In Heisman Race, All Eyes on Three Top Arms

From left, quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas and Tim Tebow of Florida all have made strong cases to win the Heisman Trophy.
From left, quarterbacks Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, Colt McCoy of Texas and Tim Tebow of Florida all have made strong cases to win the Heisman Trophy. (By Phelan M. Ebenhack -- Associated Press)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 2008

The incumbent, the showstopper and the wild card will make their way to New York City tonight to find out which of the three is deemed the nation's top college football player. Each performed admirably while leading their respective teams into national title contention, but for the purpose of the sport's grand spotlight, discernable differences had to be drawn.

Heisman voters were asked to select the sport's best individual players and then rank them according to subjective merit, and for the first time since 2001, their final list included only quarterbacks -- Florida's Tim Tebow, the 2007 Heisman winner; Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, the leader of the nation's top-scoring offense; and Texas's Colt McCoy, the most effective dual-threat talent.

Gathered with his two counterparts in Orlando this week for the awarding of numerous other college football honors, Bradford told reporters it was a good thing he did not have a vote in this year's Heisman race. He said he simply wouldn't be able to decide who ranked supreme among the three signal-callers who helped define this past regular season.

Eric Crouch was not so fortunate. The former Nebraska star won the Heisman in 2001 -- the year the top six vote-getters were quarterbacks -- and has been eligible to vote for the award ever since. Crouch, who rushed for more yards and more touchdowns than any quarterback in Cornhuskers history, placed Tebow third on his Heisman ballot this year.

Tebow got off to a slow start this season and threw for fewer touchdowns, fewer yards and a lower completion rate than he did last season. However, he surged down the stretch and led Florida to a BCS title game berth.

After helping the Gators knock off previously undefeated Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game, Tebow converted many of those still on the fence as to whether he deserved his sport's top individual honor for a second year in a row.

"I do now," Florida Coach Urban Meyer said when asked if he thought Tebow deserved another Heisman Trophy. "No disrespect at all because I think the Big 12 quarterbacks are tremendous players. But I have a responsibility, and that's my quarterback. I think he's the best in college football. I think he's the best football player in America."

Crouch respectfully disagreed, pointing out that sequels do not always live up to the hype.

"I think it's always hard to come back and have that type of year again," Crouch said. "The expectations are that you should at least match that year or have a better year. Florida had three [regular season] losses last year and [Tebow] still came up with the Heisman Trophy because no one at the end of the year could say that they were a better player than him during that football season. This year it's different."

The emergence of players such as McCoy, whom Crouch placed second on his Heisman ballot, is the reason for that difference. McCoy is in position to break Chris Hatcher's NCAA season completion percentage record (74.9 percent), which he set at Division II Valdosta State in 1994. But McCoy also led his team in rushing (576 yards), which is why Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis believes his guy deserves the nod.

"You're asked to separate," Davis said. "Colt is an accurate thrower, the most accurate thrower I guess ever in college football, if I'm right. I think he has a chance to be the most accurate guy that's ever played the game. And then on top of that, to rush for almost 600 yards, to lead his team in rushing, that does separate him from the other two."

Crouch agreed that separation from the field is important, but he found it to be true more of Bradford -- whom he placed first on his Heisman ballot -- than the other two contenders. Bradford led an Oklahoma offense that tallied a national-best 702 points this season, better than the next highest-scoring attack by 86 points.

Tebow is "always an exciting player to watch, but that being said, if you watched Sam Bradford this year, you would see the same things and the numbers that he put up and the consistency," Crouch said. The Sooners "have been scoring and they've been unstoppable and they've been beating ranked teams. They had a great finish to the year."

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