- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Just finished casting my Heisman Trophy ballot online, I'll have you know. The Downtown Athletic Club has finally surrendered to the forces of modernity and given its Heisman selectors the option of voting via the Internet. In the past, you had to scribble your three choices on a piece of cardboard and mail them to an accounting firm in Stamford, Conn. The process always seemed wonderfully quaint in this era of faxes and cell phones, kind of like filling out a paper ballot in Dixville Notch, N.H., just after midnight on Election Day.

I went the World Wide Web route this year, though, because I needed more time to think things over. Is it just me, or is it getting harder to pick a winner in these Heisman beauty contests? Last year I was so dismayed that no one had separated himself from the field that I rebelled and voted for three defensive players: Maryland's E.J. Henderson, Oklahoma's Roy Williams and North Carolina's Julius Peppers.

Actually, looking back, that might have been one of my better ballots. As regular visitors to This Space are well aware, I'm a rather quirky Heisman voter. In fact, in nine of the last 10 years, I cast my first-place vote for a player who didn't win. You can have your Gino Torrettas, Rashaan Salaams, Danny Wuerffels and Ron Daynes. I'll take Marshall Faulk, Steve McNair, Jake Plummer and Michael Vick.

Before we move on to my picks and non-picks has a Heisman candidate ever fallen farther faster than Iowa State quarterback Seneca Wallace did this season? In the middle of October, Wallace was one of the front-runners; his Cyclones were a surprise 6-1 and he'd accounted for 17 touchdowns. But in the last six games, the team went 1-5, and he accounted for just five TDs (plus a dozen interceptions). Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Naturally, I didn't vote for Seneca. I also didn't vote for QBs Byron Leftwich of Marshall or Jason Gesser of Washington State, though they both put up swell numbers. Why not, you ask? Because at the bottom of the Heisman ballot, in very fine print, it says, "Voters should not give special consideration to players who limp through one or more games."

There are quite a few quarterbacks that I passed over, if you'll pardon the expression. I passed over USC's Carson Palmer and his 32 touchdown passes. I passed over Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and his 42 touchdown passes. I also passed over Miami's Ken Dorsey and his 38-1 record as a starter. (Dorsey did have the best quote of any Heisman contender, though. Appearing on "The Best Damn Sports Show Period," he said he'd be happy to share the award with his teammate, running back Willis McGahee, "just as long as I get the top half with the arm. Willis can have the legs.")

All those guys had terrific seasons, but passing statistics I just don't trust them. At the very least, they should be approached with caution. Consider: Maryland's Scott McBrien was the 10th-rated passer in Division I-A this year. With all due respect to Scott, who might have gotten as much out of his ability as any QB in major college football, does anybody seriously think he was the 10th-best passer?

As for running backs, if the Heisman was supposed to go to the "outstanding college football player in the month of November," I undoubtedly would have voted for Penn State's Larry Johnson. But eight games into the season, Johnson was averaging a modest 117.8 yards a game; then he ran wild against Big Ten dregs Illinois (279), Indiana (327) and Michigan State (279) to go over the 2,000 mark. Sorry, but you shouldn't be able to win Old Stiff-Arm that way.

Miami's Willis McGahee presents a different problem. He's surrounded by so much talent Dorsey, receiver Andre Johnson, tight end Kellen Winslow and the usual stable of Hurricanes blockers that it's hard to tell how much of it is Him and how much of it is Them. People get too carried away with all the touchdowns he scored (27). Oklahoma's Quentin Griffin had similar stats to McGahee's (133.9 yards per game and 6.77 per carry to Willis' 140.5 and 6.44), and nobody's talking about him getting the Heisman. The same goes for Colorado's Chris Brown (145.3, 6.34).

OK, enough stalling. Here's how I voted:

(And if I hear any snickering, I'm going to clear the courtroom.)

Third place: Terrell Suggs, defensive end, Arizona State. I always go for balance on my ballot, and Suggs' record-setting 22 sacks set him apart from all other defensive players. At 6-foot-3, 251 pounds, he's built along the lines of Dexter Manley and is just as quick.

Second place: Rashaun Woods, wide receiver, Oklahoma State. Almost single-handedly denied Oklahoma a BCS berth by catching 12 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns against the Sooners in the regular-season finale. The OU defense, one of the toughest in the nation, knew it had to stop him and couldn't. For the year, Woods had 98 receptions, 1,531 yards and 16 TDs.

First place: Brad Banks, quarterback, Iowa. Banks was the only contender who didn't rack up huge numbers in his last few games in an attempt to sway voters. That's almost reason enough to hand him the trophy. Against Northwestern, for instance, he threw only 10 passes (and completed all 10 for 197 yards and three touchdowns). I'm sure he could have had much gaudier statistics, inasmuch as the Hawkeyes won 62-10.

Banks threw for 25 TDs, won two road games with crowds in excess of 100,000 rooting against him (Penn State, Michigan) and led Iowa to its first major bowl in more than a decade. If it were up to me, I'd give him the whole Heisman, not just "the top half with the arm."

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