Monday, October 30, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Fourth Edition

There's this movie I'm thinking of where there is a slight, almost imperceptible shift in the way things are. A tiny moment after which things look the same and everyone carries on as normal, but the outcome has been altered. I have no idea what movie that was - it may even be a whole bunch of them all mixed up.

The point is that I felt the shift this weekend. It wasn't so much that Troy Smith had a quiet game in another Ohio State route or that Brady Quinn was doing anything particularly magical on Saturday afternoon, but somehow, someway, I am now sure that Quinn is going to win the Heisman.

The slight change has occurred and even though I don't know what it is, or even if there really is a movie like this, I'm going with the whole premise. Therefore, Quinn is on the top of this Heisman list.

Call it a hunch.

(Previous Heisman Polls can be found here:
First Edition
Second Edition
Third Edition)

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (last week's rank: 2). As explained above, Quinn takes over my top spot pretty much on the strength of an unsubstantiated feeling. Hey, if you stop reading this column because I've lost all credibility, I can live with that. After all, I don't do this for you - I'm here for me. That said, Quinn is looming as a much bigger threat to Troy Smith than most people are giving him credit for. Not only that, but I honestly think Quinn might have the slight edge, all that "shift in time" stuff notwithstanding. Hear me out.

Smith's candidacy is tied up in the fact that Ohio State is the number one team in the country. His numbers are really good, particularly his incredible TD/INT ratio and QB rating of 174.3. However, Smith hasn't had any truly monster statistical games and his biggest prime time moment, at Texas, came during the second week of the season. If the Buckeyes lose to Michigan - a very real possibility - Smith's primary Heisman argument is mitigated dramatically. Quinn, on the other hand, can survive losses. He had a horrible game against Michigan and people are already forgetting it. The Irish could lose to USC and he will still be a top candidate on the strength of his numbers, the Notre Dame prestige, and the preseason hype. If the Buckeyes go down and voters look beyond Smith for a winner, Quinn is going to look awfully good. Plus, a ton of Heisman voters predicted him to win the award and nothing makes writers feel better than being right about a pick. I'm telling you, this thing is going to get interesting.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (1). It's technically still his race to lose, so call this 1(b). He probably needs to pad the stats before playing Michigan and then hope for a big win. It's pretty simple: beat Michigan and Ohio State plays for the national title and Smith probably wins the Heisman. Lose and it is going to be tough to accomplish either goal.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). Should Quinn have a horrible game in a loss to, say, USC and should Michigan stomp on Ohio State, Mike Hart will have a compelling case. He's been so steady all year long and will have an enormous stage. November football is all about the ground game and if Hart can do his usual work against the Buckeyes and lead the Wolverines to a win, he will be tough to turn down. Then again, I'm not sure that anyone else appreciates Hart quite the way I do. Yes, the Michigan defense is unbelievable, but so was the 1985 Bears D. You don't think Walter Payton was still pretty valuable to that team?

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). 79 yards and a score against a mediocre UConn team isn't terribly exciting, but since Slaton and Lynch didn't play and James Davis had a real rough outing, who is going to take his place? I never thought I'd see the day that a Rutgers running back stayed at #4 in my Heisman poll by default. What's next, a cure for the common cold? A day going by without The Game dissing G-Unit? The end of reality television as we know it? Hey, if Rutgers can be undefeated heading into November, I can dream.

5. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5). Slaton and the Mountaineers were on a bye last week, but his time to make a big splash is fast approaching. Not only does West Virginia have five games left on the schedule (giving Slaton plenty of chances to rack of stats and highlights), they also have a huge, prime time game against #5 Louisville coming up on Thursday night. With USC's loss to Oregon State, it just became a very realistic possibility that the winner of this game could be playing in the BCS title game. Think 200 yards and a couple of scores in a game like that could help a Heisman campaign? Here's your chance, Mr. Slaton. (Sorry, I always wanted to write like a New York Times columnist, even if for just a sentence.)

6. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (6). Another player on a bye week, Lynch is starting to generate some heat as well. Whether it was USC's loss ceding the spotlight in the Pac-10 to Cal or whether it is just more attention because of the Injury Cart Grand Prix, Lynch is a hot name right now. The Bears play UCLA and Arizona before the big showdown with USC, and Lynch could use some big numbers to keep his name in the papers.

7. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (NR). The week's biggest riser is a freshman who had a Brady Quinn-like all-or-nothing game on Saturday. A loss to Texas Tech would have ended any and all discussions that involved the words "McCoy" and "Heisman" in the same sentence, but instead, the Longhorns won a wild game behind their frosh gunslinger. It isn't a good idea to fall behind big, but if you do and come back, it sure helps out a Heisman candidate. Just like the Michigan State comeback breathed new life into Quinn's chances, McCoy just became a legitimate darkhorse thanks to his 256-yard, 4-touchdown performance against the Red Raiders. He now has 24 touchdowns against just four picks for the #4 ranked team in the country. Obviously, memories of the Ohio State loss (he played pretty decent in that one, by the way) and the fact that he's a freshman will probably keep him out of any real contention, but this kid is having an amazing year.

8. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (8). Once again, McFadden didn't lead his team in rushing as Felix Jones rattled off 141 yards on nine carries, but Arkansas' star running back did tote it 18 times for 129 yards with a score in a 44-10 over Louisiana Monroe. Not only that, but he also did his best LaDainian Tomlinson impression by throwing a nine-yard pass for a touchdown. The Hogs go to South Carolina next week before hosting #8 Tennessee, so McFadden is going to get his chance to make some waves.

9. Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee (9). Ainge had a very nice game with 254 yards passing and a couple of scores as Tennessee held off South Carolina 31-24 to stay on the fringe of the BCS hunt. He probably deserved an upgrade here, but since I gave him so much rope last week after the three picks against Alabama and in light of the ankle injury he suffered at the end of the game, this seems about right. With games against LSU and Arkansas the next two weeks, he will have every opportunity to skyrocket up this list. He might be the one true darkhorse in this thing.

10. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (NR). Johnson isn't flashy, but the numbers speak for themselves. He's first in the country in rushing touchdowns with 18 and fifth in yards per game with 147.6, while averaging a whopping 7.0 yards per carry. Plus, Boise State is unbeaten. So he's got that going for him.

Falling Out: Garrett Wolfe (66 yards on 22 carries makes it three bricks in a row), P.J. Hill (an injury cost him valuable stats and maybe some of his coach's respect), and James Davis (also felled by an injury, as well as a tough loss to Virginia Tech).

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