Hype and hope build for Sean Tucker’s place in the Heisman Trophy race
Hype builds for Sean Tucker's Heisman bid
When Sean Tucker answers a question, his response is usually only a sentence or two. He talks with a straight face, his gaze focused on the middle distance.
Even with the start of a formal Heisman Trophy campaign at the start of only his sophomore season, Tucker doesn’t seem swept up in the hype. He isn’t worrying about how his chances might depend on the Syracuse University football team’s performance.
Just being part of the conversation is unusual enough. Syracuse hasn’t actively pushed for one of its players to win college football’s most prestigious player award since the days of Donovan McNabb and Dwight Freeney two decades ago. The school’s lone Heisman winner, Ernie Davis, won in 1963.
Yet the athletics department has rolled out a website, established a hashtag and distributed two videos to tout Tucker. A shorter, one-minute sizzle reel was posted by the Syracuse University football Twitter account to announce the campaign July 25.
#PL34SED to have this guy on our team. He's just getting started.
Introducing https://t.co/3gFN7Q4U8v – the hub for all things @SeanTucker2020 this season. The site will be updated throughout the year as the Heisman hopeful continues his record-breaking career. pic.twitter.com/cEQu2PWKyT
— Syracuse Football (@CuseFootball) July 25, 2022
Tucker, who broke the Syracuse University record for rushing yards in a single season by gaining 1,496 yards last year, still faces long odds to win the Heisman Trophy.
Caesars Sportsbook puts the Tucker for Heisman line at +20000, which translates to a less than 1% expected chance of success.
Tucker rushed for the sixth-most yards in the NCAA in 2021, finishing ahead of the primary running backs for powerhouses like Ohio State and Alabama. Three backs ahead of him played in more games than Syracuse.
Two other running backs had stats that eclipsed Tucker in as many games last year. Like him, they don’t play for teams who are often vying for national trophies.
“The Heisman voters are looking at star players on winning teams,” said John Affleck, Knight Chair of sports journalism at Penn State. “For [Tucker] to have any chance, Syracuse has to win nine games, minimum.”
Over the last 10 seasons, Syracuse football has finished with a winning record only three times. The last time Syracuse earned a spot in the AP’s Top 10 rankings was 1996.
When asked directly, Affleck said he thought Tucker’s chances of winning the Heisman were “zero.” But it’s not because he doesn’t think Tucker is a great player.
“If the playing field was even, he’d probably be going to New York,” Affleck said.
Dennis Deninger, who teaches sports communication classes at SU, said the game against Notre Dame in October is a must-win for Tucker’s Heisman chances.
Deninger said success in prime-time games and earning national media attention is key to Heisman voters taking note of Tucker’s accomplishments.
“There’s no replacement for national recognition of what you do week in and week out,” Deninger said.
Syracuse’s game against Virginia holds a prime-time slot on ESPN, but the rest of the season’s game times will be decided later as networks gauge what teams will attract the most viewers.
“That started back in high school when I was on varsity,” Tucker said, which he played for starting as a sophomore. “I’ve basically just kept it going ever since.”
Caroline Dunn, an SU football superfan behind the Twitter account @IMissEricDungey said she loves the buzz around Tucker, particularly the memes made about him.
“The fans are always looking forward to the post-game tweets, any tweet from Sean Tucker actually,” Dunn said.
Dunn’s profile picture is an image of Sean Tucker’s face on a painting of Jesus. She has posted memes praising Tucker’s consistency as energizing for fans.
During Syracuse football’s preseason camp in August, Coach Dino Babers said Tucker still has a chance to win, even if no one expects it now.
He recalled Robert Griffin III’s Heisman moment in a win against Oklahoma when Babers was an assistant coach at Baylor.
“All those [Heisman winners] have got to have one of those moments,” Babers said. “I hope Tucker has a whole bunch of them to choose from.”