The main problem comes from adding together non-conference and conference statistics. Northwestern's OOC schedule sucked in 2010 (and 2009, and 2008, and 2007). Vanderbilt went 2-10 (and Northwestern may not have won if not for a very sketchy personal foul call at the end). Illinois State was a mediocre I-AA team. Rice went 4-8 in Conference USA. Central Michigan went 3-9 in the MAC. Persa was 85/106 for 1049 yards, 8 TDs, and 1 INT. Those are very good numbers, but against very bad teams.
Against the Big Ten, his numbers were OK, but by no means great: 114/196, 1532 yards, 7 TDs and 3 INTs. That's good for a 132.5 QB rating (the college rating works different than the NFL rating; 100 is theoretically average though average amongst starters has drifted towards 125 in recent years). He also missed three of the top five teams in the conference (Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Illinois) while playing all three non-bowl teams in the conference. He also wasn't all that much of a threat on the ground, gaining only 3 yards per carry in conference play (some of that is from sacks, but still, that's not very good). Against three of the six opponents, he had a worse QB rating than the average QB against that defense.
Let's compare that to another QB who definitely is not winning the Heisman trophy this year. This quarterback went 101/168 for 1142 yards, 14 TDs and 5 INTs. This QB also went 4.3 yards per carry in conference play (including sacks). Guess what: Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois is not sniffing the Heisman trophy.
Unfortunately for Northwestern, some of their out-of-conference opponents actually have a pulse this year. They miss Big Ten favorite Wisconsin this year (while I'm rubbing dirt on the wounds: Northwestern missed the conference champion twice in the past four years. The combined score the two times they played the conference champions? 128-30. In two games. Stretch back to 2006 and it's 182-40), but they play in the more difficult Leaders division, and face two decent teams this season (don't sleep on Army) in OOC play. You can't just take last years numbers against awful defenses and apply the directly.
If Dan Persa was a Heisman-level athlete, wouldn't Northwestern have performed noticeably worse in his absence? Against Purdue, Northwestern scored 17 points. They scored 27 against MSU, then 20 against Indiana, 21 against Penn State, and 21 against Iowa. Without Persa, Northwestern scored 20 against Illinois (plus another TD on defense), 23 against Wisconsin, and 38 against Texas Tech. The QB play declined, to be sure, but that wasn't really reflected on the scoreboard.
The Argument for the Defense (Rebutted)
Passing yards are usually a good indication of a quarterback’s success or failure. For the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks, this number can vary. 2001 Heisman winner Eric Crouch only compiled 1,510 passing yards, while 2008 winner Sam Bradford threw for a whopping 4,721 yards.
The last nine Heisman winners have averaged 3,044 passing yards. To put it in perspective, if Dan Persa were to stay healthy in 2010, he would have surpassed that average with 3,355 passing yards.Eric Crouch is doing a lot of work there; take him out and the average bumps up to 3235 yards. Persa's (unlikely) projected numbers are still higher. So was Ben Chappell's, along with 18 other QBs.
The previous nine quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy have averaged more than 39.8 touchdowns in their Heisman-winning season. That number includes passing and rushing touchdowns—in fairness to the dual-threat quarterbacks.
Last season, Dan Persa was on pace to finish with 31.2 total touchdowns—just a bit shy of the average. However, 2004 winner Matt Leinart and 2006 winner Troy Smith each finished with 31 touchdowns in their respective Heisman campaigns31 is not a bit shy of 39. It is not even 80% of 39. Once again, leave aside the questionable projections; Leinart and Troy Smith were special cases on teams that made the national championship game. The Capital One Bowl would be an accomplishment for Persa and the Wildcats this year.
Tim Tebow won nine games, but who is counting? He also set the TD record for a single season. He also had fewer wins than the other recent Heisman winners.
Cam Newton was playing for a junior college in Texas while Auburn was going 8-5 (maybe Northwestern fans forgot that they actually lost that bowl game against Auburn). The difference between Chris Todd and Cam Newton is a mite bigger than the difference between Dan Persa 2010 and Dan Persa 2011.
Northwestern fans: you have a quality team returning for an unprecedented fourth straight bowl eligible season. You have multiple prime time home games this season. You are genuinely starting to piss off Iowa fans and develop a genuine rivalry. Things are looking up. Don't oversell your case.