- The Washington Times - Friday, December 13, 2002

'Tis the season for Heisman hysteria.
The New York Downtown Athletic Club announced the five finalists for college football's most coveted individual award Wednesday. And not since Frederic Bartholdi plunked down Lady Liberty in 1884 has there been so much chatter about a New York-based statue. Well, OK, there was that Ewing-to-Seattle deal a couple of years ago.
Quite simply, tomorrow's presentation ceremony at 8p.m. on ESPN could represent the most dramatic hour of the college season. Suspense has already taken the gold. Suzuki (the trophy's title sponsor) is likely to scoop the silver. But only the good folks at Deloitte and Touche know who will be making off with the bronze.
"I've been doing this thing for 16 years now, and we've never had so many players so close," said Randy Holtz, who runs a weekly Heisman poll for the Rocky Mountain News. "I've got no idea who's going to win other than ESPN."
According to the Las Vegas oddsmakers, Penn State tailback Larry Johnson (2-1) and Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey (2-1) are the co-favorites, slightly ahead of Iowa quarterback Brad Banks (5-2), Miami tailback Willis McGahee (7-2) and USC quarterback Carson Palmer (5-1).
Suffice it to say, the suits on the strip must have been a little surprised Monday when the Associated Press tabbed Banks as its Player of the Year, the Hawkeye finishing just three votes ahead of Palmer (21), followed by McGahee (10), Johnson (6) and Dorsey (5).
CNNSI ranks the candidates McGahee, Palmer, Banks, Johnson and Byron Leftwich (the local product and Marshall quarterback who won't even get a plane ticket and a free filet for his 4,000-yard season.
Then there's the Rocky Mountain News poll, which finished with Palmer nipping McGahee, and Banks, Dorsey and Johnson bringing up the rear. That's four different sources and five different favorites.
We asked Annapolis psychic Madame Bessie to break the tie only to discover that even the supernatural world was stumped.
"I really need to see some palms," she explained. "If you can just bring the five young men in, we can sort this out."
We were willing to test Madame Bessie's prowess on some photocopied handprints, but the folks at Iowa were skeptical of our intentions ("You want us to fax you Brad's what?"), putting the kibosh on palmistry.
So we've decided not to predict a winner, speculating only that this will be the closest Heisman vote since 1956, when Notre Dame's Paul Hornung (1,066 votes) edged Tennessee's Johnny Majors (994) and Oklahoma's Tommy McDonald (973) by a controversially slim margin.
Instead, we have decided to tell you who should win the Heisman. Here are our final Heisman rankings in reverse order:
5. Johnson "L.J." put the pop back in JoePa's offense this season, rushing for a national-best 2,015 yards and averaging an NCAA-record 8.03 yards per carry. But Johnson fails to pass what we henceforth shall call the Mo Maxim, named after Ohio State cliche-monger Maurice Clarett. All season long, the Buckeyes' freshman tailback was quick to remind the media that "big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games."
Well, Johnson came up decidedly small in Penn State's three biggest games. Against the three ranked Big Ten opponents on the Nittany Lions' schedule (Iowa, Michigan and Ohio State), Johnson averaged 70.7 rushing yards, and Penn State lost all three games. Accordingly, Johnson lost the Big Ten Player of the Year Award to Banks. You can't give the Heisman to a guy the coaches didn't even consider the MVP of his own conference.
4. Dorsey If the Heisman were based on career accomplishments, Kenny 'Cane would be the runaway winner. His 38-1 record as a starter is an astounding testament to his playing abilities and leadership qualities. As Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope says of Dorsey, "He's meant more to this program than any two other players who have ever worn that uniform."
Dorsey holds every meaningful Miami passing record, trumping former Heisman winners Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta, as well as Big East career records for passing yardage (9,269) and touchdown passes (84).
Unfortunately, this season was the least impressive of his three as a starter from a statistical standpoint. And in 1997, the Heisman electorate provided the ultimate precedent against making the trophy a career-based award when they chose Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson over Tennessee's Peyton Manning.
3. Banks In just his first year as a starter, the Iowa senior led the nation in passing efficiency and carried the Hawkeyes to a share of the Big Ten title and the school's first berth in a BCS bowl. Had Banks and Co. beaten Iowa State on Sept.14, the undefeated Hawkeyes would be preparing to face Miami in the Fiesta Bowl under the direction of their landslide Heisman winner.
But Iowa lost that game at home to the Cyclones and Banks was largely responsible for the loss, fumbling on back-to-back third-quarter possessions. His miscues totally turned the momentum of what was a 24-7 Iowa blowout at halftime, helping the Cyclones rally for a 36-31 victory.
"I made a lot of mistakes out there," said the despondent Banks after the loss. "This one really hurts."
He had no idea just how much.
2. Palmer After a career defined largely by unfulfilled expectations and despite the nation's toughest schedule, Palmer blossomed under offensive coordinator Norm Chow this season, finishing on a tear as impressive as any in college history. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound senior completed 147 of 227 passes for 2,010 yards, 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the Trojans' (10-2) last six games, jumping Leftwich on everybody's NFL Draft board.
And what a crescendo; Palmer's regular-season finale provided an unforgettable cherry-on-top moment for Notre Dame-haters everywhere as he threw for a record 425 passing yards and four touchdowns in a 44-13 emasculation of the Irish.
When Palmer doesn't win tomorrow, Trojans everywhere will scream about the award's East Coast bias. And while it's true that no West Coast player has snatched the stiff-arming statue since Marcus Allen in 1981, that supposed prejudice against the Pac-10 has never applied to USC (see Allen, Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson and Charles White). Palmer's real problem is two early-season losses (at Kansas State and at Washington State), the second of which cost the Trojans a Pac-10 title.
1. McGahee That, of course, leaves Miami's stellar sophomore as our Heisman pick. Why? Because not only did he have the best season of any Hurricanes back in history (1,696 yards, 27 TDs), he did it for the nation's best team, playing his best in the biggest games.
"I think you have to vote for McGahee," said New York Daily News columnist Dick Weiss, who covers national college sports. "I went to the Miami-Virginia Tech game thinking Palmer, but the way McGahee finished changed my mind 205 yards and six TDs makes an impression. He's a killer."
The only drawbacks for McGahee are his youth and his teammate.
"You can't come up with any weaknesses in his season," said Gary Ferman, publisher of Canesport Magazine. "He rushed for less than a hundred yards once all season (95 vs. Florida State), and in that game he turned a routine screen pass into a 60-yard gain to set up the winning score. The real concern here is that he'll lose because he and Dorsey split the Southern vote. Dorsey's had a great season, but Willis has played almost flawless football. Every game, every quarter, every series, every play, he's the guy who has excelled."
As for his youth (no sophomore has ever won the award), consider these two telling signs of maturity:
McGahee, at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, owns virtually every team weightlifting record.
In 286 touches this season, he fumbled only twice.
Translation: This guy won't be around to win the award next season. He's a special talent. He might not be Michael Vick-special, but he does look like the top NFL prospect in the country. In a race as close as this one, that future promise is a good enough tiebreaker for us.

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