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Heisman Top-10 (Monday, September 4)

   by Larry Ness - 09/04/2006

College football's opening weekend featured the clear-cut Heisman favorite (Notre Dame's Brady Quinn) hardly looking the part and a season-ending injury to a RB that many felt had a legitimate Heisman chance, Louisville's Michael Bush. My in-depth coverage of the 2006 Heisman Trophy race begins on Labor Day with the first of my weekly Heisman top-10 polls. Every Monday, I'll rank the latest contenders, complete with stats and commentary. Let the race begin.

HEISMAN Trophy Top-10
(Monday, September 4)

1)TROY SMITH (Ohio State): After losing 17-10 at Penn State last year, Smith led the Buckeyes on a season-ending seven-game winning streak (also 7-0 ATS), as Ohio State averaged 38.3 PPG. The final win of the streak came 34-20 over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, as Smith totally outshone Notre Dame's Brady Quinn. Smith was the game's MVP, going 19-of-28 for 342 yards with two TDPs and no INTs. He also ran for 66 yards, as OSU totaled 617 yards. The last two years in the school's regular season-ender against Michigan, Smith has completed 40-of-60 for 541 yards (three TDPs and no INTs), while rushing 29 times for 182 yards (6.3 YPC) and two TDs. Ohio State opened the 2006 season as the nation's No. 1 team in both polls and Saturday took care of Northern Illinois, 35-12.Smith went 18-of-25 for 298 yards with three TDPs and no INTs (threw TDPs to Ginn on the team's first two possessions) but had negative yards rushing (minus-three on one carry). The OSU offense had two fumbles inside the Northern Illinois 10-yard line plus two missed FGs, or the spread would have been bigger. However, Quinn's mediocre performance makes me put Smith at the top of the poll after the first week. With this Saturday's visit to Austin (OSU might have won last year's game with Texas if Tressel hadn't been alternating QBs), Smith has a chance to take a surprising early lead over Quinn as this year's front-runner.

2)TED GINN JR (Ohio State): I'm really shaking things up here. However, Ginn had the kind of game on Saturday that gives a WR a chance at the Heisman. He caught two TD passes (5 and 58 yards) among his four catches for 123 yards. Also, he returned two punts for 44 yards and two KOs for 25 yards. WRs win the Heisman (see Johnny Rodgers, Tim Brown and Desmond Howard) when they are also able to make big plays as kick-returners. Like Smith, Ginn will have a chance this Saturday night at Texas to "state his case!"

3)BRADY QUINN (Notre Dame): I'm sure most will still have Quinn at the top of their lists but not me. He was clearly the front-runner entering the season but look what happened Saturday night in Atlanta. The Irish fell behind Ga Tech 10-0 and went absolutely nowhere on their first five possessions. In order, ND had drives of seven plays and zero yards, five plays and 15 yards, three plays for minus-three yards, nine plays for 28 yards (missed FG) and three plays for minus-five yards. Quinn did direct a 14-play 80-yard drive right before the half, scoring on a five-yard run with 11 seconds remaining in the half. Then after stopping Ga Tech on its opening drive of the second half, Quinn directed the Irish on another 80-yard scoring drive (Walker scored on a 13-yard run) that was fortunately kept alive by a helmet-to-helmet hit. Notre Dame NEVER scored again. Quinn finished 23-of-38 for 246 yards with no TDPs or INTs. He ran for nine yards (seven attempts), including that five-yard TD. ND hasn't had a Heisman winner since Tim Brown in 1987 nor a Heisman-winning QB since John Hurate in 1965. Quinn will need to be much better Saturday at home vs Penn State.

4)STEVE SLATON (West Virginia): The last time we saw Steve Slaton, he went for a Sugar Bowl record 204 rushing yards in West Va's 38-35 win over Georgia. Slaton just missed topping that career-high effort (he's just a sophomore) Saturday, gaining 203 yards in 33 attempts in the Mountaineers' 42-10 win over Marshall. Slaton did it the hard way, with his longest run being just 16 yards. He had 140 yards at the half (21 carries), including both of his TDs. The 203-yard effort is his seventh career 100-yard game and his second 200-yard contest. Last year he ran for 1,128 yards (5.5 YPC), while scoring 19 TDs (17 rushing), despite playing in just one of West Va's first four games. West Va hosts Eastern Washington this Saturday and Slaton should be in for a second straight huge game.

5)ADRIAN PETERSON (Oklahoma): Peterson ran for 1,925 yards (5.7 YPC) as a freshman and finished second in the Heisman voting that year to Matt Leinart. He struggled through injuries last year and inconsistent QB play to gain 1,108 yards (5.0). Oklahoma was upset last year in its season-opener by TCU and almost suffered a similar fate Saturday, edging UAB just 24-17. Peterson ran for 139 yards on 24 carries with one rushing TD but it was his 69-yard TD reception (on a screen pass) in the late third quarter that put Oklahoma in front to stay, 21-17. A point of interest is that in his first two years at Oklahoma, Peterson had caught just 14 passes for a grand total of only 62 yards! Oklahoma's problems at QB (Paul Thompson takes over for the departed Bomar) could mean Peterson will once again be seeing eight and nine-man fronts this year. Saturday's effort gives him 17 career 100-yards games, five of which are 200-yard efforts. Oklahoma hosts Washington next Saturday.

6)MIKE HART (Michigan): While Hart's teammate QB Chad Henne had a rather mediocre game in Michigan's less-than-impressive 27-7 win over Vandy (10-22 for 135 yards 2/0), Hart looked healthy and sharp, running 31 times for 146 yards. As a freshman, Hart ran for 1,455 yards (5.2 YPC) and scored 10 TDs (nine on the ground). He posted six 100-yard games in 2004, including three consecutive 200-yard efforts. However, he was bothered all last year with injuries, gaining just 662 yards (4.4) in eight games, with four 100-yard games (including a fourth career 200-yard effort). Michigan is coming off a 7-5 season, its worst since going .500 in 1984 and its preseason ranking of 14th, was its worst since 1997. Those Wolverines went on to claim the national championship. Saturday's effort gives Hart 11 career 100-yard games and if healthy (with this year's 12-game regular season), he could go for around 1,750 yards rushing. Michigan hosts Central Michigan this Saturday before visiting South Bend on the 19th, his and Michigan's first test.

7)KENNY IRONS (Auburn): Auburn came into the 2006 season ranked 4th in the AP and South Carolina transfer Kenny Irons is one of the major reasons. Irons ran for 1,293 yards last year (5.1 YPC), scoring 13 TDs. He opened this season with a 183-yard game against Washington State on Saturday, in the Tigers' 40-14 win. He carried the ball 20 times and scored on a 58-yard run to open the third quarter, his only TD of the game. He had eight 100-yard games last season, including a career-high 218 yards in a 20-17 OT loss at LSU. Saturday gave him his ninth career 100-yard game and adding in his 40 yards on three catches, Irons' 223 all-purpose yards was a personal best. Auburn visits Mississippi State on Saturday.

8)GRAHAM HARRELL (Texas Tech): Texas Tech has led the nation in passing the last four years and including this year, has had to replace its starting QB four years in a row as well. This year's starter is sophomore Graham Harrell and I know critics will say "it's the system stupid," but I thought I'd throw in Harrell after he opened the 2006 season by completing 34-of-49 passes for five TDs (one INT) in Tech's 35-3 rout of SMU on Saturday night. Texas Tech travels to El Paso this coming Saturday, to take on the Miners and Carson's little brother, Jordan.

9)MICHAEL BUSH (Louisville): As I mentioned at the top of the page, Michael Bush went down with season-ending injury early in the third quarter of Louisville's Sunday night 59-29 win over Kentucky, Bush ran for 1,143 yards last year (5.6 YPC) and scored 24 TDs (23 on the ground). Along with teammate Brian Brohm (QB), both were considered legitimate Heisman contenders this year. Bush opened his senior season by running for a 48-yard TD on his first carry of the game and had 128 yards on 17 carries for three TDs when he broke his lower right leg in two places, early in the third quarter. His season is over and I'd thought I'd mention him here. Brohm finished the game 19-of-31 for 254 yards with one TD and no interceptions and while Bush's injury may give his passing numbers a boost this year, Bush's loss could cost Louisville a shot at the Big East title. The Bush-less Cardinals visit Temple on Saturday, a team that's lost 13 straight.

10)ERIK AINGE (Tennessee): Ainge won't be winning the Heisman this year but few played any better than he did this past Saturday. While most top-25 teams were playing lightweights, the Vols hosted No. 9 California, with its own Heisman-hopeful, RB Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was held to 74 yards on 12 carries, as Ainge (a 45.5 percent passer last year), led Tennessee to a 35-0 third quarter lead. By the time Cal kicked a FG with 2:38 remaining in the third quarter, Ainge had thrown four TDPs. The last three covered 42, 80 and 50 yards. Heck, he had just five TDPs all of last year! He finished the game 11-of-17 for 291 yards with four TDs and one INT. The Vols will host Air Force this coming Saturday, one of just two Division I-A schools that didn't open its season this past weekend.

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