Wednesday, November 08, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Fifth Edition

Last week I stirred things up by putting Brady Quinn at the top of my Heisman list on the strength of a gut feeling that Michigan is going to beat Ohio State two Saturdays from now and that voters will then return to their preseason picks. This week Quinn stays on top after throwing up some huge stats against North Carolina while Troy Smith had his worst outing of the year in a narrow win over Big 10 doormat Illinois. As Bob Griese said during the LSU-Tennessee game, the award is still Smith's to lose, but that inkling of a movement that I was sensing last week is now a full-fledged challenge from Quinn.

I think we've got a race on our hands.

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

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (last week's rank: 1). I received a lot of feedback on my Quinn pick from last week and most of it wasn't good. And I have to admit, I was starting to second-guess myself (although I would just be second-guessing a hunch, which is kind of pointless). Then Saturday rolled around and Quinn looked every bit a Heisman winner while Smith looked mediocre at best. The Irish rolled over a pathetic North Carolina team as Quinn threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns. He has now thrown for 25 touchdowns against just four picks and is averaging 286 yards a game. Smith has a better quarterback rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt while throwing one fewer interception and taking 13 fewer sacks, but Quinn is leading in the glamour stats.

Of course, you can go on like this for hours with these two. Smith has done everything asked of him for the #1 team while Quinn has all the dramatic comebacks. Smith has more talent around him and a better line, but Quinn has a better system for producing QB stats. And so on. The bottom line is that this whole thing still comes down to November 18th when Smith faces Michigan and November 25th when Quinn travels to So Cal to play the Trojans.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (2). People who think that Smith still has a clear lead are making the big mistake of using logic. Many Heisman voters employ no logic whatsoever, and that is how we wind up with winners like Eric Crouch. In this case, Quinn racking up the stats will sway a good number of starry-eyed voters who love a guy in a gold helmet. It certainly didn't help Smith that he had his worst game of the year on Saturday, throwing for just 108 yards with no scores and a pick against an Illinois defense that isn't known for shutting people down. A big game and a win over Michigan probably turns this back around, but right now, from my vantage point, Smith is losing ground fast.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). No need to move him down, that is for sure. While Michigan struggled to put away Ball State (must have been something in the air last weekend in Big Ten Country), Hart was his usual reliable self, rushing 25 times for 154 yards and a touchdown. He's fourth in the country with 1,281 rushing yards, he leads the nation in carries, he's scored 10 touchdowns, he blocks, he's a leader ... I mean, what more can one guy do? (I know, I know - beat Ohio State.)

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). The Big East had a huge showcase game last Thursday when Louisville knocked off Heisman candidate Steve Slaton and undefeated West Virginia. Fast forward to tomorrow and the Big East has a huge showcase game involving Louisville facing Heisman candidate Ray Rice and undefeated Rutgers. From a nation title perspective, there isn't anything terribly strange about The Ville making noise like this, but from a Heisman standpoint, this is pretty ironic. After all, the Cardinals once had two legit candidates of their own, but then running back Michael Bush went down with a knee injury in the first game and quarterback Brian Brohm missed several games with a thumb injury. They are simultaneously playing the role of BCS title game contender and Heisman spoiler. Very strange.

As for Rice, he probably needs a monster game and a Rutgers upset to have a shot at getting higher than this on the list.

5. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (6). Lynch rattled off 126 total yards and two scores in the first of a couple of tune-ups for the big USC showdown. We all know Quinn will have his chance to leave a lasting impressing in the Coliseum, but Lynch will actually get a shot at the Trojans first. If the "Michael Schumacher of the Injury Cart Circuit" can run wild and lead Cal to a victory over USC, he will produce the needed signature performance and dilute the appeal of the ND-SC game in the process (thus turning down the wattage on Quinn's performance the next weekend). A real "two birds with one stone" opportunity for Marshawn.

6. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (7). Nothing against Colt McCoy, but I have to put McFadden here ahead of the Texas frosh. Arkansas' sensational tailback finally got what he needed - a game where his final stats matched his impact on the outcome of the contest. The Razorbacks won a huge game at South Carolina as McFadden toted it 25 times for 219 yards and two scores. Just a dominating effort. He's been great all season, but so often his stats don't really tell the full story, making it hard to validate ranking him this high. This time, he got the monster numbers on a big stage and deserves all the credit in the world. I can't quite put him ahead of Lynch or Rice, but he's right in the mix with the best backs. Throw in the fact that he's the standout player from one of the nation's toughest conferences and this feels like the right call. Plus, his carries, yards, and touchdowns are starting to look a lot like Slaton's at this point (although the Mountaineers back has played one less game). If this weren't a race that is 50% dictated before the season ever starts, McFadden would be a legitimate darkhorse at this point.

7. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (7). Hard to believe McCoy can't move up after shredding Oklahoma State for 346 yards and three scores. However, the big mitigating factor with him is his freshman status. I personally don't think it should matter at all, but many voters will ignore him because he's a rook. This is foolish and you only need to consult some key numbers to realize that: 5 (Texas' BCS ranking), 172.1 (his QB rating - higher than Quinn or Smith), 27 (touchdown passes - also higher than the big guns), and 4 (interceptions). I know Texas has a great line and tons of talent at the skill positions, but if you think anyone can rack up those kind of numbers just by playing quarterback in a good offense, then you obviously weren't watching while Drew Bledsoe was playing quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year. McCoy is having an incredible year and deserves some attention.

8. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (5). Slaton didn't play poorly against Louisville last week and in fact he finished with 156 yards on just 18 carries. But we all watched as that ball popped loose and Malik Jackson scooped it up for a touchdown. That fumble was just a killer. And not only did West Virginia's undefeated season come to an abrupt end, Slaton was once again upstaged by teammate Pat White who accounted for 347 yards of total offense and ran for four touchdowns. I'm not ruling Slaton out regarding a trip to NYC, but this was his big shot and unfortunately, he didn't really lose himself in the music, the moment. Instead, he lost the football and his chance to win the Heisman. This drop to #8 is probably too severe, but I couldn't imagine leaving McFadden down here the way he ran on Saturday.

9. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (10). Johnson just keeps getting it done. He ran for 136 yards and a couple of scores as Boise State beat up on Fresno State and kept their run for a BCS bowl alive. I'll never forgive the Broncos for playing games on that blue field, but I'm trying not to hold that against Johnson, who is leading the nation with 20 touchdowns.

10. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (NR). It was honestly pretty tough to find a legit #10 for this list. Zac Taylor of Nebraska has the same name as a former president and sterling numbers, but he didn't play particularly well in either of his big chances (losses to USC and Texas). It feels like we need a wide receiver, but who? Manningham hasn't played in weeks, Calvin Johnson botched that Clemson game, and DeSean Jackson has cooled off considerably. Maybe put P.J. HIll back on the list? This was a tough one.

That is why I decided to go with Brennan even though he's a "system guy." His Hawaii Warriors are 7-2 (with losses at Alabama and at Boise State) and the stats are just unreal: a QB rating of 190.0, a yards per attempt of 9.8, a completion percentage of 72.9%. Are you kidding me? Then there are the 39 touchdown passes to lead the nation (against just six picks) and the 371.9 yards per game (second in the country). Ridiculous stuff. If Hawaii can finish 11-2 (which would require wins over Purdue and Oregon State), Brennan might just warrant an invite to New York. It is doubtful, but either way, he is building some momentum for next year.

Falling Out: Erik Ainge (missed most of his team's loss to LSU with an injury, which pretty much sticks a fork in his Heisman chances).

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