- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the day the Heisman Trophy voting closed, Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame’s jewel of a junior quarterback, announced he would forgo his final college season and get a paying job in the NFL. It’s an interesting decision on a couple of counts (probably more than a couple if newspaper deadlines allowed for deeper thinking).

First, Clausen was clearly influenced by what happened to Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford (separated shoulder) and Florida’s Tim Tebow (concussion) this fall when they opted to return for their senior year. Second, he’s willingly going into a draft that will include not only Bradford and Tebow but also Texas’ Colt McCoy.

What does that suggest to you? It suggests to me that Jimmy thinks he compares favorably against Sam, Tim and Colt - or at least stands a Fighting Irishman’s chance of being the first QB taken. It suggests, too, that the three seniors may not have improved their pro stock a whit by coming back for an encore… when they could just as easily have gone to the NFL early themselves.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to the Heisman ballot I just cast. Neither Tebow, the ‘07 winner, nor McCoy, the ‘08 runner-up (and my personal preference last year), got my first-place vote this time around. And Bradford, of course, was essentially scratched from the race after getting hurt in the opener. What were the odds of that going into the season? What were the odds my No. 1 Heisman Guy wouldn’t be one of the Big Three?

Just shows how befuddling college football has become in the Outrageous ‘00s, a decade in which Boise State and Utah have earned as many BCS berths as Penn State (two each). And if that doesn’t make you dizzy, try to vet the various Heisman contenders, try to compare a yard in the SEC to a yard in the Mountain West (or a touchdown in the Pac-10 to a touchdown in Conference USA). About the only way it could be more complicated is if the Big Ten used the metric system.

But I do my darnedest to be fair to all parties, even 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackles with Daily Jumble names like Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska. Suh was a terror in the Big 12 title game against Texas, pillaging the Longhorns to the tune of 4.5 sacks. But, come on, he’s a DT. For a DT to make my Heisman ballot, he’d have to be a combination of Warren Sapp, Mean Joe Greene and Attila the Hun (who had a so-so 40 time but an unbelievable rip move). It’s just the nature of the position; it can only have so much of an impact on any game.

Fortunately, there was no Michael Crabtree type among the receivers this year. That simplified the selection process a little. (Missouri’s Danario Alexander did come on awfully fast, though, racking up 214, 200, 173 and 233 yards in his last four games, and should be fun to watch in the Texas Bowl against Navy.)

Then there’s Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh’s dynamite freshman back. In the snow and wet Saturday against undefeated Cincinnati, he carried 47 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 1,640 rushing yards for the season. He definitely has that Future Heisman Winner look about him, even though he has no shot this year.

OK, enough preamble. After much deliberation and a fair amount of hair splitting, I filled out my ballot thusly:

Third choice: McCoy. Again, I thought he deserved to win last year, when he completed 76.7 percent of his passes and had a hand in 45 touchdowns (34 passing, 11 rushing). But this season he’s been involved in a mere 30 TDs (27 passing, three rushing) and, frankly, didn’t play as well, especially when you consider the Big 12 was down. Saturday against Nebraska, he had three passes picked off and threw for no TDs. Not a very persuasive closing argument (though the Longhorns will play for the BCS championship).

Second choice: Tebow. You could easily make the case he had one of the greatest careers in college football history. But the Heisman isn’t a career award. Tebow is also a unique player, a 6-3, 245-pound Human Anachronism, a single-wing tailback in an era of space-age offenses. All this makes him highly appealing.

His biggest problem is that, like McCoy, this season wasn’t his best season. His best season was two years ago, when he figured in an off-the-charts 55 touchdowns (32 passing, 23 rushing) and was rightfully handed the Heisman. So far this year he’s figured in 31 (18 passing, 13 rushing) while also rushing for 859 yards. Maybe he would have put up bigger numbers if he hadn’t suffered a concussion in September, but I don’t know how you can factor that in.

First choice: Toby Gerhart, running back, Stanford. He’s the nation’s leading rusher (1,736 yards), he’s scored the most touchdowns (26) and, most impressive, he’s made himself a viable candidate with virtually no advance publicity. Was there a single soul before the season who thought he was any kind of threat to win the Heisman?

But when Bradford got hurt and Tebow and McCoy didn’t go totally bonkers, it opened the door a crack - and Gerhart barged through. His last month - 223 yards and three TDs against Oregon, 178 yards and three TDs against USC, 136 yards and four TDs against California and 205 yards and three TDs against Notre Dame - was extraordinary. It’s also kinda cool that Stanford went from being 1-11 his freshman year to 8-4 (and a tie for second in the Pac-10) this year. Tebow and McCoy, let’s not forget, took over teams that had just won national titles.

Then again, maybe I just like Gerhart because I’m convinced that, in the right NFL circumstances, he could be the next John Riggins.

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