As conference play approaches, each of the pre-season Heisman hopefuls has either lived up to our expectations of them or begun their slow slide into obscurity. The player who emerges as the final victor will depend not only on outstanding personal performances, but on their team’s ability to consistently win football games – especially key games in their schedules. Early season hopefuls included Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, Jr., Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson, West Virginia’s Steve Slaton, Chris Leak from Florida, Kenny Irons of Auburn, Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, Michigan’s Michael Hart, and Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe to name a few.
Let’s take a quick look at how the first three weeks have played out for these notable candidates. Many sportswriters have identified Ohio State’s Troy Smith as the man to beat for the 2006 Heisman award. Not only does Troy Smith have patience in and accuracy from the pocket, but he also has deadly running ability when the heat is on. This rare ability often leaves opponents wondering just exactly how to defend against the Buckeye’s versatile offense. With Ohio State’s current #1 rankings in both the Associated Press and USA Today polls, the spotlight will remain on Troy as the season progresses.
Running backs Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma and Steve Slaton of West Virginia are making their presence known as well. Although Oklahoma lost its last game, Adrian Peterson put in a respectable day’s work at the office. With 515 yards in three games he has proven himself a worthy candidate for this year’s voting. Not to be outdone, West Virginia’s Steve Slaton showed us he has all the right moves as he rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns against Maryland under the spotlight of a nationally televised game. Watch both of these backs closely as they via for Hesiman voting points in the upcoming weeks.
If you want to get noticed by the journalists and former Heisman Trophy winners who cast their votes for the Heisman, stage a spectacular comeback against a key rival on their home turf. Chris Leak did no less than exactly that against rival Tennessee when he engineered a comeback from 10 points down to lead Florida to a 21-20 victory over the Volunteers. 199 yards passing and 3 touchdowns on 15 completions in that game earned Chris strong Heisman consideration at this point in the season.
Ohio State’s Ted Ginn, Jr. and Auburn’s Kenny Irons are two preseason favorites who have struggled to make the big plays necessary to keep them in the running for the title of college football’s player of the year. This is not to say that they have not significantly contributed to the success of their teams, because they certainly have, but in order to win the Heisman, you must outshine the other candidates with highlight reel performances that keep you ahead of the pack. So far this season Ted Ginn, Jr. has not lived up to his reputation as a show-stopping kick-off and punt return specialist, and Kenny Irons has not churned out the big yards needed to stay with the other top running backs across the country.
Michigan’s Michael Hart has consistently given Michigan fans something to cheer about so far this season. Hart’s third straight 100+ yard rushing performance has helped Michigan get off to an enviable start in 2006. If Michigan and Michael Hart continue their winning ways, look for a late season Heisman showdown between Hart and OSU’s Troy Smith on November 18th in Ohio Stadium.
On the other side of Michigan’s last victory was Notre Dame. Brady Quinn’s sub-par performance in that loss has taken some of the steam out of his run for the Heisman. It will take significantly better play from Brady to get back into this year’s running. Only the strength of Notre Dame’s schedule can provide the stage for Brady to play the role of catch-up the rest of the season.
If you think a small conference can’t produce a Heisman winner, don’t tell Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe. He leads the nation in rushing so far in 2006 and showed signs of greatness even against Ohio State’s stingy defense. If Garrett can stay healthy and continue to put up big numbers and flashy personal performances week in and week out, he just might surprise a lot of this year’s other Heisman hopefuls.
With only three games played thus far in 2006, it is still too early to know for sure who will walk away this year’s Heisman Trophy winner. Rest assured that each of the contenders with Heisman dreams will continue to play his heart out to be the one to hear his name announced from that sacred podium in New York on December 9th. We are all in for some great performances! Enjoy the action.