Hunt for the Heisman

Oct. 19, 2005, midnight | By Josh Zipin | 18 years, 9 months ago

Race heats up as nation's best vie for prestigious honor

To win the Heisman Trophy is to be immortalized among college football's greatest players. Last year, former Texas Longhorns running back Cedric Benson even said he would even trade team success for winning the Heisman and joining the list of all-time greats. This fall, as the competition stiffens, a player's performance in one big game could make or break his chances to follow in the footsteps of such greats as Paul Hornung, Roger Staubach, Herschel Walker, Barry Sanders, Desmond Howard and Ricky Williams. The chase looks to be one for the ages as there are five extremely qualified candidates all hoping to come away with college football's version of the Miss America crown: everyone struts their stuff and at the end, the best of the best is awarded the coveted trophy. Here is how the race stands midway through the season.

1. Matt Leinart
Leinart has to be the frontrunner right now in the hunt. Not only does he play for the number one team in the nation, but he's also played like the Heisman Trophy winner he was last year. Last week against sudden-powerhouse Notre Dame, Leinart rescued USC from disaster as he audibled and rushed for the decisive touchdown with three seconds remaining, to beat the Irish 34-31 and keep the Trojans undefeated. Teammate and fellow Heisman hopeful Reggie Bush called it "maybe the greatest quarterback sneak ever." Through six games Leinart has captained the nation's most dangerous offense with efficiency and still shined individually. He is averaging 325 passing yards a game and has already thrown for 1900 yards and 12 touchdowns. Leinart has an excellent supporting cast featuring Bush, LenDale White and super-freak wideouts Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith.

After his junior season, Leinart passed on the NFL after winning the Heisman Trophy and instead chose to return to USC for his senior season to try to win back-to-back national championships. Leinart was ridiculed by many "experts" who thought he was only jeopardizing his place as the NFL's top pick by returning to school for his senior year. Leinart's decision has worked out so far: his team looks unbeatable and on the path to another national championship and he has the inside track to his second consecutive Heisman Trophy.

2. Vince Young
The quarterback for the nation's second-ranked team has led Texas to a 6-0 start, its best since 1983 when the Longhorns went 11-1. This year Vince Young helped Texas accomplish what seemed impossible in recent years for Longhorns football: beating Oklahoma. However, against Ohio State Young showed why he is considered a serious Heisman Trophy candidate. With his team down 22-16 with less than three minutes to play in the fourth quarter Young connected with Limas Sweed from 24-yards out to give Texas the lead for good.

Young has always been used as an option quarterback, known as much for his speed on the ground as for his arm. He has done the job with his feet this season, rushing for 413 yards and five touchdowns. The knock against him coming into this year was that his arm was not strong or accurate enough to keep defenses off balance. Young has proven the doubters wrong this season, throwing for 1350 yards and 12 touchdowns. Young may have an advantage in the voting if electors split their votes between Leinart and Bush. He is the unquestionable star of the Texas Longhorns while Leinart, Bush and others share the spotlight. If Young and Texas beat tenth-ranked Texas Tech this weekend, Young would greatly increase his chances taking home the Heisman.

3. Reggie Bush
By far the nation's most electrifying player, Bush sets up mismatches all over the field, gives opposing coaches nightmares and wreaks havoc on defenses. Whether as a tailback or wide receiver, Bush makes plays that simply seem impossible. One opposing coach tried to disprove to his team the myth that USC is unbeatable by saying: "They're good athletes, but they're only human—with the exception of Reggie Bush." The "thunder and lightning" attack of the USC rushing game features the speed and elusiveness of Bush and the hard-nosed power style of LenDale White. Bush makes would-be tacklers miss like it's his day job. The last time Reggie Bush was "contained" was in USC's last loss—29 games ago. Bush was held to 23 rushing yards on eight carries.

Last year, while Leinart was off winning the Heisman Trophy, Bush was voted "team MVP" by his teammates, an honor he says meant more to him than the Heisman. Halfway through the season, Bush certainly putting up Heisman-caliber numbers with 987 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns. Bush knows that a national championship takes priority over an individual award--even the Heisman--and he is unselfish enough to compromise his personal statistics for winning football games. However, Bush could jump ahead of Leinart or Young in the race for the Trophy with a few game-changing performances in big games.

4. Brady Quinn
The nation's most improved player, Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn has benefited from the arrival and tutelage of head coach Charlie Weis this season. Although his team's record stands at 4-2, with the most recent loss coming at the hands of USC, Quinn has been the undisputed leader of the most improved team in the country. Last week, Quinn led the Irish on an eight-play 87-yard drive and capped it off with a five yard touchdown run with 2:04 left in the fourth quarter, giving the Fighting Irish the lead (though not for good).

While leading his team Quinn has amassed some impressive individual numbers. Quinn has thrown for 1885 yards and 14 touchdowns on his way to an impressive 103.3 quarterback rating. With no other superstars on his team, Quinn has made the Notre Dame's offense flow, looking calm and at ease in Charlie Weis' new offense. Quinn faces an uphill battle if he wants to win the most coveted individual award in college football. He missed a great opportunity last weekend when the Irish lost to number one-ranked USC. A win against the top-seeded team in the country certainly would have dramatically improved his chances. To have a legitimate shot at winning, Quinn's Irish will have to win the rest of their games and get star-quality performances from their quarterback.

5. Marcus Vick
The dark horse in this race, Marcus Vick has vaulted onto the radar by leading Virginia Tech to a perfect 6-0 record and a number three national ranking. The younger brother of former Hokies and current Atlanta Falcons star Mike, Vick has created a name for himself as the catalyst in Frank Beamer's surprising offense. Although not nearly as good a runner as his brother, Vick has shown that he has a strong and accurate arm that through six games has produced 1043 yards, 10 touchdowns and a mere two interceptions. Vick is also the ACC's most efficient passer, completing 68.2 percent of his passes.

In his first year as the full-time starter Vick has flourished under Beamer and his system. However, for Vick to win the Heisman Trophy he may have to do the unthinkable and beat the USC Trojans in the national title game. Virginia Tech could be left out of the title game even with an undefeated record if Texas and USC both hold on to their clean sheets.

Outside looking in:
Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs
Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk
Alabama quarterback Brodie Croyle
Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson
Wisconsin running back Brian Calhoun

Josh Zipin. Josh Zipin has trouble paying attention for more than three seconds at a time... More »

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