- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2006

This was the year everybody lost the Heisman Trophy — everybody, that is, except Ohio State’s Troy Smith, the Last Man Standing. Smith was the first choice on my ballot almost by default. He deserves to win it, in my estimation, because he didn’t do anything to un-win it.

Unlike Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn, he didn’t lose his two biggest games by a combined score of 91-45.

Unlike Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson, he didn’t get hurt.

Unlike West Virginia’s Steve Slaton, he didn’t fumble twice in the second half against Louisville with the Big East title at stake.

Unlike Hawaii’s Colt Brennan, he didn’t roll up huge passing numbers against third-rate competition.

Unlike Northern Illinois’ Garrett Wolfe, he didn’t develop Seneca Wallace disease and disappear for a month.

Unlike Arkansas’ Darren McFadden, he didn’t run out of steam at the end.

Unlike USC’s Dwayne Jarrett, he didn’t suffer a dropoff, stats-wise, from the previous year.

And unlike Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson, he didn’t have a mediocre offense surrounding him (and keeping his production down).

Ordinarily, I’m leery of giving the Heisman to the quarterback on the No. 1 team. I didn’t vote for Chris Weinke. Or for Ken Dorsey. Or for Jason White. The No. 1 team, after all, is usually just that — a great team, from top to bottom. To single out the QB, unless he’s off-the-charts outstanding, seems silly.

I’m more of a sucker for the Ray Rice kind of player, the guy who lifts a program to previously unknown heights. (See Darnell Autry, Northwestern, 1994.) And Rice certainly did that for Rutgers, leading the Scarlet Knights to a 10-2 record and nearly a BCS berth. Problem is, he wasn’t spectacular enough — “SportsCenter”-y enough. Yes, he rushed for 1,624 yards, fourth in the nation, but in his last five games he gained 79, 131, 54, 107 and 129. Sorry, but that doesn’t get you the Heisman.

But that’s OK. Rice is only sophomore. He’ll have another shot next year — as will Colt McCoy, Texas’ fine redshirt freshman quarterback.

This would have been a good year for a defensive player to take a run at the award. Alas, there’s no Charles Woodson or Champ Bailey out there, not even an Elvis Dumervil. Of course, to have any chance as a defender, you have to (a.) intercept 10 passes and return about three kicks for touchdowns; (b.) rack up an ungodly number of sacks, 20 minimum; or (c.) do something funny to your hair and knock off two or three helmets a game. Nobody this season fits any of those descriptions.

So scribbling Smith’s name on my ballot was easy. Granted, he’s blessed with a fabulous supporting cast; Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez may be the most dangerous set of receivers anywhere. But in Ohio State’s biggest game — against the second-best team in the country, for my money — Smith shredded Michigan for 316 yards and four touchdowns. That means more than his 30 TD passes, lofty passer rating and enviable mobility. While others were losing the Heisman, he was winning it.

Smith might even be that rare Heisman winner who doesn’t spit the bit in the subsequent bowl game. Given his performance against Notre Dame last year in the Fiesta (342 yards passing, 66 rushing, two touchdown passes) and against Michigan a few weeks ago, I’m expecting big things from him when the Buckeyes face Florida in the BCS championship game.

(Memo to the Gators: He’s no Casey Dick. His team won’t have running backs and receivers throwing passes — like Arkansas did Saturday — to try to get the ball in the end zone.)

After Smith, it’s all a blur. My other two votes, second and third, went to Slaton and Johnson. Sure, Slaton had that hiccup in the Louisville game, but have you seen this kid run the football? We’re talking about Marshall Faulk-type speed and elusiveness. (And to think Maryland could have had him!) Some question whether his lithe body will be able to take the pounding in the pros, but let’s not forget: Faulk had trouble taking the pounding in college. He always missed a game or two a season. So far, Slaton has held up just fine.

As for Johnson, he had almost half of Georgia Tech’s receiving yards — 1,016 of 2,049 (49.6 percent). What other wideout in major college football can say that? Had his quarterback not been accuracy impaired, who knows what his statistics would look like? As it was, he caught 67 balls for 13 touchdowns.

Johnson is a bigger (6-4, 235), faster (4.4 for the 40) Keyshawn Johnson — with, hopefully, a smaller ego.

Not winning the Heisman may help him in that regard.

Then again, it didn’t help Keyshawn …

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