Why doesn't the Heisman Trophy ballot come with more thorough
instructions? Why isn't there a manual, with diagrams and a
1-800 number to call when you're stuck, like with a gas
barbecue? Or with software to install and peruse? Something.
Anything. Instead, there is only the slender ballot, mocking
voters with its sparseness: three blank lines to write in three
names, with the briefest of guidelines.
Outstanding College Football Player of the United States.Now
what in the name of Nile Kinnick does that mean? Is it a player
whose statistics put the burn to a Pentium processor, like Andre
Ware of Houston, who won the award in 1989 (sidebar, page 60)?
Is it the most spectacular performer, a player who makes plays
you might never see again, like Desmond Howard of Michigan in
'91? Is it the most essential member of a No. 1-ranked team,
like Gino Torretta of Miami in '92? Can it be standout Michigan
tailback Tshimanga Biakabutuka of Michigan, who is not a native
of the United States?
"It should go to the best player in the country, and it should
not have anything to do with being on a winning team, a losing
team, an unbeaten team," says Oregon State coach Jerry Pettibone.
"Won-loss record is important, so is schedule," says Brigham
Young coach LaVell Edwards.
"Don't give it to a renegade or a hoodlum," says Texas A&M coach
Thanks, guys. That's all very helpful.
Picking the Heisman winner is a process of comparing oranges to
apples to grapes to bananas. Consider the contrasts this fall:
Troy Davis's all-purpose brilliance on a poor Iowa State team to
Darnell Autry's essential rushing for surprising Northwestern to
the killer-efficient passing of Tennessee's Peyton Manning,
Florida's Danny Wuerffel and Florida State's Danny Kanell to the
three-man offensive machine of Eddie George, Bobby Hoying and
Terry Glenn for unbeaten Ohio State to the vital leadership of
quarterback Tommie Frazier for top-ranked Nebraska to the
electrifying quickness of Florida State running back Warrick
Dunn to acrobatic wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson of Southern Cal
to UCLA's massive Jonathan Ogden, the most imposing offensive
tackle in the nation. Each player offers varying but valid
credentials for winning the Heisman.
Last Saturday afternoon's games brought some blessed clarity to
the race. George trampled a good Illinois defense for 314 yards,
Frazier led the Cornhuskers to their 10th victory, and Autry and
Northwestern remained unbeaten in the Big Ten. So three
candidates seem to have moved ahead of the pack, with Wuerffel
(a routine five TD passes against South Carolina) and Manning
alive on the fringe.
Our ballot looks like this (we've used a pencil because three
weekends remain until the Dec. 7 deadline): 1. Frazier, 2. Autry
and 3. George. To understand why these names are on our ballot
it might be useful to look back on what has been a most unusual
The Preseason Candidates. In the middle of August the following
players were at or near the top of most Heisman watches: running
backs Lawrence Phillips of Nebraska, Leeland McElroy of Texas
A&M, Stephen Davis of Auburn and Chris Darkins of Minnesota,
plus quarterback Ron Powlus of Notre Dame. In mid-November none
of them are in anyone's Top 10.
Phillips was the front-runner two weeks into the season, but he
was suspended for six games for having assaulted a former
girlfriend. Then McElroy assumed the mythical mantle, but he
fell out of favor with voters after Colorado held him to 52
yards in the Aggies' third game. Stephen Davis has been
underused (988 yards on 158 carries) by a disappointing team.
Minnesota is 3-6, and Darkins missed a couple of games with an
ankle injury. Notre Dame opened with a home loss to
Northwestern--end of story for Powlus.
It's just as ridiculous to consider players Heisman candidates
in August as it is to rank the Top 25 teams before any of them
has played a game. Thankfully, however, Heisman promotion isn't
what it used to be. No longer do sports information directors at
major schools go to the lengths that Notre Dame's Roger
Valdiserri did in 1970, when he changed the pronunciation of
Joe Theisman's name (it had been pronounced Thees-man). Ohio
State hasn't done much to push George other than to send out
weekly postcards detailing his accomplishments--information that
was readily available in the Sunday paper. Nebraska's campaign
for Frazier has consisted of an expanded section in the team's
weekly press release. "That's fine if you're Nebraska and you're
on national television every week," says Minnesota sports
information director Marc Ryan.
The Gophers weren't on national TV at all last year when
Darkins, now a senior, ran for 1,443 yards. So Ryan has spent
$10,000 since late August to publicize him. A video highlighting
Darkins's junior year was mailed to 75 Heisman voters, and POGs
were sent to 1,700 coaches and media members claiming, No matter
how hard you slam Chris Darkins, he always lands right side up.
Texas A&M printed 20,000 McElroy postcards and 250 McElroy
videotapes and set up a McElroy home page on the Internet.
For the most part, though, contrived publicity has been minimal
for the serious Heisman contenders. The increased number of
televised games and ESPN's saturation coverage are more
effective than mass mailings or videotapes (especially when
there are 921 voters, far too many), although Lee Corso's shrill
support of Frazier on ESPN is almost enough to make an objective
voter look elsewhere. Old methods still work best. In the fall
of 1973 Penn State offensive lineman Mark Markovich asked SID
John Morris what he was doing to help John Cappelletti's Heisman
campaign. "It's up to you guys to help him win it on the field,"
The Troy Davis issue. Davis is the Heisman candidate who, like
Ware in '89, demands attention simply by the weight of his
statistics. He needs 170 yards in Iowa State's final game this
Saturday to reach 2,000 for the season. Only four other backs
have crashed that barrier: Marcus Allen of Southern Cal in 1981,
Mike Rozier of Nebraska in '83, Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State
in '88 and Rashaan Salaam of Colorado in '94, and all of them
won the Heisman. What's more, they all played on teams that were
far superior to Davis's, which is 3-7 and lost 73-14 to Nebraska
two weeks ago. Iowa State has even distributed a flier detailing
the weakness of Davis's supporting cast. No player from a losing
team has won the Heisman since Paul Hornung of Notre Dame in
Here is another problem for Davis: He is a terrific player, but
he gained 795 of his yards against UNLV, Ohio University and
Oklahoma State--three bad teams with a combined record of 7-22-1.
Yards gained against the highest level of competition are the
toughest yards of all.
Two SEC quarterbacks. Wuerffel and Manning have nearly
identical statistics for teams ranked No. 3 and No. 4,
respectively, in the country. Their skills are
disparate--"Manning looks the part a little more, and he's got a
cannon for an arm," says Georgia defensive coordinator Joe
Kines. "Wuerffel is a touch guy." But both are effective. "Each
guy is perfect for his system," says Kines. Head-to-head,
Florida scorched Tennessee 62-37, with Wuerffel throwing six
touchdown passes to Manning's two.
So why do we rank Manning higher? It is axiomatic that any
Florida quarterback can pile up impressive numbers in coach
Steve Spurrier's system. Two weeks ago against weakling Northern
Illinois, Spurrier gave junior Eric Kresser his first career
start. Kresser threw for 458 yards and six TDs. Axioms can also
Two Big Ten running backs. Lots of observers are hot on giving
the Heisman to George, not the least among them Ohio State coach
John Cooper: "If Eddie George is not the finest football player
in the nation or not deserving of the Heisman, who is?" Against
the Buckeyes' four toughest opponents to date--Washington, Notre
Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin--George averaged 29 carries and
170.2 yards. He probably will win the statue.
However, does George, a senior, deserve the Heisman more than
Autry? Their statistics, like Manning's and Wuerffel's, are
similar (George has 1,592 yards, Autry 1,449), but Autry, a
sophomore, has 67 more carries and has played one more game. On
the other hand Autry is more critical to Northwestern's success
than George is to the Buckeyes'.
"With Ohio State, you can't concentrate on Eddie George, or
they'll kill you with the pass," says Minnesota senior
linebacker Justin Conzemius, who played against both George and
Autry this year. "When we played Northwestern, we keyed on Autry
because we knew he was far and away the Number 1 cog in their
offense." Autry still broke a 73-yard touchdown run in the
fourth quarter of a 27-17 win. Moreover, the Buckeyes' offensive
line is full of future NFL players.
Ohio State and Northwestern have spent the fall tied for first
place in the Big Ten. Take Autry from Northwestern and the
Wildcats might not have beaten Notre Dame, Michigan or Penn
State, much less all three, and nobody in Evanston would be
celebrating the Wildcats' startling success. This is a difficult
pick that goes to Autry by the slimmest of margins. George still
has to play at Michigan on Nov. 25; that's why we've used a
pencil. If he gets 314 yards in Ann Arbor, we'll need the eraser.
Three's a crowd. Like Penn State a year ago, when it featured
Ki-jana Carter and Kerry Collins, the Buckeyes have too many
worthy Heisman candidates. In many ways George is the soul of
the team. But Hoying's sudden maturity as a quarterback has made
a wide-open passing game viable, and Glenn's explosiveness has
infused the Buckeyes' customary Midwestern grit with West Coast
glitz. He was dazzling in both the Notre Dame and Penn State
games with his arresting speed and pass-catching artistry. Ohio
State's opponents prepare for George and Hoying, but they fear
"Glenn is as talented as Anthony Carter was in this league,"
says Minnesota defensive coordinator Mark Dove. "He can catch
the ball and just run off on guys."
If you watch the Buckeyes play, you cannot take your eyes off
Glenn. Ohio State has pointedly endorsed George as its Heisman
candidate. That doesn't mean some voters won't cast their ballot
for Glenn. Last year Carter finished second in the voting, and
Collins was fourth. Votes were split and canceled each other
out. Likewise this year, a vote for Glenn is a vote against
So why should Frazier win the Heisman? Because he's not just
the best individual player, he's the emotional center of the No.
1 team in the country. Frazier is a superb athlete who has
accounted for 30 of Nebraska's 68 offensive touchdowns. "He
throws the ball like a quarterback and runs it like a tailback,"
says Oregon coach Mike Bellotti. Moreover, he has a lot of
control over the offense, guiding the Cornhuskers through a maze
of sets and attacks, from I formation to option to sprint-out to
Nebraska is 31-3 in games that Frazier has started, and it could
be on its way to winning its second consecutive national
championship. Also, Frazier has held together a team shadowed by
controversy this season, and he wouldn't spit on the
sidewalk--which should satisfy Slocum's requirement banning
Don't listen to us, though. Listen to one of Frazier's
opponents--Colorado middle linebacker Matt Russell, who played
against Frazier on Oct. 28, when Frazier threw for 241 yards and
ran for 40 more in a 44-21 Nebraska victory in Boulder. "I know
last year Frazier got hurt and Brook Berringer stepped in, but
this year is different," says Russell. "They've got a lot of
young guys on the offensive line and in the backfield. I see
Frazier's leadership. You can't see it in the press box, maybe,
but he's in charge out there. I've got a lot of respect for him.
And he's like a tailback who can pass and beat you about six
No, the Heisman ballot doesn't come with instructions. It's
vague and elusive and inscrutable. This fall our pick is