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Front-runner
Tim Layden
November 15, 1999
In a tour de force against Purdue, Ron Dayne of Wisconsin bulldozed his way to the lead in the race for the Heisman Trophy
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November 15, 1999

Front-runner

In a tour de force against Purdue, Ron Dayne of Wisconsin bulldozed his way to the lead in the race for the Heisman Trophy

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Minus: Virginia is only 5-4. Team performance matters. A Heisman winner should make his team better, and the Cavaliers have lost to Clemson and Duke. What's more, the ACC isn't as tough as the Big Ten.

?Brees. Plus: There's no disputing the numbers, which, even in Purdue coach Joe Tiller's Y2K offense, are staggering. Brees, who announced on Monday that he'll return for his senior season, has thrown for 333.4 yards per game and 21 touchdowns against a brutal schedule in the strongest conference in the country. He has also rushed for 160 yards. Yet the statistics don't fully illustrate how capably Brees runs a complex offense. "With a quarterback, I like to key on his face," says Ohio State junior linebacker Na'il Diggs, "but Brees doesn't give anything away. He's not antsy in the pocket, and he's got confidence in every throw he makes."

Minus: "[ Purdue has] played in three big games and lost them all," said Ted Sundquist, director of college scouting for the Denver Broncos, last week, referring to the Boilermakers' losses to Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. Now add the defeat to Wisconsin. There have been some extenuating circumstances: Brees's receivers dropped at least a dozen passes in the 38-12 spanking by the Wolverines, and a blocked field goal cost Purdue a chance to go into overtime against the Buckeyes. Still, the Boilermakers are only 6-4.

? Hamilton. Plus: Georgia Tech is 6-2 and remains in contention for a New Year's Day bowl despite the loss of two tailbacks to injury and a defense that has given up an average of 27.1 points per game. "I don't even like to think where we'd be without him," says Yellow Jackets offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen of the 5'10", 180-pound Hamilton, who not only has thrown for 264.5 yards per game and 19 touchdowns but also is second on the team in rushing, with 64.5 yards per game. "I don't want to say he's our whole offense," says senior tackle John Carman, "but he's 99 percent of it." That offense is one of the most demanding in college football, mixing the triple option with a four-wide shotgun passing game. "It's phenomenal, what Hamilton does," says Central Florida defensive coordinator Gene Chizik, whose Golden Knights lost 41-10 to Georgia Tech.

Minus: Hamilton ran out of miracles in the loss to Virginia. In a 31-24 overtime victory over North Carolina on Oct. 9, he rallied the Yellow Jackets only after he had two passes intercepted and lost two fumbles. "He was tight," says Friedgen of that performance. "It was the first week Warrick was out, and Joe felt the Heisman pressure."

? Dayne. Plus: Barely a year ago Tony Dorsett's 22-year-old career rushing record was one of the most cherished marks in college football. The fact that Williams broke it last season doesn't diminish the significance of the record. Now Dayne is on the verge of passing Williams's mark. "Against Iowa's [weak] defense he could get it in the first quarter," says one Purdue offensive player of Dayne's prospects on Saturday. Dayne's work isn't poetry. He hammers through defenders six yards at a time, with occasional bursts through fearful, exhausted tacklers. "If you get to him after two or three yards, you can knock him down yourself," says Minnesota's Hoffman. "Five yards past the line you need to get help." Yet underneath Dayne's hulking body are quick feet, beating defenses that know he's coming at them. Ninth-ranked Wisconsin has one game left and is gunning for its second consecutive Big Ten title. Dayne, who surprised many observers by staying in school for his senior season, has impressed NFL scouts. "He's really stepped it up," says Washington Redskins director of player personnel Vinny Cerrato.

Minus: Dayne is a lousy self-promoter. He's not little and cute, like Hamilton, or ebullient and flashy, like Brees. Also, he rushed for negative yardage in the second half of a 21-16 loss to Michigan.

If the season ended today, Dayne would be our choice. However, Hamilton has three games left to change our minds. The season's uncertainty demands waiting until the last down is played. "I like Dayne by a little bit," said Ohio State's Diggs before the Purdue game, "but I'm not counting my chickens yet."

Nobody should.

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