Heisman Top Five: Separating the Pretenders and Contenders

will schmidleyAnalyst IOctober 3, 2007

Icon1. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

McFadden's Heisman campaign is shaping up to be one of the most intriguing in recent memory.

Debate over the Razorbacks' pedestrian 2-2 record continues to brew, and has clouded the running back's status in the race.

It's interesting—whenever an expert or pundit is asked about McFadden, there isn't much variation of opinion. He's widely considered to be the nation's most impressive player.

So shouldn't that answer our questions? Why is McFadden not a cinch atop everyone's list?

Regrettably, the voting process is highly politicized and unnecessarily formulaic. History tells us that McFadden's chances are diminished by two primary factors: his team's lack of success and voters' fondness for winning QBs.

Perhaps the latter is justified. Quarterback is undeniably the most difficult position to play on the football field, and leading a team to success against consistently tough competition is no easy task.

Every once in a while, though, there's a skill position player whose accomplishments are too impressive to ignore—think Ricky Williams in 1999, Charles Woodson in 1997, or even Reggie Bush in 2005.

There's also Larry Fitzgerald, who should have won in 2003 when Jason White took home the hardware.

Should McFadden win the Heisman on a seven- or eight-win team? Provided he continues his torrid statistical pace, I believe so. The success of a candidate's team is an important consideration, but McFadden's unbelievable skills make him an exception to that rule—just as those who came before him were.

2. Andre Woodson, QB, Kentucky

Right now, simply put, Andre Woodson is pure Heisman butter.

He's got it all—the stats, the moxy, the clutch performances, and an undefeated record.

Woodson continued his meteoric rise through the Heisman ranks with a five-TD effort vs. FAU. The Kentucky signal caller looks like he can do no wrong right now, which is why I've got him this high.

I even contemplated giving him the nod for the top spot—but Kentucky's upcoming schedule ultimately prevented me from doing so.

Over their next three games, the Cats face South Carolina, LSU, and Florida. If Woodson can lead his team to two wins over this brutal three game stretch, he'll be at the top of a lot of lists.

As impressive as Andre has looked thus far, though, it's easy to envision Woodson and Co. taking their fair share of lumps in the next few weeks. If they do, Woodson's Heisman surge will slacken.

3. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

Tebow lost his place atop many Heisman lists after Florida's shocking loss to a resurgent Auburn squad.

Two things are keeping Tebow in contention right now: The fact that his performance wasn't awful vs. Auburn and the chance he has to redeem himself next week, with the Gators squaring off against LSU.

Tebow hadn't hit a bump in the road prior to the Auburn game, and the rest of the season will tell voters a great deal about his resiliency and character, two qualities all voters value.

If he's able to right the ship, he'll be right back in the mix for the top spot.

4. DeSean Jackson, Playmaker, Cal

Prior to the Bears game vs. Oregon last Saturday, Jackson was starting to become an afterthought in the race.

A sprained thumb had him sidelined from return duty, and his receiving stats weren't all that impressive.

But then he exploded back onto the scene—with an 11-catch, 161-yard, 2-TD performance in his team's biggest game of the year.

Jackson's feats against the Ducks will live long in voter's minds, and if he continues to light it up in the national spotlight, he's going to have a shot.

If he propels Cal to a win over USC, it's very difficult to envision him not getting some very serious consideration for the top spot.

Jackson's best asset is his versatility. Voters tend to fall in love with it, perhaps more so than they should (consider Ted Ginn last year, who was considered a candidate until midseason).

Jackson is just the type of dynamic talent who could capture the hearts of voters, as multitalented Michigan CB Charles Woodson did in 1997.

5. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan

Deciding who should round out this list was quite difficult.

Colt Brennan deserves some consideration, but as I've discussed before, I'm not a believer in his Heisman credentials.

Boston College QB Matt Ryan was another player I considered, but I'd like to see him in another big game before I put him in the top five. His interception total is high, too—especially relative to the other QBs in contention.

Steve Slaton and Pat White both still deserve to be in the mix, but their lax performances in West Virginia's loss to USF are still too fresh in my mind.

Hart's chances of winning are virtually nonexistent, but I couldn't keep him out of the top five in light of his feats this season—and the circumstances in which he's accomplished them.

His 44-carry, 152-yard effort vs. Penn State was the one of the guttiest performances I've ever seen. If Hart receives an invite to New York, which I believe he deserves, it would be a fitting conclusion to a fantastic college career.


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