Thursday, November 16, 2006

One Man's Heisman Poll: Sixth Edition

Last week was a classic "just don't screw it up" kind of moment for the Heisman elite, where the top candidates simply needed to avoid disaster to maintain the status quo. Big numbers are just a drop in the bucket at this point and wins were expected against the likes of Indiana, Northwestern, and Air Force. With the big Ohio State-Michigan and USC-Notre Dame games looming, it was just survive and advance for Troy Smith, Brady Quinn, and Mike Hart. Beneath the Big Three? That was a different story altogether.

The story of the Week Six Heisman Poll is the validation of running backs Ray Rice and Darren McFadden.

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

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame (last week's rank: 1). Both Quinn and Troy Smith had easy games with big stats last week, which actually helped the latter more than the former. In fact, I think that Smith was able to halt the momentum of Quinn's furious charge with his four touchdown passes against Northwestern and now is firmly back in the "his award to lose" position. However, I'm still going with Quinn in the #1 spot, because my gut feeling hasn't changed. I've been feeling a Michigan win over Ohio State all year and if that happens, the Buckeyes are going to tumble. They are already ranked behind Rutgers in the computers (the most underreported story in college football right now) and if the Wolverines bounce them, they could miss out on the title game and Smith could suddenly become a far less popular choice for the Heisman. And as I've been predicting for weeks, if that happens, all eyes will turn back to where they first gazed when the season kicked off: South Bend.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (2). Again, if this were an attempt to capture the whole "if they were to vote today" dynamic, Smith would probably have to be #1. But it's not, so he's not.

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). Like the stud quarterbacks, Hart handled his business on Saturday, cruising for 92 yards and a score in an easy 34-3 win over Indiana. He's still in a position to pull off a monster upset in this race, drafting behind Smith and Quinn like a rejuvenated Cole Trickle. If the Wolverines crush Ohio State behind a monster game from Hart and Quinn melts down at the Coliseum in two weeks, Hart could sneak past them both. It's unlikely (mainly because voters refuse to reevaluate things from week to week), but possible. Of course, Hart's hold on the title of "best running back" isn't even secure anymore thanks to ...

4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). I've taken a lot of crap for having Rice so high in this one-man poll all year, so I don't mind saying that Rutgers' 28-25 victory over Louisville brought me a great deal of joy. Rice carried 22 times for 131 times and two touchdowns in the biggest win in Rutgers history and did most of it in dominant fashion as Louisville was completely incapable of stopping the Scarlet Knights' simple toss plays. Rice showed the nation that he is tough, fast, and extremely talented and is finally getting the attention he has deserved all year long. You don't run for over 1,300 yards and 15 scores for an undefeated team without being pretty special. If the Buckeyes snuff out Hart and Rutgers finishes undefeated (which would require an unlikely win at West Virginia), Rice could wind up as the highest vote getter among running backs.

5. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (6). McFadden is Exhibit A in my argument about voters not paying attention. I bet if you took the Heisman vote today, many wouldn't even include this force of nature on their ballots, which is a joke. McFadden doesn't have the gaudiest overall stats (although 1,219 yards, 12 TD's, and 6.2 yards per carry is nothing to sneeze at), but everything else is working for him. He's a phenomenal talent with a propensity for exciting big plays. He plays for a top-10 team with an outside chance at the national title. He's the best player in what is arguably the best conference in the country. And he's finishing the season in a blaze of glory. How is he NOT a top-five candidate in the eyes of every voter? Arkansas annihilated Tennessee on national television on Saturday night and McFadden did it all. He compiled 30 carries for 181 yards and two scores and even threw a touchdown pass out of that crazy single wing offense the Razorbacks have been running. This guy is a monster.

6. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (8). Slaton's hopes of winning the whole thing went up in smoke against Louisville a few weeks ago, but he's climbing back into NYC contention after rushing for 148 yards and two scores on just 12 carries against Cincinnati. The guy is averaging 7.5 yards per carry and could wind up leading the nation in rushing yards when it is all said and done.

7. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (5). Whoever said that penalties were a killer must have been thinking of Lynch. This guy was - to borrow from Jim Jones' "We Fly High" - ballin! The Bears were killing people, Lynch was looking every bit like the Next Laurence Maroney, and the golf cart stunt was just the kind of attention-grabbing thing that can give an unlikely Heisman campaign legs (like Joey Harrington's piano playing). Everything was heading toward the big USC game. Whoops. A 72-yard Lynch touchdown was wiped out on a block in the back call and with that flag, everything came crashing down. The stud back finished with a quiet 102 yards and no scores and, even worse, Cal lost a stunner to Arizona. Unless Marshawn runs for 300 yards against USC and something bad happens to Rice or McFadden, he can go ahead and cancel those plane tickets to New York. (I'd still take him with a high pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, for the record.)

8. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (10). Ian Johnson and Colt McCoy both went down with injuries, so the gunslinger with the huge numbers climbs the charts. He threw for 406 with three scores and also ran for 60 yards and a touchdown his last time out, so the gaudy stats just keep piling up. And the real showcase games have yet to come.

9. Pat White, QB, West Virginia (NR). Slaton is still the best Mountaineer candidate, but White keeps closing the gap. He's averaging 7.9 yards per carry with 837 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, and that doesn't even factor in his 1,142 yards passing or 153.2 quarterback rating.

10(tie). Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (9) and Colt McCoy, QB, Texas (7). Johnson is done for the year with a collapsed lung that had him in the hospital for five days, but with 1,400+ yards and a NCAA-leading 21 touchdowns, he gets to stay in his spot. It's a bit late in the year for guys to be getting knocked all the way out of the running with injuries, since they have the bulk of the schedule (and therefore, stats) under their belts. Same story with McCoy, even though the freshman's injury was far more devastating to his team as Texas lost to Kansas State and fell out of the NCAA title chase.

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