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Final Heisman Top-10

   by Larry Ness - 12/07/2004

Wednesday, December 8

In the weeks leading up to the annual Academy Awards, critics make their choices of who WILL win and who SHOULD win that year's Oscars! Before listing my final Heisman top-10 of the season, I'll do the same regarding the awarding of the 2004 Heisman Trophy....

Saturday, the 70th annual Heisman Trophy will be presented to "the outstanding College Football player in the United States"! How does one determine that? There is much debate over who should win the award but despite all the shameless promotions by many sports information offices and athletic departments, not to mention some questionable voting practices by the Heisman selectors themselves (three years ago LESS than 65 percent of the ballots sent out were returned!), there can be little debate that the Heisman is the most cherished and recognizable individual award in all of sports!...

According to Chris Fowler of ESPN, some 85 percent of the ballots had not yet been returned as of last Saturday. That's a good precedent, as maybe the voters are taking things more seriously these days. This year's field is extremely crowded with not only a half-dozen legitimate candidates but the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 teams both have TWO serious challengers for the award, not to mention's Cal's duo of Arrington and Rodgers....

That presents a unique situation, as only three times since 1950 has a Heisman winner had a teammate who finished in the top five in the voting. Conventional wisdom has always said that teammates siphon votes from each other and that will definitely be the case this year. So who wins?...

In what should come as no surprise to my regular readers, I'm saying the name called in Saturday's night's ceremony will be USC's Matt Leinart. I've had Leinart at the top of my Heisman report all season and the key to him winning is this. He won't lose as many votes to teammate Reggie Bush while Oklahoma teammates Jason White and Adrian Peterson will likely lose votes to each other....

However, the surprise is that I'm NOT taking Leinart as my Heisman winner. In a last minute change of heart, I'm calling for Jason White and Adrian Peterson as co-winners. Of course that won't happen but this is not the real world, it's MY POLL! Watching Leinart play his worst game of the year (most disappointing was USC's 1-of-13 on third downs vs a pathetic UCLA defense) coupled with the one-two power of White and Peterson (I know it was only Colorado), I decided to make a late change....

If Peyton Manning and Steve McNair can be co-MVP's in the NFL last year, Brett Favre and Barry Sanders can tie for that same award in 1997 and Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez can be co-MVP's of the National League in 1979, then I can at least be allowed to make White and Peterson my co-Heisman winners for 2004 in my own poll!...

My final Heisman top-10 follows. Thanks for joining me all year....

1) JASON WHITE (Oklahoma) Last Week: 2. White had three TD passes in the first 15:04 of Oklahoma's 42-3 blowout win of Colorado in the Big-12 Championship Game. His interception late in the first half when his receiver slipped in the end zone, ended a streak of 199 passes without an interception. White was fairly quiet in the second half and finished the game 22-of-29 for 254 yards with three TDs and two interceptions. Over the final seven games of the season (since the Texas game), White has 24 TD passes and just three interceptions while averaging 284.1 YPG. Compared to his Heisman-winning season of 2003, White has seven less TD passes but has thrown four fewer interceptions. His completion percentage is up from 61.6 to 65.3 and he averages about 30 YPG game less in passing yards. A little talked about stat is he was sacked just SEVEN times this year after getting sacked 27 times in 2003! White and his spectacular freshman teammate have traded giving defenses fits all year and make this year's Oklahoma team a much bigger threat to win the title game than last year's team was. If he wins the Heisman on Saturday, this six-year senior will join Ohio State's Archie Griffin as the only two-time winners of the award! His season stats are: 231-of-354 65.3 percent 2961 yards 33 TDs 6 INTs.

1) ADRIAN PETERSON (Oklahoma) Last Week: 4. Peterson scored three TDs for the second consecutive game in the Big-12 title game and proved his dominance of the Colorado defense by gaining 52 yards in five carries on Oklahoma's opening 80-yard scoring drive! He finished the game with 172 yards on 28 carries, giving him 11 100-yard games. That sets a new freshman record and puts him in position to be the first freshman to ever wins college football's most cherished prize! Over the second half of the season, defenses have stacked the line in order to stop him and that's allowed White the freedom to exploit opposing teams with his passing. For that reason, I'm making these guys my co-winners! Peterson topped the 200-yard mark three times this year, including Oklahoma's 12-0 win vs Texas and the team's 38-35 win at Oklahoma State. His average of 153.6 YPG ranks him sixth in the nation in rushing. Peterson's season stats are: 314 carries 1843 yards 5.9 YPC 15 TDs.

3) MATT LEINART (USC) Last Week 1: Leinart followed a career-high 400-yard game against Notre Dame two weeks ago with a very poor performance in USC's 29-24 win at UCLA on Saturday. He completed his first 10 passes but they were mostly just underneath throws and he struggled all game as USC converted just 1-of-13 third down opportunities against a defense that finished the year ranked 106th out of 117 teams! If not for Reggie Bush's two INCREDIBLE runs, Killeen's career-best 5-of-5 FG effort and a HIGHLY QUESTIONABLE 'fast-whistle' by an official on a Bush fumble, the Trojans could have easily solved the BCS' nightmare by losing to UCLA! I wonder what Kansas head coach Mark Mangino would say about that call? Leinart finished 24-of-34 for 242 yards but without a TD pass for the first time in his 25-game career as a starter (he had one interception)! USC has now won 21 straight games and 15 straight in the Pac-10 and becomes that conference's first school to participate in a BCS title game. Leinart has thrown for 58 TDs and just nine interceptions in the Trojans' winning streak and has 66 TDs and just 15 interceptions while going 24-1 in his 25 starts as USC's QB! Leinart's been my choice all season to become USC's SIXTH Heisman winner but "upon further review", I'm voting for the White-Peterson ticket! Leinart's season stats are: 251-of-377 66.6 percent 2990 yards 28 TDs 6 INTs / 3 Rush TDs.

4) CEDRIC BENSON (Texas) Last Week: 3. Benson surely gets the career achievement votes as in 2004 he became one of just FIVE players to have topped 1000 yards in all four of his seasons. He set a new NCAA record by scoring a TD in 37 games and is tied for 4th all-time with 63 career rushing TDs. He is currently 6th on the NCAA's all-time rushing list and will need 'only' 129 yards in Texas' Rose Bowl game vs Michigan to move into 4th-place all-time! He topped 100 yards in 10 of Texas' 11 games this year, giving him 25 career 100-yard games (Texas went 25-0 in those games!). Unfortunately for Benson, it's that ONE game he didn't top 100 yards that will hurt him. Oklahoma held Benson under 100 yards and beat the Longhorns 12-0 and with so many viable candidates this year, Benson may not even make it to New York. His head coach Mack Brown pleaded for votes from his fellow coaches and the writers in the AP poll and that may have worked, so maybe Benson ought to try the same thing? Benson's average of 160.4 YPG ranks 4th in the nation and his total of 20 TDs was topped by only DeAngelo Williams of Memphis. His season stats are: 303 carries 1764 yards 5.8 YPC 19 TDs / 22 catches 1 TD.

5) ALEX SMITH (Utah) Last Week: 4. Utah became the first non-BCS school to ever claim a BCS Bowl bid last Sunday (but will lose its coach to Florida) when the Utes finished 6th in the final BCS standings. The Utes had completed their best-ever season by taking care of BYU 52-21 back on December 20. Interestingly enough, the team's best player and its MVP Alex Smith had his worst game of the year in that final contest. For the first time in quite a while Utah was still in a tight game (14-14) nearing half time. However, Smith led the Utes on a 12-play 80-yard scoring drive, capping it with a two-yard TD run. Utah steadily pulled away from there to win its 15th consecutive game and cap its first undefeated season since 1930! Smith finished 16-of-24 for 184 yards with one TD and two interceptions (matching his total from the previous 10 games!). He also ran for 34 yards and one TD in 14 attempts. Smith is now 20-1 as Utah's starting QB, throwing for 41 TDs with just seven interceptions during the streak, as well as rushing for 15 TDs. He won't win this year's Heisman but like his team, he could get invited to the 'party'! His season stats are: 185-of-280 66.1 percent 2624 yards 28 TDs 4 INTs / 120 carries 563 yards 4.7 YPC 10 TDs.

6) JJ ARRINGTON (California) Last Week: 6. Cal knew it was going to be in for a tough game last Saturday night in Hattiesburg vs Southern Miss. Despite gaining 546 total yards, the Bears found themselves about to be tied at 17-all with just under six minutes left in the game. However, Cal blocked the extra-point attempt and returned it 85 yards for a 19-16 lead. JJ Arrington then busted up the middle for a 56-yard gain and shortly thereafter, Cal led 26-16. As he has been all year, Arrington was OUTSTANDING. He finished the game with 261 yards on 31 carries, his second 200-yard game of the year. He set a new single-season school record by topping 100 yards for the 11th time this year and was the ONLY player in the nation that topped 100 yards in EVERY one of his team's games this year. He had already broken Chuck Muncie's school single-season rushing mark earlier this year and finished as the Pac-10's leading rusher, becoming Cal's first conference rushing leader since 1958! If he tops 100 yards in Cal's Holiday Bowl game vs Texas Tech, he'll also break Marcus Allen's Pac-10 record of 100 yard games in a season with 12. He finished second in the nation averaging 167.7 YPG game and his average of 7.0 YPC was the best mark of any of the nation's top-50 rushers. Cal's win on Saturday night wasn't enough though, as Texas not Cal, will be playing in this year's Rose Bowl. Arrington's season stats are: 264 carries 1845 yards 7.0 YPC 14 TDs.

7) JASON CAMPBELL (Auburn) Last Week: 8. Auburn's defense did not dominate the second half of its SEC title game with Tennessee like the Auburn offense (especially Campbell) dominated the first half. Auburn had 17 FDs to just two for Tennessee plus out-gained them 303 yards to 39 in that first half, yet led just 21-7! A mishandled punt by Auburn handed the Vols their only first-half score and Campbell's third quarter fumble set up another short TD drive, as Tennessee closed to 21-14. After an 80-yard TD run by Riggs tied the game at 21-all, Campbell took over driving Auburn 85 yards for a score. His 53-yard TD pass capped that scoring drive and after Tennessee once again closed to 31-28, Campbell finished off the Vols with a 43-yard TD pass. He wound up completing 27-of-35 passes for a career-high 374 yards with three TDs and one interception. Campbell added 57 yards rushing on 13 carries, in setting an SEC title game record with 431 total yards. The 38-28 win was his 30th as Auburn's starting QB, a new school record! However, when the final BCS standings came out on Sunday, Auburn was the 12-0 team that got LEFT OUT! Instead, the Tigers will host Va Tech in the Sugar Bowl. After throwing for just 25 TDs and 17 interceptions in his first three years at Auburn, the much-maligned Campbell has had a TERRIFIC season! His season stats this year are: 177-of-254 69.7 percent 2511 yards 19 TDs 6 INTs / 3 Rush TDs.

8) REGGIE BUSH (USC) Last Week: NR. Bush was the most exciting player on the field in the USC-UCLA game and there is little doubt that "the President" saved USC's season with a pair of breathtaking 65 and 81-yard TD runs. However, Bush was very fortunate a 'fast-whistle' or "BCS-call" as Mark Mangino would phrase it, didn't allow UCLA to tie the score right before the half. Bush OBVIOUSLY fumbled that ball after the catch!. Bush also fumbled with USC trying to run out the clock late in the game, giving the Bruins one last chance. This time however, USC needed no help from the officials as the Trojan defense came up with an interception. I'm just picking on Bush though, as he was WONDERFUL gaining 204 yards rushing in 15 carries with those two TD runs vs the Bruins. He added 73 yards on six catches and finished with 334 all-purpose yards. Bush is one of those hold-your-breath players when he touches the ball but I do not believe he should be one of the five honored in New York (I'm writing this on the eve of that announcement). His season stats are: 137 carries 833 yards 6.1 YPC 6 TDs / 41 catches 478 yards 11.7 YPC 7 TDs / He also has two kick returns for TDs.

9) AARON RODGERS (California) Last Week: 7. Rodgers had averaged only 140.5 YPG passing with a combined three TDs and two interceptions in his two previous games as Cal visited Southern Miss last Saturday night. I documented Cal's struggles in that game in the Arrington write-up and while Rodgers played better than he had in the previous two weeks, he didn't finish the season strong. His final numbers in Cal's 26-16 win were 15-of-28 for 223 yards with two TDs and one interception. I've felt all along that Arrington not Rodgers, is Cal's MVP! Let's also not forget, Rodgers' "signature" game this season came against USC in a contest the Bears LOST! Cal has to be really disappointed it lost out on the school's first Rose Bowl trip since 1959 and it will be interesting to see how the Bears play in the Holiday Bowl? Rodgers' season stats are: 185-of-274 67.5 percent 2320 yards 23 TDs 7 INTs / 2 Rush TDs

10) KYLE ORTON (Purdue) Last Week: NR. No one started the 2004 season any hotter than Purdue QB Kyle Orton. Orton had 17 TD passes and no interceptions through the team's first four games. He ran into trouble at Penn State in Game 5 with two interceptions but Purdue won 20-13 and at 5-0 were ranked as high as 5th in the AP. The season all unraveled for both Orton and Purdue over the next three weeks as the team suffered back-to-back home losses to Wisconsin and Michigan plus a road loss at Northwestern. Orton completed just 50 percent of his passes for an average of 197 YPG game with three TDs and three interceptions in those games and his fourth quarter fumble against Wisconsin (while diving for a first down) would unfortunately become his "signature" play of the year. Orton found himself on the sidelines against Iowa and Ohio State, leaving everyone to wonder if he was really hurt or maybe 'benched'? He returned late vs Ohio State and led Purdue to the game-winning score. In his final game of the year against Indiana on 11/20, he had 401 yards passing and five TD passes by the half. He finished 33-of-54 for 522 yards with six TDs and no interceptions in the Boilermakers' 63-24 win while setting a school record for total offense with 530 yards. His season stats are: 213-of-342 62.3 percent 2809 yards 28 TDs 5 INTs / 3 Rush TDs.

DROPPED OUT:

No. 10 Brock Berlin (Miami-Florida) After a super 2004, Berlin returned to his 2003 form vs Va Tech!

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