Tim Couch could have, and I think should have, won the Heisman trophy back in 1998.
You know when I think about it, maybe he shouldn't have won after all, but Kentucky's Heisman candidates are so incredibly rare that you'd think we'd win just one somewhere in history. I suppose, at least, UK fans can say they had a candidate who had a legitimate shot.
I remember the heady days back when Couch played for the Kentucky Wildcats. It was a time when Kentucky football had been mired in the depths of irrelevance since 1994. Couch had been that rare football player in Kentucky that was just too good to believe, and somehow, he wound up passing on many better offers to play for his home state's flagship school.
When Couch came to Kentucky, Curry tried to make him into an option style quarterback. Anyone who had seen Couch in action knew that he was a great passer and just an average runner, and that such an enterprise was bound to fail. Fortunately, the Kentucky athletics administration realized this as well, and Curry was fired after Couch's freshman season. Curry was replaced by Hal Mumme, who's innovative and wide open offensive style promised to utilize Couch to the best possible advantage.
Sure enough, Couch and Mumme were made for each other. Mumme had Couch throwing the ball all over the field with a tremendous success in his "Air Raid" variant of the spread option offense, much to the delight of the at Big Blue Nation. Couch and Mumme won 5 games their first year, including the Louisville Cardinals, at Indiana, and in overtime and spectacular fashion against the Alabama Crimson Tide for the first time in 75 years. Kentucky broke or tied 51 school records and 15 SEC records that year.
It got even better in 1998, when Couch threw for over 4600 yards, led the Wildcats to a 7-5 season and an appearance in the Outback Bowl and was named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. Couch was Kentucky's first Heisman finalist in 41 years, the last being offensive tackle Lou Michaels in 1957. Couch finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 1988 behind of the Texas Longhorns, Michael Bishop of Kansas St. and Cade McNown of UCLA.
Despite not winning the award, Couch was picked first overall in the 1999 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, for whom he played five injury-plagued years. Couch appeared in a total of 62 NFL games, and threw for 11,131 yards including over 3,000 yards in 2001.
Couch is considered to be one of the biggest draft busts in history, but the truth of the matter is that he was placed into an unfortunate situation on a terrible Cleveland team with an offensive line that was completely decimated by opposing defenses. Couch was often left defenseless, and was so badly beaten up in his first three years that he never recovered.
It was so bad in Cleveland during that time that Couch earned the moniker "Tim Ouch," and in his rookie season, he was sacked an incredible 56 times his first season and 3.1 times per game in his first 3 years. Despite his intimate, first-name familiarity with the entire NFL's starting defense, Couch is still the Browns' all-time leader in pass completion percentage at 59.8%, and 7th all-time in touchdown passes, among other accolades.
If Tim Couch had played for Notre Dame, Alabama, Florida, or some other high-profile team, there is not much doubt he would have won the Heisman with the numbers he put up at Kentucky. The only thing, in this writer's opinion, that kept the Heisman hardware out of Couch's trophy case was the team he played for.
Which raises the question -- if not Couch, can any player win the Heisman at Kentucky? "Ever," of course, is a long time, but you have to wonder.
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