Monday, October 16, 2006

Second Edition of the Insider Heisman Poll

When the Heisman Trophy is being handed to someone at the New York Hilton on December 11th, we might be able to look back at this past weekend as the most important Saturday of the season. Unless Brady Quinn winds up winning it, of course, as he didn't even play.

The rest of the field went up and down like a yo-yo. Troy Smith was impeccable and put distance between himself and the field, while it was a grisly day for star running backs. From getting shut down to fumbling to being injured to having teammates upstage them, the star backs were dealing with a host of issues. Obviously, the big story is Adrian Peterson's injury and the fact that his season - and Heisman campaign - is done. But there were plenty of guys changing places.

After a "Moving Day" Saturday that would make The Masters jealous, here is "One Man's Heisman Poll":

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (last week's rank: 1). Ted Ginn Jr. (60-yard punt return for a touchdown) and the Buckeye defense got the press after a 38-7 drubbing of Michigan State, but as always, Smith was the guy making it all happen for Ohio State. He quietly went 15-for-22 with 234 (a remarkable 10.6 yards per attempt) with two touchdowns and no turnovers. His numbers game-in and game-out are never mind-blowing, but he now has 17 touchdown passes against just two interceptions and sports a quarterback rating of 172.3. The stats are there, which is scary, because he's already got "face of the nation's best team" under wraps right now as well. If Ohio State runs the table and he stays healthy, it is hard to see anyone else winning.

2. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame (3). On a tough day for many top candidates, Quinn gets a bump simply for not playing. Hey, if you aren't on the field, you can't throw interceptions and screw up your candidacy. Quinn actually has a big game next week, even if people don't realize it. UCLA comes to South Bend and with them they bring one of the more underrated passing defenses in the country. The Bruins are only giving up 167 yards a game through the air and they have nine picks while allowing a completion percentage of just 51%. Granted, they haven't faced any passing games like that of Quinn and the Irish, but UCLA has played Utah and Oregon, so the stats are fairly legit. This is a game to watch. Which isn't a problem since every Notre Dame contest is rammed down our throats by NBC.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (7). Here's your big riser of the week. With fellow offensive star Mario Manningham out with an injury, Hart carried the load for Michigan in a dangerous and bruising game at Penn State. While it was the Wolverines defense that was most responsible for getting the road W, Hart did more than his share as well, carrying 26 times for 112 yards and a score. In a nationally televised prime time game, those numbers get juiced a little bit. If Michigan beats Ohio State, goes undefeated, and earns a trip to the BCS title game, it is going to be awfully hard to deny Hart some hardware. Considering how badly the Wolverines struggled when he was hurt last year, I think we are starting see how truly valuable this running back is. And while I know the award doesn't go to the MVP, but rather the most outstanding player, I think you can state a case that Hart is making a run at both.

(Right about now, I'm ducking the inevitable "Midwest bias!" comments that I know are coming due to my current Chicago address. Hey, it's not my fault that Ohio State and Michigan are 1-2 in the AP poll and that Quinn plays for Hype University. I'm just calling it like I see it.)

4. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5). I'm telling you, nobody made a big push on Saturday. Slaton was completely upstaged by teammate Patrick White (247 yards rushing on 15 carries with four touchdowns), but the mere fact that he picked up 163 yards and a touchdown gave him some of the best numbers in the field. Of course, he was playing against Syracuse, so you have to temper your enthusiasm a bit. The good thing for Slaton is that he has some big games left on the schedule. The Mountaineers still play Pitt and they get both Cinderella story Rutgers and #7 Louisville on national television. If he goes nuts in those games, he could get a late kick. Of course, if White continues to keep the ball on the spread option and run for 80 yard touchdowns, Slaton might need to track down Jeff Gillooly's phone number. (Kidding, kidding.)

5. Darren McFadden (NR). I know that this doesn't make a ton of logical sense. After all, McFadden only had six carries (for 71 yards and two scores) in Arkansas' 63-7 win over Southeast Missouri State and he was the third-leading rusher on his own team. That said, it feels like we need someone representing the SEC in the top five. At this point, it is either McFadden or Erik Ainge, and because I think McFadden might have a 300-yard game in him, I wanted to get out in front of the story. If anyone comes out of nowhere with a monster second half, it might be this guy. If nothing else, find a way to watch a Razorback game, because this dude is sick.

6. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (6). Rice only picked up 93 yards and lost a fumble, but I'm keeping him at #6 because Rutgers handled a Navy team that was supposed to give them trouble and the Scarlet Knights remain a great story. Plus, while Rice didn't really boost his stock, he still ranks fourth in the nation at 149.8 yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns. The possible unbeaten Slaton-Rice showdown remains intact.

7. Garrett Wolfe (7). The Little Guy takes a hit. A rather damaging one. I think Wolfe can get back into the top five and earn a trip to NYC for the award ceremony, but his chances of winning went up in smoke on Saturday. Playing against a nondescript Western Michigan team, Wolfe had a shocking 25 yards on 18 carries as his Northern Illinois Huskies lost 16-14. It doesn't get much worse than this when you are trying to pull off a miracle Heisman run from a MAC school. Ouch.

8. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech (9). Johnson could have used a game on Saturday, because 150 yards and a couple of scores would have sent him zooming up the board. As it stands, he still gets a bump while sitting this one out with a bye.

9. Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee (10). See above.

10(tie). James Davis, RB, Clemson (NR) and Marshawn Lynch, RB, California (NR) Both of these talented running backs deserve some consideration. Lynch shook of an ankle injury he suffered in the Oregon game last week and gashed Washington State for 152 yards and two touchdowns and despite a relatively quiet year, is ninth in the country with 757 rushing yards while playing for a top 10 team (BCS rankings). As for Davis, he is right behind Lynch with 745 yards, but trails nobody in rushing touchdowns as he leads the country with 14. And with Clemsen ranked #12 and looking every bit like the class of the ACC, he should get a little buzz as well.

Could Return Quickly: Mario Manningham (if he can bounce back from the injury, he will be right back in the mix).

Tragically Eliminated: Peterson.

Probably Done: Chris Leak (rough fourth quarter against Auburn, I felt bad for him), anyone playing for USC (not this year for the Trojans), and Kenny Irons (too injured, too little time left to rack up big stats).

On the Verge: DeSean Jackson (Lynch passed him as "best Cal rep" but that can change quickly), P.J. Hill (144.4 yards per game and 11 scores for the Wisconsin sophomore who has come out of nowhere), Colt Brennan (2,271 yards through the air and 23/5 touchdowns to picks for the Hawaii quarterback, who is gaining some momentum on sheer stats, David Klingler-style), and Colt McCoy (don't look now, but the Texas frosh has 18 touchdowns - third in the country - against three interceptions and a passer rating of 175.3 for one of the best one-loss teams in the country ... plus, I wanted to get two "Colts" on in the column).

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