Herschel Walker is a marvelous player with rare physical abilities -- Jim Brown's strength, O.J. Simpson's speed and Tony Dorsett's quickness. He also is doing what a great athlete is supposed to do: make a good team much better.

One of the few things he lacks is certification of those rare abilities -- that certification being college football's premier award, the Heisman Trophy.

"I'd really like to win the Heisman," said Walker, the University of Georgia junior who normally brushes off such questions. "And if I haven't shown people in the last two weeks that I might be worthy of it, I never will.

"I'm not going to beg for it. I haven't gone around saying I've done this or that. I've just played as good as I can play and if the people who vote don't recognize that, then there's nothing I can do.

"Whether I win it or not, I'll know I deserve it."

It can be argued that Walker already should have at least one Heisman in his trophy case. He's been that good for that long, and he still has a season remaining at Georgia. But this year could easily be his best. He has gained 1,590 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry, 159 yards per game. He has scored 15 touchdowns, 14 rushing.

As a freshman, he was part of a veteran team that would have been terrific without him. With him, the Bulldogs won 12 straight games and a national championship.

As a sophomore, a shocking loss to Clemson early in the season prevented Georgia from starting the Sugar Bowl game ranked No. 1. Instead, the Bulldogs were No. 2, behind Clemson, before losing in the last seconds to Pittsburgh.

This year, Georgia knew it had an adequate defense, especially its secondary. But its quarterback was inexperienced and not much of a passer and, except for the center, the offensive line was a question mark. Coach Vince Dooley thought he had a Southeastern Conference contender, but it seemed unrealistic to expect the team to challenge again for No. 1.

As the season has progressed, quarterback John Lastinger has played and passed more like a backup than a starter. The secondary has been terrific but the rest of the defense has been surprisingly porous. The line? Only center Wayne Radloff has been nominated by Georgia for all-conference honors.

Yet Georgia, 10-0 and hosting Georgia Tech today, has a chance at the national championship. Walker is the reason.

John Elway also has been impressive this season, but he has been unable to pull Stanford into the top 20 or into major bowl consideration. Walker can match Elway's statistical output and trump him with Georgia's won-loss record.

A broken thumb hindered Walker in the first two games, but he has averaged 188 yards rushing the last five games. Had Walker been healthy all season, he probably would be closing in on a 2,000-yard season despite a one-dimensional offense that allows defenses to shadow his every move.

Controlling Walker now means holding him near his seasonal game average of 159 yards. "We came in trying to do something with him," said Auburn nose tackle Dowe Aughtman two weeks ago after a loss to Georgia, in which Walker gained 177 yards. "But you don't stop him; you just slow him down. And I'm not sure we did that. He's everything they say he is and more."

Certainly, Walker has momentary letdowns, but when Georgia needs a first down or an inspirational play, Walker always seems to produce.

Even with Walker, the Bulldogs have not been overpowering. Seven times this season, they've had to rally in the fourth period to win. The quarter in which Walker has the most carries? The fourth, of course.

And like most great running backs, some of his best runs are his shortest. Against Auburn, he scored from three yards out. Routine? Hardly. At first, Walker, a great leaper, was going to high-jump into the end zone from behind the line of scrimmage. But as he began to spring -- he was on his toes, coiling -- he realized a linebacker was ready to leap with him. Somehow, Walker caught himself, pulled back, saw a hole at right guard and slipped through.

No Auburn player was successful taking him on one on one. Defenders either bounced off him or were swatted away by a well-timed straight-arm from Walker. On his 47-yard touchdown run, he stumbled for 10 yards and still was pulling away from tacklers with every step.

With Walker, Georgia is 32-2 overall and 31-1 in the regular season. The Bulldogs haven't lost an SEC game since 1979. During that span, Walker has had 27 games of 100 yards or more and nine 200-yard games. He's the first junior to rush for 5,000 yards and the second player (Dorsett being the other) to gain at least 1,500 yards in three different seasons. With 81 more yards, he will pass Archie Griffin and move into the No. 3 spot on the NCAA career rushing list. He needs fewer than 1,000 yards to pass No. 1 Dorsett.

All this adds to the Walker legend.

He is dominating a sport in which individual players, no matter how great, are supposed to have limited impact. After all, even Georgia wouldn't think of starting a game without 80 or more players in uniform.

He also is one athlete who has lived up to his press clippings. He was considered a certain superstar coming out of high school and, if anything, he has surpassed expectations. Like most elite players, he makes his efforts look effortless. His straight-up running style hides his quickness and his easygoing walk back to the huddle disguises his strength. Auburn players, however, kept using one word to describe him: "Tank."

Off the field, Walker has learned to be a media tease, the Sugar Ray Leonard of college football. The will-he-turn-pro-before-he-graduates questions have started again and Walker is playing along, staying noncommittal.

Will you be back in college next year?

"Well, right now, I don't know," he said recently.

But he does know what he wants: the Heisman.