Luke Falk – Tomorrow’s NFL Prospect, Today’s Heisman Contender?


As the end of the season draws near, so too does the race for the coveted Heisman award. More than a few analysts, coaches, and other experts expect Alabama junior Derrick Henry to literally run away with the award.

Mike Leach, head coach of Washington State University, has other thoughts on who he believes deserves college footballs’ greatest individual honor – and they begin and end with the Cougars’ phenom quarterback Luke Falk.

By: Cory Burrell

“Now (the Heisman) is just the bi-product of trying to speculate who’s the best player of the national championship team. … But failure to do that, then I think you ought to go back to the original definition which is who’s made the greatest contribution to his individual team,” Leach told reporters. “If that’s the case then virtually everyone needs to vote for Luke Falk. And anybody that doesn’t needs to re-examine why their voting for the Heisman to begin with.”

Falk, a sophomore in his first year as Washington State’s full-time starter, has certainly had a tremendous season. He has led the Cougars to what has already been their most successful year in more than a decade while putting up dizzying numbers that would even make some past Heisman winners blush. Unfortunately for Falk, at-times underwhelming schedule, some crucial losses, and, and a weakness in Falk’s game will likely prevent the skilled quarterback from earning a Heisman – at least for one more year.

Falk had an unexpected road to college football. Despite being a talented pro-style quarterback in high school, Falk almost did not receive an offer from any school because of a tumultuous junior year where he transferred schools twice and only played in two games.

Falk found his chance with Leach. Leach coached Texas Tech throughout the 2000s, where he led the Red Raiders to national success with a high-scoring offense before he was fired in 2009 after being accused of inappropriately treating a player after he suffered a concussion. Leach and Falk both felt Leach’s style of offense played perfectly to Falk’s strengths. Even still, Leach offer only the chance to walk on with the Cougars. It was the only offer Falk had.

Falk redshirted in 2013 and started the 2014 season on the bench behind Connor Halliday, at the time one of the most successful quarterbacks in WSU history as well as the nation’s leader in passing. Falk showed some promise in sporadic play – his second-ever completion was an 84-yard bomb for a touchdown against Portland State – but his first real opportunity came when Halliday broke his leg during a game against USC. Falk threw for 346 yards and touchdowns in a losing effort. Following that game, Falk put together a string of solid outing as a starter for the remainder of the season, throwing for at least 300 yards and two touchdowns in every game.

This season, Falk has shown last year was no fluke. Currently, he leads the nation in passing attempts, completions, and completion percentage. The last category is especially incredible for a team as pass-happy as Leach’s Cougars – WSU passes nearly 10 more times per game than the second-place team (coincidentally enough, the second-place team is Leach’s old school, Texas Tech). He is also second in the nation in both total passing yards and passing touchdowns, with only eight interceptions.

Falk’s accolades are starting to get him some attention. He won Pac-12 player of the week honors three times this season. Meanwhile, Falk has kept on a red-hot pace to surpass a number of school, conference, and even national records, including the national record for pass completions in a single season and the conference record for passing touchdowns and passing yards in a single season.

Falk’s stats certainly pass the eye test of a Heisman-caliber quarterback. If the Heisman committee took note of only stats, Falk would likely be the top contender for the award. Unfortunately for Falk, the biggest strike against his season is at least partially not his fault – that issue being his team.

Washington State’s year nearly derailed from the start with a season-opening loss to Portland State, a FCS team. While Falk played well in defeat (he threw for 289 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions), this single, embarrassing loss is probably the most glaring mark against him. Although the Heisman is an individual award, it rarely, if ever, goes to a player on a bad or even not elite team. An opening day loss also does not bode well for Heisman hopefuls: since 2000, only one player lost their first game of the season and went on to claim the Heisman – Johnny Manziel, who lost a nail-bitter against a ranked Florida team.

Washington State sits at 7-3 on the season and are currently ranked 24th. Even though Falk’s Cougars boast a quality win over a ranked UCLA team and their other two losses were single-score decisions to ranked teams (California and Stanford), their record still does not impress the way other schools with strong Heisman candidates do. A middle-of-the-pack strength of schedule and fairly low ranking among the top 25 also tends to be a hindrance for would-be Heisman hopefuls. Since 2000, only two Heisman winners (Tim Tebow in 2007 and Robert Griffin III in 2011) ended the season with their team ranked outside the top ten. With so few games remaining, the Cougars will need a perfect series of dominating wins to even come close to the mid-teens.

One final issue, separate from the win-loss record of WSU, might causes Falk more issues in his bid for a Heisman. According to ESPN’s total adjusted total quarterback rating, Falk ranks 40th among all quarterbacks in the nation – a very low position for someone as talented as Falk. What is the issue? Despite Falk leading in terms of expected points added from passing, he is also at the very bottom in terms of expected points lost from sacks. While it is unfair to place all the blame on Falk for this issue, it is just another spot on what needed to be a near blemish-free resume for Falk’s chance at the Heisman.

In all likelihood, Falk will fall well short of a Heisman this season. Falk should not be judged too harshly for this however – playing for one of the lesser-known teams of the college football world has certainly influenced this much more than any poor play on Falk’s end. What does deserve attention is the bright future Falk shows, not just in college but for a future career in the NFL. A player of Falk’s status who can run a pro-style offense is highly sought after by NFL organizations every year. If Falk keeps showing the improvements he has this season, it is not much a stretch to see him as a possible franchise quarterback for an NFL team in the near future.

Falk might not earn a Heisman this year. But don’t be quick to bet against him next year.

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