Ann Killion
Wednesday December 2nd, 2009

Next Monday afternoon Stanford running back Toby Gerhart will be slogging his way through a final exam in Investment Science.

Considering recent global economic fortunes, Gerhart's class sounds like an oxymoron. But that's where he'll be when the finalists for the Heisman Trophy are announced.

Another process that is definitely not a science.

If there were a scientific formula to the Heisman voting, Gerhart -- who leads the nation in touchdowns with 26 and ranks second in rushing average (144.7 yards per game), might walk away with college football's top award. MENEZ: Gerhart has my vote with one week to go

He's put together a record-setting season. He's been tremendous week in and week out. He put a previously overlooked program on his back and carried it to its first winning season since 2001 and to a bowl game. He's done it all without preseason hype, expectations or media campaigns.

But despite all that, Gerhart remains a long shot. Other contenders -- with the last names McCoy and Tebow -- have been part of the Heisman conversation since last December. And it's hard to get the hype freighter turned around in just a few weeks.

"It seems like 50 percent of the Heisman is preseason hype," said Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. "Twenty-five percent is playing for an undefeated team. And 25 percent is what they actually do."

Gerhart will almost certainly be invited to the Heisman ceremony in New York on Dec. 12 thanks to a late-season surge that has put him in the minds of voters. He's already scheduled to be in Orlando next week for the announcement of the Doak Walker award -- given to the nation's top running back. He'll find out about tacking on a trip to New York as soon as he finishes his final and checks his messages.

Based on what he's actually done, Gerhart has played his way into the conversation. That's a surprising achievement from a player who concedes he was so shy he barely spoke until he arrived at Stanford. And who politely but firmly declined any attempts by Stanford's athletic department for an early season Heisman campaign, including a billboard.

"It seemed premature to talk about it," he said. "You have a bad game and you're no longer even mentioned."

But Gerhart hasn't had a bad game. He is averaging 200.3 yards against ranked opponents and shredded Oregon and USC in back-to-back weeks. Last weekend against Notre Dame, he rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns and threw a touchdown pass.

Truth is, his Heisman chances may have been most damaged by Stanford's loss to archrival Cal two weeks ago, a defeat that eliminated the Cardinal from the Rose Bowl hunt. In that game, Gerhart scored four touchdowns but barely touched the ball in the Cardinal's final four possessions. The only thing that contained Gerhart this season was his own coach's play calling.

Just because Gerhart declined a Heisman campaign doesn't mean he doesn't harbor dreams. His mother tells him he used to strike the Heisman pose in the kitchen. And his family once visited the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City while on vacation to see the Heisman display.

"It would be a dream come true," Gerhart said. "But it's not up to me."

But if Gerhart really harbored Heisman aspirations, he chose an interesting place to try to realize them. Stanford has only produced one Heisman trophy winner -- Jim Plunkett in 1970 -- and wasn't exactly a renowned football program when Gerhart was recruited by former coach Walt Harris.

But Gerhart wasn't choosing Stanford only for its football program -- the team went 16-40 in the five years before Harbaugh arrived. He chose Stanford because he wanted to play both football and baseball.

"I wanted to play two sports and Stanford has a long history with that," the outfielder said. (Though Gerhart didn't want a Heisman campaign he did cooperate with the media relations department on a humorous video depicting him trying field hockey, tennis and even synchronized swimming.)

He was a Baseball America top 50 prospect in 2006 but made it clear to baseball scouts last spring that the only way he would forego another year of football was if he could earn first-round money. He wasn't drafted.

His next decision will be to determine his NFL prospects. If they look good he'll choose to skip baseball and enter the draft next spring.

"I'll see where I stand," Gerhart said. "If it's pretty promising I'll focus solely on football and go from there. Otherwise I'll play baseball."

But he won't give up his dual focus. Whenever he's done with sports, Gerhart wants to pursue a JD/MBA program and take both degrees into the business world.

While he spoke this week, Gerhart was wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed "Corn Fed and Still Hungry." He's a southern California product but plays football in a bulldozing Big 12 style. His hometown of Norco -- east of Los Angeles -- is full of horse trails and hitching posts and goes by the slogan "city living in a rural atmosphere."

"It's real country," Gerhart said. "People think of Southern California as hip and Hollywood-y. But my home town is isolated. And crazy for football."

Gerhart's bruising running style and work ethic have put him in the Heisman conversation. But that's not his most important achievement.

"I wanted to help re-establish Stanford football," he said. "To make a difference. It's taken four years to do it. But that's the most satisfying thing."

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