College football needs compelling storylines. Here’s an intriguing possibility, and it’s not ridiculous: As a Heisman Trophy finalist, North Texas junior quarterback Mason Fine travels to New York in December.
“That would be the most surreal moment,” Fine said during a Tuesday telephone connection. “I’ve never really even thought about that.”
In 1987, Holy Cross’ Gordie Lockbaum was a halfback, a defensive back and kickoff returner. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.
A former Locust Grove superstar and the most prolific passer in the history of Oklahoma high school football, Fine could be a Lockbaum or Doug Flutie type of figure in this year’s Heisman process.
If Fine were to get an invitation for the Dec. 8 announcement of the Heisman recipient, it would not be an act of charity. He’s got the game and the numbers to command consideration, and he’s the quarterback of a Mean Green squad that has a chance for a special season.
North Texas is 3-0, having smashed Arkansas 44-17 last week in Fayetteville. Circulated on Twitter was video of a nearly empty Razorback Stadium as the second half was about to begin. What a striking image.
As it pertains to Fine’s viability for national awards, it would help if North Texas can run the table in Conference USA.
Fine’s height isn’t quite 6 feet, and that’s why he was ignored by so many schools, but his talent is substantial. Last season, while driving North Texas to a nine-win finish, he finished with 31 touchdown passes and a program-record 4,052 passing yards.
In advance of Saturday’s North Texas-Liberty contest (the Mean Green’s final nonconference game), Fine is third nationally in passing. Meanwhile, the University of Tulsa is 108th nationally in passing.
TU’s program wasn’t the only one that failed to recognize Fine’s potential, but TU and Fine always will be synonymous because Fine hoped to play for the Golden Hurricane.
From Matt Hennessy, there was a cannon-shot quote last year.
“OU and OSU (coaches) spent more time at our place than TU did,” said Hennessy, who coached Fine at Locust Grove and now is the head man at Pawhuska. “I would get frustrated because it was all about the tape measure. I’m not knocking those coaches, but they’re not going to recruit a quarterback of that height. That’s just the way it is.
“Mason would have been a great fit at TU and he wanted to go to TU. The academics are high and he’s a family kid. He would have been close to home. He liked the coaches. He knew they had a spread offense and wanted to play fast, and that’s what he likes.”
When Chad Morris coached at SMU, he didn’t recruit Fine. Morris now is at Arkansas. Against the Razorbacks last week, Fine passed for 281 yards. His efficiency (24-of-45) was below his typical standards, but what Fine did best was protect the football. In a road game against an SEC defense, he wasn’t intercepted.
Before its trip to Fayetteville, North Texas was 4-37 against SEC opposition. The Mean Green hadn’t beaten any Power 5 opponent since 2011.
While Fine and his teammates celebrated a big win — and while North Texas athletic director Wren Baker celebrated the collection of the Mean Green’s $1 million appearance fee — the Razorbacks sagged to 1-2 and 81st nationally in total offense.
“It was a great feeling,” Fine said of his Fayetteville conquest. “Growing up, I watched a lot of Arkansas games on TV. I had never attended a game at Arkansas. When I was in high school, I sent letters to Arkansas and attended their camps.
“A lot of people might tell me now that I’m doing a good job, but a couple of years ago, some of those people didn’t think I was very good. I just have to stay focused and reset every week.”
He would never express it out loud, but Fine must be incredibly satisfied by this reality — that he’s good enough to be the thriving starter right now at Arkansas, at TU, at Nebraska and at scores of other schools that ignored him during the 2015-16 recruiting process.
“I wasn’t really angry at any school,” Fine said, “and I’m not trying to prove anyone wrong now, but I probably do have a chip on my shoulder. I do like the chance to prove I can play at the FBS level and be successful.
“You don’t need 30 scholarship offers. You can’t attend 30 schools. You only need one school that likes you. One coach who believes in you. I have that here.”
Fine was fortunate that his “one coach” was Seth Littrell, a rising star and the Mean Green’s third-year head man. A former University of Oklahoma and Muskogee High School fullback, Littrell is on the radar of every Power 5 school that might make a coaching change in December.
While Fine always will identify himself as being a Mayes County man, he considers the North Texas campus in Denton a second home.
“I think I’m in the right place,” he said.
The Heisman Trophy has become a quarterback award. Since 2000, the trophy has been given to 15 QBs. In a survey of some of ESPN’s college football experts, OU quarterback Kyler Murray was designated on Tuesday as the current Heisman front-runner.
Voters are conditioned to watch quarterbacks, so if Fine can sustain a dynamic level of performance, maybe he will get a flight to New York in December.
Imagine Fine and Murray, seated shoulder to shoulder at the Heisman ceremony.
I’m not suggesting that Fine would or should win the Heisman Trophy, but he’s an excellent, interesting quarterback who deserves the attention of voters. His presence in New York, as a Heisman finalist and as a representative of other overlooked athletes, would be refreshing and a great story.