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The race begins

Pair of veteran signal-callers top early list of favorites

Posted: Tuesday April 25, 2006 10:35AM; Updated: Tuesday June 27, 2006 10:47PM
With an offensive-minded head coach and a big-play receiver, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn tops the early list of Heisman hopefuls.
With an offensive-minded head coach and a big-play receiver, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn tops the early list of Heisman hopefuls.
John Biever/SI
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The season is still several weeks away so naturally it's time to start forecasting the 2006 Heisman race. And just like the battle for the national title, the competition for the stiff-armed statuette is as wide open as a receiver in the 2005 Texas A&M secondary.

1. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame, Sr.

Everything is in place for Quinn to become the Irish's eighth Heisman winner. He's coming off a spectacular season (3,633 passing yards, 32 touchdowns). His top receiver, Jeff Samardzija, and most of Notre Dame's offensive line is back. And the Irish defense, barring a huge improvement, is suspect enough to keep games close and Quinn under center into the fourth quarter. If Quinn can keep Notre Dame in the title hunt, he'll be tough to top.

2. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, Sr.

His Fiesta Bowl performance against said Notre Dame defense (408 yards total offense, two touchdowns) capped a late-season surge that made this dual-threat quarterback one of the favorites heading into '06. And in that game receiver Ted Ginn Jr. finally came out of his 2005 funk. If Ginn continues to be a playmaker, that should help Smith's candidacy. A Smith-led victory over defending champion Texas in Austin on Sept. 9 would help, too.

3. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma, Jr.

There are two main questions about Peterson's Heisman hopes: Can he stay healthy? And how good -- or bad -- will the Sooners' offensive line be? Peterson played for most of 2005 with a sprained ankle and behind a porous front five, four of which have moved on. But when he's healthy and running behind a cohesive unit, Peterson is as good as any other player in the nation.

4. Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia, Soph.

This 5-foot-10 burner broke out last season, rushing for 1,128 yards and 17 touchdowns -- including 204 yards and three TDs against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl -- while starting only the final six games. He or Mountaineers quarterback Pat White could emerge as a viable candidate if voters don't hold playing in the Big East against them.

5. Jamaal Charles, RB, Texas, Soph.

Someone has to move the chains in Austin now that Vince Young has taken his crazy legs to the NFL. And that man likely will be Charles, behind what should be a nasty offensive line. He's a 6-1, 190-pound speedster with a surprising ability to bounce off tacklers. If coach Mack Brown doesn't spread the carries around too much, as he did in '05, Charles will have a chance.