August 18, 2006

Heisman trends point to Quinn as early favorite

Heisman Hopefuls in Action
Check out these video highlights of the top Heisman candidates:
Brady Quinn, Notre Dame
Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma
Troy Smith, Ohio State
Kenny Irons, Auburn
Marshawn Lynch, Cal
Chris Leak, Florida
Michael Bush, Louisville
Chad Henne, Michigan
Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State
Brian Brohm, Louisville
Rivals.com will be providing weekly video of the nation's top teams and players throughout the season.
Picking a Heisman Trophy winner is like picking stocks. It requires a certain amount of caution and a lot of study because there are no sure things.

What appears hot in August might sour before December. So, whether the subject is Merrill Lynch or Marshawn Lynch, the smart forecaster looks for more than recent performance as reason to invest capital or credibility.

That's why Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn's stock should take off like Dell in the '90s.

Last season the 6-foot-4, 227-pounder with a rifle arm completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 3,919 yards and 32 touchdowns.

Quinn has more than recent performance going for him. Current trends and history seem to point his way, too.

Although the Heisman Trophy has been won by running backs most often, five of the last six recipients were quarterbacks. Had last year's vote been taken after the Rose Bowl, Texas quarterback Vince Young very well could have outpolled USC running back Reggie Bush to make it six-for-six.

That's a powerful trend, but maybe not as powerful as Heisman history.

Only one player has won the Heisman Trophy from a losing team Paul Hornung of Notre Dame. Only three receivers have won the Heisman since 1972. One of them was Tim Brown of Notre Dame. The only true lineman to win the Heisman was Leon Hart of Notre Dame.

Two schools have produced seven Heisman recipients USC and Notre Dame, and the Trojans don't have a top candidate. Well, not yet, anyway.

Performance, trends and history all indicate Quinn is the best bet to win the Heisman. Of course, there was a time when Enron looked like a good stock, too.

Entering my 14th season as a Heisman voter, it is important to note this is how I think the race might turn out not necessarily how I would vote. Although Heisman voters list only three players on the final ballot, I'll feature my top 10 list regularly throughout the college football season.

Rivals.com 2006 Heisman Favorites
1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame, Sr., 6-4, 231
Quinn in Action
In one season under coach Charlie Weis, Quinn's completion percentage improved by more than 10 percent. He threw for 1,333 more yards and his touchdown production almost doubled from 17 to 32. Yet, Weis said there were many elements of his offense that he did not have time install last year and will be added this season. Quinn has a lot of help with the return of receivers Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, running back Darius Walker and three offensive line starters. He figures to be at least as productive as a year ago, and it never hurts to play for Notre Dame.
2. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma, Jr., 6-2, 215
Peterson Highlights
When Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards as a freshman two years ago he drew comparisons to Georgia great Herschel Walker. Peterson even finished higher in the Heisman voting (second) than Walker did his freshman year (third). Like Walker, Peterson hopes to win in his junior year, but the karma doesn't end there. The winner in Walker's sophomore year was USC running back Marcus Allen. The winner last year Peterson's sophomore year was USC running back Reggie Bush (cue the X Files music). Of course, Walker did not lose his starting quarterback and a guard just days before practice started for his junior season. However, Peterson who is fully recovered from ankle injuries that slowed him last year - is so good he may overcome the loss of Rhett Bomar and J.D. Quinn.
3. Troy Smith, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 215
Smith in Action
The quarterback for the top team always is considered, and the Buckeyes will enter the season No. 1. However, Smith has much more going for him than that. After he took over as the starter last year, he led the Buckeyes to seven victories to close the season. That included wins over Michigan, in which he had 337 yards in total offense, and over Notre Dame, in which he was named Fiesta Bowl Most Valuable Player after he passed for 342 yards and ran for 66. A threat to run and pass, his 11 rushing touchdowns last season were just three shy of the Ohio State record by a quarterback (Les Horvath in 1944). By the way, Horvath won the Heisman.
4. Kenny Irons, Auburn, Sr., 5-11, 200
Irons Highlights
Last season he led the SEC in rushing, which commands attention. Then, consider he did not get 20 carries until the Tigers' sixth game and still rushed for 1,293 yards. The biggest factor for Irons, however, is his penchant for excelling against top-notch defenses. He had a season-high 218 yards against LSU, 179 against SEC champion Georgia and 103 against Alabama, which might have had the nation's best defense a year ago. Huge stats against mediocre opponents are nice, but Heisman voters remember how you play against great competition. If Irons excels against LSU on Sept. 16 he could have the inside track in the race for the trophy.
5. Marshawn Lynch, California, Jr., 5-11, 215
Lynch in Action
If he stays healthy, look out. In his first season as a starter, Lynch rushed for 1,246 yards the third-best total in Cal history and collected 1,642 all-purpose yards last year. He did all of that despite hand and finger injuries that forced him out of most or all of potential huge stat games against Washington, Illinois and New Mexico State. He posted seven 100-yard rushing games, including 189 against Oregon's sound defense. Cal opens the season with a nationally televised game against Tennessee on ESPN. The next week the Bears face Minnesota on TBS, so Lynch will have an immediate chance to impress the nation.
6. Chris Leak, Florida, Sr., 6-0, 207
Leak Highlights
Leak passed for 2,639 yards and 20 touchdowns last season, which was his first under coach Urban Meyer. With a year under his belt in Meyer's offense, Leak figures to be even better, and he already has been pretty dang good. He's 22-11 in three seasons as a starting quarterback, and he joins former Gator Danny Wuerffel as the only quarterback in school history to beat four top-10 teams away from Gainesville. Also like Wuerffel, he was once named SEC Freshman of the Year. Just by equaling last season's totals he would set Florida career records for passing yards. The record of 10,875 yards is currently held by Wuerffel. Florida's last Heisman Trophy recipient? You guessed it, Wuerffel.
7. Michael Bush, Louisville, Sr., 6-3, 250
Bush in Action
Bush is a big, powerful back. He is 6 feet 3, 247 pounds and can move the pile on contact. He has the speed to run away from contact, too. Bush parlayed that nice blend of power and speed into 23 rushing touchdowns last season (24 total). Highlight shows tend to feature touchdowns. Voters tend to watch a lot of highlight shows. See the connection? Bush also rushed for 1,143 yards and averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season despite missing two games. The perception of playing a soft Big East schedule won't help, but if he produces against Miami on Sept. 16 all those doubts won't hold water.
8. Chad Henne, Michigan, Jr., 6-2, 226
Henne Highlights
Already having started as a freshman and sophomore, Henne could have his biggest year as a collegian. Receivers Mario Manningham and Steve Breaston give him big-play targets, and the return of running back Mike Hart will add balance to the Wolverines offense. Henne threw for more than 2,500 yards and completed more than 58 percent of his passes in his first two seasons when most quarterbacks are holding clipboards. If he raises his level of play and excels in big television games against Penn State on Oct. 14 or Ohio State on Nov. 18, for example he could end up holding that bronze statue.
9. Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State, Jr., 6-0, 175
Ginn in Action
History shows that for a receiver to win the Heisman he must also be an electrifying kick returner like Desmond Howard or Tim Brown. Ginn certainly qualifies. In the first two seasons of his career, Ginn averaged 15.9 yards on punt returns and has scored five touchdowns. He has averaged 28.6 yards on kickoff returns with a touchdown. Last season he emerged as a receiving threat with 51 catches for 803 yards. He had 17 catches for 256 yards in the Buckeyes' final two games against Michigan and Notre Dame which indicates he's getting better as he gets more experienced. Ginn, now a junior, appears primed for the best season of his career.
10. Brian Brohm, Louisville, Jr., 6-4, 224
Brohm Highlights
An accurate passer with a strong arm, Brohm must bounce back from a knee injury that kept him out of the last two games a year ago. All indications are he's coming back healthy, so he could have a big year, especially with opposing defenses forced to account for Bush. That could leave a lot of open space in the secondary, and Brohm has the tools to capitalize. He completed 68.8 percent of his passes last season for 2,883 yards and 19 touchdowns. If his knee is sound - and remains that way - look for those numbers to climb.
The Rivals Five
Here's a list of players with the talent to win the Heisman, but who probably won't because of extenuating circumstances:
1. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State Posluszny in Action
A marvelously talented linebacker, Posluszny is arguably the nation's finest defensive player. But only one defensive player Michigan's Charles Woodson has ever won the Heisman, and he played receiver and returned punts. Posluszny would probably make a heck of a lead blocker as a fullback, but doesn't see action on offense.
2. Garrett Wolfe, RB, Northern Illinois
A small guy (5 feet 7, 177 pounds) with big ability, Wolfe is the nation's top returning rusher. He rushed for 1,580 yards last season despite missing three games late in the year. And don't argue he was just taking advantage of sub-par competition in the Mid-American Conference, either, because he rushed for 148 yards against Michigan and 245 against Northwestern. Alas, guys from non-BCS conference schools just don't win the Heisman. In 2001 Fresno State's David Carr had no chance over Nebraska's Eric Crouch. The previous year TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson was a distant fourth to Florida State's Chris Weinke.
3. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC Jarrett in Action
No doubt he has the ability and the high-profile team, but he plays the wrong position. Only three receivers Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers, Notre Dame's Tim Brown and Michigan's Desmond Howard have won the trophy since 1972, and they all were great kick returners. Jarrett caught 91 passes and scored 16 touchdowns last season. He did not return any kicks. Besides, if he's having a big year catching then someone likely John David Booty is having a big year passing. USC's last two starting quarterbacks (Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart) won Heismans.
4t. Pat White, QB White Highlights
4t. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia Slaton Highlights
Both are electrifying, big-play threats in coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. White rushed for 952 yards and passed for 828. Slaton rushed for 1,128 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. However, both are sophomores and the list of sophomores to win the Heisman Trophy is as follows
5. Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech Johnson in Action
He's a 6-foot-4, 230-pound target with 4.4 speed and has accounted for more than 40 percent of the Yellow Jackets passing yardage over the last 24 games. He also has drawn 16 pass-interference or holding penalties, which shows he's an absolute nightmare for cornerbacks to cover. But like Jarrett, he does not return kicks. He also must count on inconsistent quarterback Reggie Ball to get him the football. Ball completed just 48 percent of his passes last season.

The Heisman Trophy will be awarded on Saturday, Dec. 9. Rivals.com national football writer Olin Buchanan is a Heisman voter, and we'll feature his top 10 list regularly throughout the college football season. For more information on the most prestigious award in college football, visit Heisman.com.

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