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Down to the wire

Heisman Trophy race too close to call

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Posted: Thursday December 07, 2000 4:50 PM
Updated: Friday December 08, 2000 5:17 PM

  Chris Weinke, Josh Heupel Chris Weinke and Josh Heupel are the Bush and Gore of the Heisman race. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- When the season started, Florida State's Chris Weinke was among a handful of Heisman Trophy favorites. Oklahoma's Josh Heupel was an afterthought -- at best.

On Saturday night, the two quarterbacks who led their teams to a national championship game in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, could end up in one of the closest Heisman races in history.

"I have no idea how it's going to come out," Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. "You've got one who has taken his team to an undefeated season and has done everything you've got to do to get there. Then you've got the other who has played superlative football and is unique in his age."

Perfect season honors go to Heupel, who threw for 3,392 yards and 20 touchdowns in leading No. 1 Oklahoma (12-0) to the brink of its first national championship since 1985.

Weinke, at the ripe old age of 28, led the nation with 4,167 yards passing and threw 33 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. After spending six years playing minor-league baseball, Weinke returned to Florida State in '97 and is trying to bring a second straight national title to the third-ranked Seminoles (11-1).

"Both candidates are deserving," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "They're both excellent players and very valuable to the team."

Purdue quarterback Drew Brees and TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson are the other Heisman finalists but are considered long shots based on several Heisman surveys.

Brees led the Boilermakers (8-3) to a Rose Bowl berth against Washington by throwing for 3,393 yards and 24 touchdowns; Tomlinson topped the nation in rushing with 2,158 yards -- the fourth-best single-season total in I-A history -- and scored 22 TDs. The Horned Frogs (10-1) play Southern Mississippi in the Mobile Alabama Bowl.

The closest Heisman voting was Bo Jackson's 45-point win over Chuck Long in 1985; the second tightest was Ernie Davis of Syracuse beating Bob Ferguson of Ohio State by 52 points in 1961.

Ballots from the 922 Heisman voters were due Friday, but by late Thursday only 42 percent of the voters had responded, according to New York's Downtown Athletic Club, which presents the trophy to the "Outstanding Football Player of the United States."

Weinke finished his season by passing for 353 yards and three TDs in a 30-7 win over Florida on Nov. 18. Heupel closed out his season last Saturday by overcoming three interceptions and throwing for two TDs and running for another as OU beat Kansas State 27-24 in the Big 12 title game.

Internet and newspaper Heisman polls indicate the race is too close to call. In the most recent poll, Heupel was ahead of Weinke by three points based on ballots from 48 Heisman voters. Twenty-eight Heisman voters asked by the Rocky Mountain News gave Heupel the edge, but surveys by the Tallahassee Democrat and Tampa Tribune had Weinke with a slight edge.

Naturally, Bowden and Stoops are pulling for their own players.

"To me, Chris' age should be in favor instead of against him," Bowden said. "But I'm sure to some, it's going to make a difference. He's had a tremendous year for us. He has not been a one-season guy. Chris has really done the job here for three years."

Stoops on Heupel: "What he's done in the big games against ranked teams, that's shown that he's a winner. He's brought us to this point."

Long, the former Iowa quarterback, happens to be Heupel's position coach at Oklahoma. He says Heupel is just happy for the trip to New York.

"He'll take it either way, win or lose," Long said. "His situation is a little different than mine. I was in my fourth year and in the pool of players they watch from the start of the season. Josh was not in that pool, and all of a sudden he's 1-2 with Weinke. He sure has come a long way in a short time."

Heupel began his college career at Weber State, where he redshirted in 1996 and then played four games in '97 due to a knee injury. He left for Snow Junior College in Utah and threw for 2,308 yards and 28 TDs before Stoops recruited him to come to Oklahoma. In '99, he threw for 3,400 yards and 30 TDs in a 7-5 season.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound lefty had his best run in Oklahoma's toughest stretch -- he was 66 of 108 for 949 yards, four TDs and just one interception in wins over a No. 11 Texas, a No. 2 Kansas State and a No. 1 Nebraska.

Weinke, 6-5 and 229 pounds, has come a long way in a long time. First, he decided to return for his senior year, then went out and nearly led the Seminoles to a second straight perfect season. Even in defeat, a 27-24 loss to Miami, Weinke excelled. Playing with a hard plastic covering to protect a sprained left foot, he threw for 496 yards and three TDs.

The winner will be announced at the end of a one-hour special on ESPN beginning at 8 p.m. EST.

Related information
Heisman Island: Who will survive?
Closer Look: Age doesn't dim Weinke's brilliance
Three QBs invited to Heisman ceremony
Born quarterback Heupel makes lasting impression
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