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Photo Finish Expected in Heisman Race

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 8, 2007

When this season's Heisman Trophy winner is announced tonight, it will mark the end of a race that was almost as unpredictable as the chase for the national title, which has been one of the most maddening in history.

Many of the players who received significant preseason Heisman hype failed to recover from unexpected stumbles during the season. That left an eclectic mix of four finalists who were invited to tonight's ceremony in New York. As was the case with the national championship picture, there is no clear front-runner and a compelling case can be made for and against each contender.

"I think anybody can win it," Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan said at a news conference this week. "It is up to the voters."

Brennan and fellow finalist Darren McFadden of Arkansas have been near the forefront of the Heisman discussion throughout the season. The two other finalists, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, received little preseason attention but have emerged because of impressive team or statistical accomplishments.

In a season that has defied convention, perhaps it would be fitting if Tebow wins. No sophomore has won the award, which has been given out annually since 1935. Tebow would also become only the second Heisman winner of the past 20 years [Texas's Ricky Williams the other] to win the award after his team lost more than two games during the regular season. Florida finished 9-3.

Tebow's statistical achievements demand attention. In his first season as a starter, Tebow accounted for 51 touchdowns (29 passing, 22 rushing). He tied the NCAA rushing touchdown season record by a quarterback and became the first quarterback in history to pass for 20 touchdowns and rush for 20.

"I find it hard to believe that Tim's performance week-in and week-out would not put him in a position to win the Heisman Trophy," Florida Coach Urban Meyer said. "He has done things that no one else in college football has been able to do, and I hope people realize the magnitude of his accomplishments."

McFadden, meantime, is widely considered the most talented player in the country, but his accolades have been overshadowed because he starred on a four-loss Razorbacks team. The running back amassed better statistics than he did last season, when he was the runner-up to Ohio State's Troy Smith in the Heisman race.

McFadden has shown an ability to run, catch and pass. He also authored a definitive Heisman performance by rushing for 206 yards and three touchdowns in the 50-48 triple-overtime victory over then-No. 1 LSU on Nov. 23.

"When Darren McFadden is at his highest level, there is not a defense in this country that can stop him," Arkansas interim coach Reggie Herring told reporters. "What he has done over the past two years is more than enough to secure a Heisman Trophy."

If winning the trophy if based on career accomplishment, Brennan's case is strong. The quarterback owns or shares 29 NCAA records, including the career touchdown mark of 131. He led Hawaii to a 12-0 season and a berth in the Sugar Bowl by throwing for 4,174 yards and 38 touchdowns. But Hawaii's schedule was considered among the weakest in the country, and Brennan's statistics were significantly better last season, when he set an NCAA record with 58 touchdown passes and led the nation in passing yards (5,549) and completion percentage (72.6).

Hawaii Coach June Jones has been campaigning for his quarterback since the summer, comparing his accuracy to former NFL quarterback Jeff George. Jones takes exception to the notion that Brennan has benefited from playing in Jones's pass-happy system.

"My quarterback has been labeled a 'system quarterback' for three years," Jones said at a news conference this week. "He is the best passer in history. He is. There is no question about it. Tim Tebow is in a system."

Missouri's Daniel entered the season under the Heisman radar, but a strong season (33 touchdown passes, 10 interceptions), coupled with the Tigers' rise to national prominence, vaulted Daniel into the discussion. Missouri earned a No. 1 ranking after beating Kansas on Nov. 24 in a game in which Daniel completed 40 of 49 passes and threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns.

His stock took a hit the following week, however, when Daniel failed to throw a touchdown pass in a disappointing loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship.

"I call him my battlefield commander," Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said. "There are a lot of great quarterbacks out there, but if there is a better one than Chase Daniel, you've got to show me."

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