Why doesn't the Heisman Trophy ballot come with more thorough instructions? Why isn't there a manual, with diagrams and a 1-800 number to call when you're stuck, like with a gas barbecue? Or with software to install and peruse? Something. Anything. Instead, there is only the slender ballot, mocking voters with its sparseness: three blank lines to write in three names, with the briefest of guidelines.
Outstanding College Football Player of the United States. Now what in the name of Nile Kinnick does that mean? Is it a player whose statistics put the burn to a Pentium processor, like Andre Ware of Houston, who won the award in 1989 (sidebar, page 60)? Is it the most spectacular performer, a player who makes plays you might never see again, like Desmond Howard of Michigan in '91? Is it the most essential member of a No. 1-ranked team, like Gino Torretta of Miami in '92? Can it be standout Michigan tailback Tshimanga Biakabutuka of Michigan, who is not a native of the United States?
"It should go to the best player in the country, and it should not have anything to do with being on a winning team, a losing team, an unbeaten team," says Oregon State coach Jerry Pettibone.
"Won-loss record is important, so is schedule," says Brigham Young coach La Veil Edwards.
"Don't give it to a renegade or a hoodlum," says Texas A&M coach R.C. Slocum.
Thanks, guys. That's all very helpful.
Picking the Heisman winner is a process of comparing oranges to apples to grapes to bananas. Consider the contrasts this fall: Troy Davis's all-purpose brilliance on a poor Iowa State team to Darnell Autry's essential rushing for surprising Northwestern to the killer-efficient passing of Tennessee's Peyton Manning, Florida's Danny Wuerffel and Florida State's Danny Kanell to the three-man offensive machine of Eddie George, Bobby Hoying and Terry Glenn for unbeaten Ohio State to the vital leadership of quarterback Tommie Frazier for top-ranked Nebraska to the electrifying quickness of Florida State running back Warrick Dunn to acrobatic wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson of Southern Cal to UCLA's massive Jonathan Ogden, the most imposing offensive tackle in the nation. Each player offers varying but valid credentials for winning the Heisman.
Last Saturday afternoon's games brought some blessed clarity to the race. George trampled a good Illinois defense for 314 yards, Frazier led the Cornhuskers to their 10th victory, and Autry and Northwestern remained unbeaten in the Big Ten. So three candidates seem to have moved ahead of the pack, with Wuerffel (a routine five TD passes against South Carolina) and Manning alive on the fringe.
Our ballot looks like this (we've used a pencil because three weekends remain until the Dec. 7 deadline): 1. Frazier, 2. Autry and 3. George. To understand why these names are on our ballot it might be useful to look back on what has been a most unusual Heisman race:
•The Preseason Candidates. In the middle of August the following players were at or near the top of most Heisman watches: running backs Lawrence Phillips of Nebraska, Leeland McElroy of Texas A&M, Stephen Davis of Auburn and Chris Darkins of Minnesota, plus quarterback Ron Powlus of Notre Dame. In mid-November none of them are in anyone's Top 10.