September 26, 2006

Heisman Tracker: It's not all about stats

Statistics do not win the Heisman Trophy.

We know this because a Texas Tech quarterback has never won it, but Eric Crouch did. Sure, stats help make a case for college football's most coveted individual award, but the key to winning is making dazzling plays against high-profile opponents.

Doug Flutie had the Hail Mary pass to Gerard Phelan against Miami.

Desmond Howard had the leaping touchdown catch against Notre Dame.

Johnny Rodgers had the amazing punt return against Oklahoma.

And on Saturday, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith turned in the signature play for which he may always be best remembered. It was the kind of play Heisman voters like myself surely won't forget.

Locked in a 7-3 struggle against No. 24 Penn State, Smith ran away from a pass rusher, reversed his field and then launched a perfect throw from midfield that Brian Robiskie caught in the end zone for a touchdown. It was a pivotal play in top-ranked Ohio State's closer-than-the-score-indicated 28-6 victory.

That play staked the Buckeyes to a 14-3 lead with just under 13 minutes remaining in the game. The Buckeyes returned two late interceptions for touchdowns to widen the final margin.

"We practice scrambling drills like that all the time," Smith said. "The line gave me enough time to reverse field and put the ball in the air, and Robo just went up and made a great catch. You need moments like that when you're down and out, when things aren't going the way you want them to go."

You also need moments like that big plays that spice up an otherwise bland performance to hoist the Heisman. Smith passed for just 115 yards, but his improvisational gem is what most people will remember.

It is also why Smith still remains at the top of my Heisman Trophy ballot, just ahead of Oklahoma's brilliant Adrian Peterson - who could be America's most gifted running back at any level.

Peterson is so amazing that his 128 yards and three touchdowns in a 59-0 rout of Middle Tennessee State almost seem pedestrian by his standards. A junior who almost won the Heisman as a freshman, Peterson has already rushed for 643 yards. One thing that hurts Peterson is that his Sooners haven't played the level of competition that Smith and his Buckeyes have this season.

OU has also faced Alabama-Birmingham, Washington and 13th-ranked Oregon, which the Sooners will tell you is vastly overrated.

However, Peterson will have a chance to rectify that when the Sooners face the Texas run defense, which ranked second nationally going into Saturday's 37-14 victory over Iowa State. The Longhorns held the Cyclones to 21 net yards rushing. If Peterson has a productive day against the Texas defense, he could catapult himself ahead of Smith in the eyes on many voters.

But he'll need more than just a lot of yards. He'll need a memorable play that will be featured over and over on all the highlight shows, just like Smith's big play against Penn State.

Stats alone just aren't enough. If stats were all that counted I'd vote for Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe, who rushed for 198 yards on Saturday against Indiana State and has 828 rushing yards thus far.

Well, I'd either vote for Wolfe or a Texas Tech quarterback.

Rivals.com 2006 Heisman Favorites After Week 4
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 215
Smith in Action
Big numbers: Completed 68 of 103 passes for 884 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions
Big game: Facing then No. 2 Texas, which ranks fifth nationally in total defense, Smith completed 17 of 26 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-7 victory.
Big picture: Smith's performance against a big-time opponent in Texas and highlight-reel touchdown pass against Penn State give him a slight lead over Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. Smith has been cool and efficient. His highlight reel includes touchdown passes of 58 and 29 yards to Ted Ginn Jr., the second coming just before halftime against the Longhorns.
2. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma, Jr., 6-2, 215
Peterson in Action
Big numbers: 117 carries for 643 yards and seven touchdowns
Big game: In a controversial 34-33 loss to Oregon, Peterson rushed for 211 yards on 34 carries. He returned three kickoffs for 68 more yards.
Big picture: Peterson has reasserted himself as the nation's premier running back, and even turned a short pass into a 69-yard touchdown that helped the Sooners avoid an opening-day upset to Alabama-Birmingham. Peterson has not yet faced a powerful defense, which is the only possible criticism he could face. However, he gets the opportunity to answer that on Oct. 7 against Texas. A productive game against the Longhorns may establish Peterson as the Heisman front-runner.
3. Garrett Wolfe, Northern Illinois, Sr., 5-7, 172
Wolfe in Action
Big numbers: 96 carries, 828 yards, eight touchdowns
Big game: Don't dismiss Wolfe's gaudy statistics as a byproduct of playing inferior competition. He rushed for 171 yards and had another 114 yards receiving and a touchdown against top-ranked Ohio State. The little guy's next chance to prove he can produce against the big boys comes Oct. 28 against Iowa.
Big picture: The 5-foot-7, 177-pound Wolfe was the nation's top returning rusher from a year ago, and so far leads the country again. His performance against Ohio State proves his legitimacy, even though players from mid-majors never actually win the Heissman. Winning it would require Wolfe to put up outlandish stats and the other top contenders would need to falter. Wolfe can do his part, but Smith and Peterson won't likely cooperate.
4. John David Booty, Southern Cal, Jr., 6-3, 215
Booty Highlights
Big numbers: Completed 73 of 110 passes for 697 and seven touchdowns with one interception
Big game: Facing then No. 19 Nebraska, Booty completed 25 of 36 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-10 victory.
Big picture: The last two USC quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart won the Heisman. After three games Booty has established himself as a solid candidate, too. He's faced decent defenses in Nebraska and Arkansas and figures to put up significant statistics in the defensively challenged Pac-10. The quarterback of a national championship contender almost always gets Heisman consideration, and the Trojans look like they will be in the thick of the championship chase.
5. Chris Leak, Florida, Sr., 6-0, 207
Leak Highlights
Big numbers: 67 of 104 for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions
Big game: In a key SEC East matchup against Tennessee, Leak completed 15 of 25 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, including a game-winning 21-yard scoring throw to Dallas Baker in the fourth quarter to lift Florida in a 21-20 victory.
Big picture: Leak, who led the nation in passing efficiency after three weeks, is flourishing in his second season in coach Urban Meyer's offense. Leak has thrown at least three touchdown passes in each game. His performance against Tennessee raised some eyebrows, but he has even bigger challenges ahead with games against Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia coming up in the next four weeks. All those defenses rank among the nation's top 31. If Leak flourishes through that stretch his Heisman chances will get a huge boost.
6. Steve Slaton, West Virginia, So., 5-10, 195
Slaton Highlights
Big numbers: 86 carries for 583 yards and six touchdowns.
Big game: Slaton rushed for 149 yards in the first quarter, which included touchdown dashes of 38 and 37 yards, en route to a 195-yard performance against Maryland.
Big picture: Slaton's statistics are impressive, but his competition is not. East Carolina, Marshall and Maryland have below average run defenses - and Eastern Washington is a Division I-AA team. West Virginia has a few more soft defenses coming up, so Slaton's rushing totals figure to soar.
7. Chad Henne, Michigan, Jr., 6-2, 226
Henne Highlights
Big numbers: 52 of 88 for 679 yards and seven touchdowns with four interceptions
Big game: Henne completed just 13 of 22 passes for 220 yards against Notre Dame, but had three touchdown passes in a 47-21 victory.
Big picture: Henne got off to a slow start, but several dropped passes contributed to that. He bounced back from pedestrian efforts against Vanderbilt and Central Michigan to throw five touchdowns in games against Notre Dame and Wisconsin, teams which were unbeaten until they faced the Wolverines.
8. Mike Hart, Michigan, Jr., 5-9, 198
Hart Highlights
Big numbers: 104 carries for 477 yards and five touchdowns.
Big game: In a huge national matchup with Notre Dame, Hart rushed for 124 yards and a touchdown in a 47-21 victory over then No. 2-ranked Notre Dame.
Big picture: A model of consistency, Hart has rushed for at least 91 yards in each game. He's not really explosive, but he is relentless and always seems to move the pile forward. Strong games against Notre Dame and Wisconsin warrant attention, and he'll have opportunities to get raise his profile higher in upcoming games against Michigan State, Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State.
9. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame, Sr., 6-4, 231
Quinn in Action
Big numbers: Completed 92 of 158 passes for 1,086 yards and 11 touchdowns with four interceptions
Big game: Helped lead the Irish to a come-from-behind, 40-37 victory over Michigan State by throwing two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. He completed 20 of 36 passes for 319 yards and five touchdowns with an interception.
Big picture: Quinn looked so awkward in a turnover-plagued loss to Michigan and in the first half against Michigan State that he was off my list. However, his big second half against the Spartans made me reconsider. The preseason favorite, he's now a long shot, but perhaps that big second half against Michigan State will get him back to last season's form.
10. Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State, Jr., 6-0, 175
Ginn in Action
Big numbers: 16 receptions for 268 yards and five touchdowns and 11 punt returns for 96 yards
Big game: Ginn caught five passes for 97 yards and had a key 29-yard touchdown reception seconds before halftime in a 24-7 victory over then No. 2 Texas.
Big picture: As expected, Ginn has been an explosive receiver and has five touchdown catches in three games. However, no receiver has ever won the Heisman without great kick return yardage. Thus far, Ginn hasn't been a factor as a return man.

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 throughout the college football season. For more information on the most prestigious award in college football, visit Heisman.com.



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