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Zach Wilson’s success and popularity are rising, but how far will it take him in 2020?

With the Cougars playing a watered-down schedule, is Heisman talk reasonable?

BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) warms up for the team’s NCAA college football game against Troy o Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, in Provo, Utah.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

PROVO — Zach Wilson’s accuracy is off the charts.

And the BYU junior has sprinted into the national spotlight and conversation for Heisman Trophy consideration based on his work against three opponents.

But it is playing against those opponents, instead of an SEC or Pac-12 group of opponents, which makes Heisman talk more blue-goggled chatter than reality.

And that’s not a knock on Wilson.

There’s a certain unwritten matrix Heisman Trophy winners and candidates invited to New York for ceremonies must incorporate to be atop the list by a winning chunk of Heisman voters.

Wilson really needs more of those tangibles on his resume. He is on target to set school records for accuracy and pass efficiency. This at a school that set the college standard with Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer.

I’ve been a Heisman Trophy voter for most of four decades and Wilson certainly is deserving of a close look by fellow voters. It includes publicity, exposure, dramatic big-time wins, respected competition, records and dominating statistics over a consistent run.

The hill Wilson has to climb in terms of exposure given to the leading candidates Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, Kyle Trask of Florida and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, who hasn’t even played a game, is, to be frank, monumental in 2020.

Generally, a Heisman winner has to have a defining win or two over a highly ranked program or two during the course of a season. He must consistently win, put up gaudy numbers as a QB, running back or receiver. Linemen, linebackers and cornerbacks are almost never in the running because of this.

A Heisman winner has to come from a huge campaign launch built on a previous season’s work, like Kyler Murray, Baker Mayfield or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in 2014.

A Heisman winner has to dominate some aspect of NCAA statistics, and in the absence of playing a killer schedule like Wilson lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic this season, he has to be almost statistically obscene to creep into the top five.

On the other hand, it can be done from Provo, as Ty Detmer proved in 1990. In that year he already owned a gob of NCAA records set as a sophomore. He was a star in an early September 1990 victory over defending national champion Miami — the Alabama of his day.

Detmer had the statistical resume of two record-breaking years. The win over Miami was dramatic. It captured voters’ attention because it was like David slaying Goliath.

This captured the imagination of voters. Plus, BYU’s sports information had a brilliant marketing plan for Detmer’s Heisman campaign, all planned well in advance because of his sophomore year.

In Wilson’s sophomore year, he was injured, missed games and his team lost to San Diego State and Hawaii to end the season with just seven wins. That doesn’t launch even a party balloon.

Wilson does have wins over Tennessee and Southern California in 2019, but neither was in the same category as beating a Miami team in 1990, which would be like taking down LSU, Clemson or Alabama today.

Last year’s winner, Joe Burrow, led LSU to a national title. He was well-known before he transferred there from Ohio State and ended up the NFL’s No. 1 draft pick.

Burrow led LSU to wins over No. 7 Florida, No. 9 Auburn, No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Georgia, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 3 Clemson.

That, folks, is nose-bleed competition.

It helps that Wilson will get a chance to play San Diego State and Boise State, but it hurts that it comes late in the season when voters are looking at numbers and competition.

A more proper perspective in Wilson’s case is to recognize his remarkable performance in three wins against opponents that nobody expected him to play against back in July, and wonder what could have been.

I’ve seen enough college football practices, 11-on-11s, 7-on-7s and All-American QBs throwing against air with basically no pressure at all. An impressive completion percentage in this kind of setting is in the high 70s, like 77% or 78%.

In three games, Wilson is completing 84.5% of his passes, which leads the nation.

That’s just nuts. It is more than impressive, it is remarkable.

Wilson’s No. 2 pass rating (221.9) behind national leader Mac Jones of Alabama (222.1) puts the onus on future games from national pundits to see if he can keep it up.

Yes, it is against non-Power Five competition and that really distracts.

Jones’ numbers have come in SEC wins over Missouri (38-19) and Texas A&M (52-24).

Clemson’s Lawrence, the current Heisman darling, has the No. 5 efficiency rating, and it came in ACC wins over Wake Forest (37-13) and Virginia (41-29).

Wilson’s stats came against Navy, Troy and Louisiana Tech.

You see the dilemma of Wilson’s candidacy.

And that’s not his fault. It’s not on him that BYU didn’t open up against Utah, Michigan State, Arizona State and Minnesota.

One thing Wilson’s remarkable 84.5% success rate does is give a great talking point for national sports personalities like ESPN’s Andre Ware, who called Wilson’s prowess elite last week.

Wilson has yet to be sacked in three games. He’s been unafraid to run the ball and take hits, but his ability to do his work without getting banged up in the pocket is key.

At this stage of the season, Wilson is on a streak and it is a good one. He’s got great vibes, voters are tuning in, he’s been kind of the only show in the West and that can’t hurt.

Wilson could pass for more than 3,000 yards before a Pac-12 QB takes a snap.

A more realistic look at Wilson and the Heisman talk is to be one of the five invited to New York City whenever the Downtown Athletic Club and Heisman Trust decide to schedule the ceremonies in this weird pandemic season.

Like most of the conferences that have delayed the start of their competition, perhaps that storied ceremony will also be delayed.