I skipped the Heisman poll last week, waiting instead for the big USC-Notre Dame showdown, just in case Brady Quinn had a 500-yard, 6-touchdown game up his sleeve. Obviously, he did not, which means this race is over. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 Heisman winner … Troy Smith. Duh.
Here is my final Heisman top 10 of 2006.
1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State (last week’s rank: 2). Smith probably needed only a victory over Michigan to secure this award, but he left little doubt when he threw for 316 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Buckeyes to a 42-39 victory over the Wolverines. Smith finished the season as the undisputed leader of the nation’s best team and he racked up 30 touchdowns against just five interceptions in the process. While his 2,507 passing yards don’t stack up to the 3,278 of Brady Quinn, Smith has the edge in most other key stats, including: QB rating (167.9 to 151.6), completion percentage (67.0 to 63.4), sacks (just 13 to Quinn’s 30), and yards per attempt (8.4 to 7.6). Granted, Smith might have had a better line and more explosive weapons at his disposal, but it can be countered that Quinn played in a more favorable system for a quarterback.
You could probably go back and forth comparing the two as individual players, but ultimately, football is a team game and the fact that Ohio State ran the table makes all the difference. The Buckeyes held on to the very end and for that reason, Smith should win this award in a landslide.
2. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame (1). Even in a lopsided defeat to USC, Quinn kept on putting up solid numbers, throwing for 274 yards and three scores and even leading the Irish in rushing with 74 yards on the ground. That said, it wasn’t nearly enough to overcome Smith. Quinn will have to console himself with the likelihood that he will be the top pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Hundred dollar bills make for nice tissues.
3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan (3). I was watching some college hoops last week when I saw the finalists for the Maxwell Award (for player of the year) scroll across the screen, and to my shock and surprise, Mike Hart wasn’t on the list. How is this possible? There were only three names to be found, which were Smith, Quinn, and Rutgers’ Ray Rice. Now, I like Rice as much as anyone (just read a few of these Heisman polls), but I don’t see how he can be ahead of Hart on any player of the year list or ballot. Hart topped off a magnificent junior campaign by shredding Ohio State’s defense for 142 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. He finished the season with 1,515 yards and 14 touchdowns for one of the top three teams in the country. Consider me confused.
4. Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers (4). Of course, just because Hart got robbed doesn’t mean that Rice is anything short of fantastic. The guy was the heart and soul of a feel-good Rutgers team that is a win away from a Big East title and an appearance in a BCS bowl game. Rice is nearing 1,500 yards and has 17 rushing touchdowns with a chance for more against West Virginia this week. His second half against Louisville alone should have him heading across the bridge for the award ceremony. And if there is one good thing about Rice leaping ahead of Hart in the Maxwell fiasco it is that voters can’t ignore him any longer, lest they look like morons.
5. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas (6). The Razorbacks’ magical run came to an end against LSU, but that certainly wasn’t McFadden’s fault. Arguably the nation’s most exciting player, McFadden put up another fantastic performance against a tough defense by rushing 21 times for 182 yards and two scores. And once again, he even handled QB duties, completing both of his passes out of the single wing for 33 yards (maybe they should have let them throw them all, considering quarterback Cody Dick went 3-for-17). Going into the SEC title game, McFadden has totaled 1,485 yards on the ground and scored 14 times. Give him a seat at the Hilton.
6. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia (8). Slaton’s story is the same as it has been for about a month: the stats are there, the high WVU ranking is not. He needed the Mountaineers to be in the title hunt and that just hasn’t happened. That means the 147 yards per game and 7.3 per carry are just empty numbers. Of course, this is in many ways an award that focuses on numbers, so he remains in the mix at #6.
7. Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii (8). Brennan could make a case for a seat at the trophy presentation ceremony, given Hawaii’s surprising success and his absolutely ridiculous stats. However, I just can’t see him passing any of the four running backs ahead of him on the list. The stats are insane though, of course. 4,589 yards, 51 touchdowns (against nine picks), a 186.7 QB rating, and a 71.9% completion percentage. Yikes. He should be a prime candidate in 2007.
8. Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State (10). So much for that collapsed lung. Johnson made an unlikely return to the Boise State lineup and ran for 147 yards and three touchdowns as the Broncos finished the season undefeated and landed a spot in a BCS bowl. Johnson now has 1,613 yards and an NCAA-leading 24 touchdowns on the season.
9. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Cal (7). Lynch is a fantastic talent, but the loss to USC sunk his ship. He can pile on a few more stats this weekend against Stanford, but he will go no higher on this list.
10(tie). JaMarcus Russell, QB, LSU (NR) and P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin (NR). For the last spot, I’m going with two players that were overlooked stars on overlooked teams. LSU is the team that makes Ohio State glad there is no playoff system, because they are the best two-loss team in the country, hands down. Russell has had a really good year for the Tigers and finishes with 26 touchdowns against seven picks, 2,797 yards, a fantastic 9.1 yards per attempt, and a 168.1 passer rating. In case you were wondering, those last three stats are all better than those of Troy Smith, while the TD/INT ratio is in the neighborhood.
As for Hill, he had a little hiccup late in the season when he hurt his ankle and had his coach call him out after the game, but 1,533 yards and 15 touchdowns for an 11-1 team from the Big 10 simply has to be on this list. Hill is one of many underclassmen that should make for intriguing candidates next year.