Thursday January 20th, 2005

A couple of weeks into the season, when it became clear Utah was a serious BCS contender, the Utes were forced to make a back-room deal with the national media and high-powered college football officials: In exchange for unprecedented respect in the polls for an undefeated, non-BCS conference team, the Utah players would have to remain anonymous and not be considered for any major individual awards, like the Heisman.

OK, so that "deal" didn't actually happen. It's just the only way I could provide a reasonable explanation for why Utah is ranked No. 7 in the AP poll and drawing attention from the Fiesta Bowl, while its quarterback, Alex Smith, gets only minimal attention in the Heisman race. Case in point: An ESPN crew broadcasting the Auburn-Ole Miss game Saturday listed the top six candidates to head to the D.A.C., and Smith was nowhere to be found, while -- unfreaking believable -- Brock Berlin was No. 6. This came after Miami had lost to UNC.

There's little debate over who's the No. 1 contender right now: Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson. But the quarterbacks who lurk behind Peterson on most Heisman lists -- his teammate, Jason White; USC's Matt Leinart and Cal's Aaron Rodgers -- no longer deserve to be ahead of Smith. Let's compare them head-to-head and let the numbers do the talking:

Smith's TD-to-INT ratio is at least twice as good as all of the other QBs, his QB rating is No. 1, and he adds a rushing dimension that sets him apart -- 384 yards and eight TDs. He moves up to No. 2 here; now, it's up to more of the nation to take notice.

On to the rankings:

Last week (at Texas A&M): 29 carries, 101 yards, TD in 42-35 win Season (9-0): 239 carries, 1,373 yards (152.6 yards per game), 9 TDs

There's a simple formula for winning this thing: Be consistently impressive and save your biggest performances for the biggest stages. Peterson has followed it to a T, breaking 100 yards in each of OU's eight games and going for 225 and 249 against Texas and Oklahoma State, respectively.

Last week (vs. Colorado State): 21-of-26 passing, 291 yards, 4 TDs; 9 carries, 55 yards in 63-31 win Season (9-0): 152-of-229 passing (66.4 percent), 2,196 yards, 24 TDs, 2 INTs; 92 carries, 439 yards, 8 rushing TDs

Haven't we said enough already?

Last week (at Texas A&M): 19-of-35 passing, 292 yards, 5 TDs in 42-35 win Season (9-0): 161-of-258 passing (62.4 percent), 2,130 yards, 25 TDs, 4 INTs

Amid the drooling over Peterson, remember that White and wideout Mark Bradley, who hooked up for three touchdowns -- were the reasons the Sooners held a Bedlam lead at halftime. Still, the way Peterson is running, White's repeat quest is a difficult one.

Last week (vs. Oregon): 21-of-32 passing, 275 yards, 3 TDs in 28-27 win Season (7-1): 147-of-209 passing (70.3 percent), 1,816 yards, 18 TDs, 4 INTs

Rodgers drops a few notches after a rather average effort against Arizona State. He didn't need to do all that much, though, after his defense pitched a shutout and J.J. Arrington piled up yet another 100-yard game.

Last week (at Oregon State): 17-of-31 passing, 205 yards, 2 TDs, INT in 28-20 win Season (9-0): 176-of-274 passing (64.2 percent), 2,068 yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs, 3 rushing TDs

This list -- in which USC's QB is merely lurking -- is an objective look at the state of the race. But if I had to predict a winner, it would be Leinart, who's turning it on at just the right time. His superb command of the offense against the Cougars drew high praise from running back Lendale White, who suggested that his QB was on par with Troy's resident offensive wizard.

"Sometimes I think he knows the offense better than coach [Norm] Chow," White told the L.A. Daily News.

Last week (vs. Oklahoma State): 23 carries, 141 yards, 5 TDs in 56-35 win Season (8-1): 242 carries, 1,438 yards (159.8 yards per game), 17 rushing TDs, receiving TD

Benson didn't do anything wrong this week; in fact, he moved up to No. 10 all-time in the NCAA's rushing leaders list. It's just that his other competition for the trophy at running back is Peterson, and while the two backs' overall numbers are similar, their showings in the Red River Shootout were not.

Last week (at Oregon State): 11 carries, 88 yards; 2 catches, 6 yards; 3 punt returns, 73 yards, TD; 3 kick returns, 84 yards in 28-20 win Season (9-0): 102 carries, 559 yards, 4 TDs; 30 catches, 317 yards, 6 TDs; 20 punt returns, 349 yards, 2 TDs; 14 kick returns, 397 yards (180.2 yards per game)

Benson didn't do anything wrong this week; in fact, he moved up to No. 10 all-time in the NCAA's rushing leaders list. It's just that his other competition for the trophy at running back is Peterson, and while the two backs' overall numbers are similar, their showings in the Red River Shootout were not.

In this order: Reggie Bush, USC; J.J. Arrington, Cal; Braylon Edwards, Michigan (late addition); Jason Campbell, Auburn; David Greene, Georgia.

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