After the Gophers beat Colorado 49-7 on Sept. 17, Mohamed Ibrahim let out a humble chuckle when Tanner Morgan was asked if the running back, who had just rushed for 202 yards and three touchdowns, should enter the Heisman Trophy conversation.
"He's got my vote,'' the Gophers quarterback said.
Thing is, Ibrahim isn't the only Minnesota player who's being mentioned as a dark-horse Heisman candidate. Morgan thrust himself into at least the peripheral conversation with his performance in the Gophers' 34-7 victory at Michigan State on Saturday when he completed 23 of 26 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Pro Football Focus College, which uses advanced metrics to analyze players and teams, not only ranks Morgan as the top quarterback in the nation, his 95.2 grade is the best of any FBS player, period.
"If he keeps this up, the sixth-year senior could become Minnesota's first Heisman winner since 1941," Max Chadwick, a PFF College evaluator, tweeted Sunday.
Before anyone clears space in the Gophers Hall of Fame room next to Bruce Smith's stiff-armed statue, it must be noted that the season is only one-third complete, and Minnesota hasn't exactly played a murderer's row of opponents. New Mexico State, Western Illinois and Colorado are a combined 1-12. The throttling of the Spartans in East Lansing was impressive, but eight more Big Ten foes await.
Moreover, the path to the Heisman as of late has been a toll road. With a few exceptions, players need to be quarterbacks with teams in the hunt for the national championship. Since 2000, QBs have won the trophy 18 times, running backs three times and a wide receiver once.
This year, the usual suspects are the favorites. Ohio State's C.J. Stroud is the oddsmakers' choice, having passed for 16 touchdowns against one interception. Alabama's Bryce Young, last year's Heisman winner, will have big-game opportunities to make his case. Southern Cal's Caleb Williams is gaining support from the Vegas wise guys, too.
Still, the No. 21-ranked Gophers have outscored opponents by a combined 183-24 and will continue to garner attention if they keep winning. That will help the pair of sixth-year seniors.
Reunited with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca this fall, Morgan has passed for 886 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception. His QB rating of 198.14 is fourth nationally, and he's completed 77.2% of his passes, second best in the country.
"We have really talented skill players, and the more success a team has, the more individual success they will have," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said, "and I think they do understand that."
Ibrahim's candidacy got a boost with that 202-yard game against Colorado, the fourth 200-yards-plus game of his career. He was solid, if not spectacular, against Michigan State, rushing 22 times for 103 yards and his eighth TD this season. The 100-yard game was the 13th consecutive for Ibrahim, a testament to his consistency. His per-game average of 141.75 ranks second nationally and projects to 1,701 yards.
In one way, the Gophers' strong start has given Ibrahim fewer chances to showcase himself.
Well aware of Ibrahim's Achilles' tendon injury from the 2021 opener, Fleck and running backs coach Kenni Burns have watched his usage closely. The blowout wins have enabled the Gophers to avoid overusing Ibrahim, who's left all four games during Minnesota's first possession of the third quarter. He's carried 75 times for 447 yards before halftime and 14 times for 120 yards after intermission.
The Heisman chances for both Ibrahim and Morgan face long odds, but at the very least, they're giving the college football world something to talk about.