Thursday January 20th, 2005

The race for the Heisman -- an award handed only to quarterbacks in the George W. era -- began like this: Oklahoma's Jason White was back as a rare incumbent candidate, with USC's Matt Leinart looking like the most formidable challenger.

Two games into the season, a third party has emerged, with numbers strong enough to overtake the establishment.

Purdue senior Kyle Orton, the college QB whom NFL scouts covet most, has torched Syracuse and Ball State to the tune of nine touchdowns and 616 yards in a pair of convincing routs. Orton's stats, even against two porous opposing defenses, are stellar: He completed his first 15 passes Saturday against the Cardinals, leading the Boilermakers to scores on each of their first eight drives, including five passing TDs and one rushing. Orton racked up 329 passing yards in less than three quarters of work.

To strike a pose in September -- as Miami's Kellen Winslow did en route to an average season in '03 -- is nothing short of presumptuous. So when Orton was asked about his Heisman worthiness after toying with Ball State, his answer was politically correct:

"We've had a good start. We're 2-0," he told the Lafayette (Ind.) Journal and Courier. "That's the most important thing right now."

This column, which must delve into the Heisman debate at an inappropriately early hour, will do the talking for him.

Last Week (vs. Ball State): 23-of-26 passing, 329 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, rushing TD in 59-7 win Season (2-0): 39-of-56 passing (69.6 percent), 616 yards, 9 TDs, 0 INTs

Ball State had delusions that it could stop Orton Airlines with man-to-man coverage. Excellent idea. So not only was the Boilers' QB comfortable in the pocket on Saturday -- he has yet to be sacked this season -- but he also was picking apart a severely overmatched secondary.

Last Week (at Arkansas): 29 carries, 188 yards, TD in 22-20 win Season (2-0): 44 carries, 369 yards (184.5 yards per game), 3 TDs

The formula if the Longhorns are to make a run in the depleted Big 12: hand to Benson. Repeat. While QB Vince Young is averaging slightly more than seven yards per pass attempt and slightly fewer than five yards per rush, the workhorse Benson is grinding out 8.39 yards per carry thus far.

Last Week (vs. Colorado State): 20-of-31 passing, 231 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs in 49-0 win Season (2-0): 39-of-60 passing (65 percent), 503 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs

Leinart continues to do a satisfactory, but not eye-opening, job of piloting one of the nation's most talented offenses. The issue (for his Heisman hopes, not his team's success) is that the Trojans may be inclined to rely more on their running game in '04. They racked up 323 yards on the ground against the Rams, versus 231 in the air.

Last Week (vs. Houston): 14-of-18 passing, 257 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs in 63-13 win Season (2-0): 35-of-49 passing (71.4 percent), 495 yards, 5 TDs, INT

Knee injuries in '01 and '02 forced the once-agile White into a pocket-passing role upon his return in '03 ... when he went on to win the Heisman. But the Sooner QB showed flashes of his old, scrambling self Saturday, running for several first downs that fueled the 50-point blowout of the Cougars. "Jason has a whole new set of legs," wideout Mark Bradley told The Oklahoman.

Arrington last week (vs. New Mexico State): 16 carries, 177 yards, 3 TDs in 41-14 win Season (2-0): 32 carries, 358 yards (179 yards per game), 6 TDs

Rodgers last week: 20-of-26 passing, 266 yards, 2 TDs Season: 31-of-42 passing (73.8 percent), 474 yards, 3 TDs

Arrington has been a very pleasant surprise for a Bears attack that was expected to be pass-happy; while Rodgers, Jeff Tedford's latest quarterbacking talent, is putting up solid numbers of his own. Is it a cop-out to have a 5a and a 5b? Not in mid-September.

Kay-Jay Harris, RB, West Virginia: He's listed as questionable for the Maryland game after pulling his hamstring early against Central Florida. Harris' talent is unquestionable, however, after he ran for 337 yards in the Mountaineers' opener vs. East Carolina.

Ryan Moats, RB, Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs' big surprise has rushed for 257 yards in each of his first two games ... against Nevada and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Carnell Williams, RB, Auburn: Cadillac will have to dance around LSU's D on Saturday.

Darren Sproles, RB, Kansas State: He can't afford to have another 11-carry, 37-yard day, as he did in a loss to Fresno State on Saturday.

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