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Early fix

A pre, preseason look at who will contend for award

Posted: Tuesday April 24, 2007 2:33PM; Updated: Wednesday April 25, 2007 11:10AM
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Darren McFadden won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top RB last season.
Darren McFadden won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top RB last season.
John Biever/SI
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You need your college football fix. Believe me, I get it. I'm ready to suit up and cover a kickoff myself. So for those of you who can't get enough pigskin in the spring, here's an absurdly early look at the top Heisman Trophy contenders for 2007.

1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas, RB, Jr.

2006 stats: 284 rushes, 1,647 yards, 9 TDs; 7-of-9 passing, 69 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 11 receptions, 149 yards, 1 TD; 10 kickoff returns, 262 yards, 1 TD

Heisman-o-meter: I toyed with making three others on this list No. 1, but in the end I went with this dynamic all-purpose gamebreaker. The question I asked myself was, Who does what McFadden does against the competition he faces? The answer is ... no one. Last year's Heisman runner-up is a threat to put six points on the scoreboard whenever he runs the ball. Or throws the ball. Or catches the ball. Or returns the ball. New offensive coordinator David Lee plans to keep the Wildcat formation (McFadden at quarterback and backup RB Felix Jones in the backfield) that was so effective last year and has been working to get more efficiency out of the passing game. So long as Arkansas can replace three Hogs up front, including All-America Tony Ugoh, McFadden should be the 'Back to catch.

2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia, RB, Jr.

2006 stats: 248 rushes, 1,744 yards, 16 TDs; 27 receptions, 360 yards, 2 TDs

Heisman-o-meter: He is filthy fast. No player in college football can hit the edge and bust an 80-yard touchdown quicker than Slaton, who was, at least in this space, in the same area code of eventual Heisman winner Troy Smith last season before he fumbled away his chances in a primetime game against Louisville. Slaton missed spring practice as he recovered from surgery to repair a broken right wrist, which can partially explain his late season slide (166 rushing yards in the last three games). But if the Mountaineers can replace two starting linemen, including All-America center Dan Mozes, Slaton will likely be in the Heisman conversation come November.

3. Colt Brennan, Hawaii, QB, Sr.

2006 stats: 406-of-559 passing, 5,549 yards, 58 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; 86 rushes, 366 yards, 5 touchdowns

Heisman-o-meter: If voting was based on production alone, then I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't be reading this because there would be no need for a Heisman Watch. Brennan, the prolific passer from the Pacific, would be the only candidate on the Watch. (And he'd be going for back-to-back Heismans.) But as he learned last season when he finished sixth in Heisman voting despite breaking 12 NCAA records, Brennan has to fight many uphill battles -- the "system quarterback" reputation, a lack of top competition and limited television exposure to name a few. How voters judge Brennan (pass-happy novelty or the real deal?) will be the most important issue on the Heisman campaign trail.

4. John David Booty, USC, QB, Sr.

2006 stats: 269-of-436 passing, 3,347 yards, 29 TDs, 9 INTs

Heisman-o-meter: Some will question Booty's worthiness, claiming that he is not the best player in the country but rather the best player on the best team. Those who believe that should watch the 2007 Rose Bowl in which Booty burned Michigan for 391 yards and four touchdowns. The loss of his top two receivers from last season -- Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith -- won't help, but talented youngsters Vidal Hazelton and Patrick Turner should soften the blow. USC also added some shotgun to the playbook this offseason, and Booty thrived in that formation while at Shreveport (La.) Evangel Christian High.

5. Brian Brohm, Louisville, QB, Sr.

2006 stats: 199-of-313 passing, 3,049 yards, 16 TDs, 5 INTs

Heisman-o-meter: Brohm bypassed the NFL Draft -- in which he could have been one of the top three quarterbacks taken -- to return for his senior season. Besides his million-dollar arm, there are many reasons to like his chances: His top two receivers return, he has a solid offensive line in front of him and the Cardinals are likely to be on people's radar once again. The transition to new coach Steve Kragthorpe has gone smoothly. Except for the spring game, in which Brohm threw four interceptions, the first-team offense moved the ball easily all spring.


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