 1998, Ted Brown sixth in 1978 and Roman Gabriel ninth in 1961. Russell Wilson also finished ninth in 2011 as a transfer at Wisconsin.

Duke has had four players receive votes: Jay Wilkinson finished ninth in 1963, Steve Lach ninth in 1941, Dean Hill 10th in 1938 and Ace Parker sixth in 1936. The final two in-state players were Wake Forest’s Brian Piccolo (10th in 1964) and ECU’s Jeff Blake (seventh in 1991).

Can Maye become the first legitimate Heisman candidate and make the trip to New York as a finalist? He’s moved up to third at most sportsbooks that set odds on the award, behind Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud and Tennessee’s Herndon Hooker. Maye is tied with Michigan running back Blake Corum.

Maye didn’t duck the possibility when asked about it following the Wake Forest game.

“We are focused on winning football games,” he said. “That honor, that kind of trophy, comes with just winning more games. And that’s our job. It’s just not the main focus. We have a 9-1 season, and I just try to keep that the main thing. Obviously, it’s a dream to win the Heisman, so it’s hard to shy away from that.”

One of the reasons Maye has made himself relevant in the Heisman chase is that the Tar Heels have emerged as a possible playoff contender. UNC won the ACC Coastal Division last week with a win in Winston-Salem and will face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 3 in Charlotte. The Heels will likely need a lot of help around the nation, as the ACC is not considered in line for a College Football Playoff bid at the moment, but they’re one of a handful of teams still able to consider it.

Here’s a look at what needs to happen for Maye to make Heisman magic with the Tar Heels.

What UNC needs to do

Obviously, the Tar Heels need to win out, and Maye needs to shine. That means beating Georgia Tech and NC State at home to close out the regular season. The 4-6 Yellow Jackets have given up 104 points in the last three games, so Maye could definitely put up some big numbers. And State will be a rivalry game, giving Maye the opportunity to add a dramatic moment to his reel. Then comes the ACC title game against Clemson.

The door needs to open

The schedule could do Maye a few favors as well. Ohio State plays Michigan to close the regular season, and if Stroud or Corum struggle, it will create an opportunity for Maye to move up, especially if the player on the winning team doesn’t distinguish himself. Hooker gets a pair of relatively low-profile games, against a middling South Carolina team and a bad Vanderbilt one. At the moment, Tennessee isn’t projected for the SEC Championship Game, so it might be out of sight, out of mind for Hooker.

Stroud is still the odds-on favorite to take home the hardware, but it appears that Maye might be bound for the Big Apple as a finalist, which is an honor in itself. And with a bit of luck, who knows?

As the last 73 years have shown, getting to the position he’s in now is significantly more of a challenge.