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COMING INTO FOCUS
Tim Layden
November 20, 1995
After the field was flush with candidates early on, the Heisman Trophy vote is shaping up as a photo finish between Tommie Frazier and Eddie George
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November 20, 1995

Coming Into Focus

After the field was flush with candidates early on, the Heisman Trophy vote is shaping up as a photo finish between Tommie Frazier and Eddie George

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Phillips was the front-runner two weeks into the season, but he was suspended for six games for having assaulted a former girlfriend. Then McElroy assumed the mythical mantle, but he fell out of favor with voters after Colorado held him to 52 yards in the Aggies' third game. Stephen Davis has been underused (988 yards on 158 carries) by a disappointing team. Minnesota is 3-6, and Darkins missed a couple of games with an ankle injury. Notre Dame opened with a home loss to Northwestern—end of story for Powlus.

It's just as ridiculous to consider players Heisman candidates in August as it is to rank the Top 25 teams before any of them has played a game. Thankfully, however, Heisman promotion isn't what it used to be. No longer do sports information directors at major schools go to the lengths that Notre Dame's Roger Valdiserri did in 1970, when he changed the pronunciation of Joe Theisman's name (it had been pronounced Thees-man). Ohio State hasn't done much to push George other than to send out weekly postcards detailing his accomplishments—information that was readily available in the Sunday paper. Nebraska's campaign for Frazier has consisted of an expanded section in the team's weekly press release. "That's fine if you're Nebraska and you're on national television every week," says Minnesota sports information director Marc Ryan.

The Gophers weren't on national TV at all last year when Darkins, now a senior, ran for 1,443 yards. So Ryan has spent $10,000 since late August to publicize him. A video highlighting Darkins's junior year was mailed to 75 Heisman voters, and POGs were sent to 1,700 coaches and media members claiming, No matter how hard you slam Chris Darkins, he always lands right side up. Texas A&M printed 20,000 McElroy postcards and 250 McElroy videotapes and set up a McElroy home page on the Internet.

For the most part, though, contrived publicity has been minimal for the serious Heisman contenders. The increased number of televised games and ESPN's saturation coverage are more effective than mass mailings or videotapes (especially when there are 921 voters, far too many), although Lee Corso's shrill support of Frazier on ESPN is almost enough to make an objective voter look elsewhere. Old methods still work best. In the fall of 1973 Penn State offensive lineman Mark Markovich asked SID John Morris what he was doing to help John Cappelletti's Heisman campaign. "It's up to you guys to help him win it on the field," said Morris.

•The Troy Davis issue. Davis is the Heisman candidate who, like Ware in '89, demands attention simply by the weight of his statistics. He needs 170 yards in Iowa State's final game this Saturday to reach 2,000 for the season. Only four other backs have crashed that barrier: Marcus Allen of Southern Cal in 1981, Mike Rozier of Nebraska in '83, Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State in '88 and Rashaan Salaam of Colorado in '94, and all of them won the Heisman. What's more, they all played on teams that were far superior to Davis's, which is 3-7 and lost 73-14 to Nebraska two weeks ago. Iowa State has even distributed a flier detailing the weakness of Davis's supporting cast. No player from a losing team has won the Heisman since Paul Hornung of Notre Dame in 1956.

Here is another problem for Davis: He is a terrific player, but he gained 795 of his yards against UNLV, Ohio University and Oklahoma State—three bad teams with a combined record of 7-22-1. Yards gained against the highest level of competition are the toughest yards of all.

•Two SEC quarterbacks. Wuerffel and Manning have nearly identical statistics for teams ranked No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, in the country. Their skills are disparate—"Manning looks the part a little more, and he's got a cannon for an arm," says Georgia defensive coordinator Joe Kines. "Wuerffel is a touch guy." But both are effective. "Each guy is perfect for his system," says Kines. Head-to-head, Florida scorched Tennessee 62-37, with Wuerffel throwing six touchdown passes to Manning's two.

So why do we rank Manning higher? It is axiomatic that any Florida quarterback can pile up impressive numbers in coach Steve Spurrier's system. Two weeks ago against weakling Northern Illinois, Spurrier gave junior Eric Kresser his first career start. Kresser threw for 458 yards and six TDs. Axioms can also be accurate.

•Two Big Ten running backs. Lots of observers are hot on giving the Heisman to George, not the least among them Ohio State coach John Cooper: "If Eddie George is not the finest football player in the nation or not deserving of the Heisman, who is?" Against the Buckeyes' four toughest opponents to date—Washington, Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin—George averaged 29 carries and 170.2 yards. He probably will win the statue.

However, does George, a senior, deserve the Heisman more than Autry? Their statistics, like Manning's and Wuerffel's, are similar (George has 1,592 yards, Autry 1,449), but Autry, a sophomore, has 67 more carries and has played one more game. On the other hand Autry is more critical to Northwestern's success than George is to the Buckeyes'.

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