- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

I probably shouldn’t agonize so much over my Heisman Trophy ballot. According to a report in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, Carson Palmer, who votes because he’s a past winner of the award, selected Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett — all of whom play for his alma mater, USC — as his top three.

Good thing O.J. isn’t eligible.

Palmer had more than one ulterior motive, as it turns out. Not only did he want to take care of His Boys, he “didn’t want to give Jason White any votes,” he told an L.A. radio station — adding a little more fuel to the Oklahoma-SC national championship game fire.

You’ll be pleased to know — or maybe not — that I didn’t vote for any of the mighty men of Troy. Nor did I type in the name of White, who’s seeking to become only the second college player to have a pair of Heismans for bookends. In fact, I’m still trying to figure out how Jason wound up with the trophy last year. Absentee ballots, perhaps?

Granted, his stats are stupendous, but in this day and age lots of quarterbacks’ stats are stupendous. The way I look at it is this: In his three biggest games in the past 12 months — against Kansas State and LSU at the end of last season and Texas earlier this season — he threw no touchdown passes and six interceptions (while completing a mere 47.8 percent).

And let’s not forget, he’s a sixth-year senior; he turned 24 in June. I mean, the guy’s old enough to be … Chris Weinke’s younger brother!

So don’t talk to me about Jason White. As for the three USCers, the only one I even remotely considered is Bush. (The kid, I’ve gotta admit, has some Marshall Faulk in him — and some Johnny Rodgers, too.) But I ultimately decided that, well, the Bushes had won enough elections this year; the award should probably go to someone from another tribe.

Another rule of mine is, the Heisman isn’t a consolation prize. That means California’s Aaron Rodgers and J.J. Arrington, while being a terrific QB-running back tandem, get no special consideration. We all feel bad — the non-Texans among us anyway — that the Bears got shafted by the BCS, but they might have avoided that if they hadn’t diddled around with Southern Mississippi last weekend.

Which brings me to the Big Three, my first, second and third Heisman choices. Generally speaking, I try to keep my Heisman picks fairly close to the season’s story line; and for me, the story of this college football season isn’t USC, Oklahoma and Auburn — and the continuing travesty that is the BCS. No, the story of this season is Utah, Louisville and Boise State crashing the major conferences’ party.

The Utes are going to a BCS bowl (the Fiesta), the Cardinals are one ill-timed injury from possibly joining them, and the Broncos have reeled off 22 straight victories. How often does that happen?

It was in this spirit that I cast my first-place vote for Utah quarterback Alex Smith. Smith is everything a student-athlete is supposed to be. In addition to putting up mind-boggling numbers for an 11-0 team (28 touchdown passes, four interceptions, 563 yards rushing), he received his economics degree in May after just two years at the school and started working on his master’s — at the age of 20 — this fall. (Meanwhile, another Heisman candidate, in his sixth year of studies, is “majoring in sociology,” according to the university Web site.)

I don’t figure GPA into my Heisman calculations, but how can you not love a player who not only lifts a program to national prominence but does it while pursuing an advanced degree — as a junior? Alex Smith might be the best candidate for the Ol’ Stiff-Armer in the last decade, maybe longer.

My second choice is Louisville QB Stefan LeFors, who has had the same elevating effect on the Cardinals that Smith has had on the Utes. I’ve always been a sucker for players like Smith and LeFors — and once upon a time, Doug Flutie — who put a school on the map (or in Flutie’s case, back on the map). Had LeFors not gotten dinged in the second half at Miami, after guiding the Cardinals to a 31-14 lead (they wound up losing 41-38), I might have had to flip a coin to determine my top Heisman pick.

Boise State, alas, has no one who stands out like the aforementioned two. (But watch out next year for Jared Zabransky, the Broncos’ able quarterback — currently just a sophomore.) As a result, I went with Auburn QB Jason Campbell as my third choice.

In his last nine games, Campbell has completed 74 percent of his passes, and he came up huge in the SEC title showdown against Tennessee, throwing for a career-high 374 yards and three touchdowns, including the clincher with 6:56 left.

Yup, three quarterbacks — totally unlike me. I usually have much more variety on my ballot, and occasionally even a defender like Terrell Suggs or Champ Bailey. But, hey, it could have been worse. I could have voted a straight USC ticket. Besides, after what we’ve seen of Ben Roethlisberger, the former Miami University RedHawk, with the Pittsburgh Steelers this season, who’s to say Smith and LeFors aren’t the two best players in the country?



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