For the first time in a long while, we go into the Thanksgiving holiday with the race for the Heisman Trophy wide open. Blame it on Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick. Until he went down with a sprained ankle on Oct. 28, he was the clear favorite for college football's top prize. Now we're left sorting through a roster of candidates that's as baffling as a butterfly ballot.
With only two weeks to go before the Dec. 9 ceremony, how's the race shaping up? Chris Weinke, Florida State. The front-runner. Weinke has led the Seminoles to an 11-1 record while putting up monster numbers: 266 completions for 4,167 yards and 33 touchdowns, school records all. In beating No. 4 Florida last Saturday in front of a national prime-time audience, Weinke passed for 353 yards and three touchdowns despite having battled a case of the flu so bad he was hooked up to an IV on Friday night. "He's the difference in all our wins," says Seminoles tackle Tarlos Thomas. "He's our father." Which brings up Weinke's primary drawback: At 28 he's almost old enough for Thomas to be taken literally. "It's perfectly legal for him to win the Heisman. It's certainly within the rules," says Gators coach Steve Spurrier, in as backhanded an endorsement as you can get. Responds Weinke, "Why should I be penalized? You should be judged for what you do on the field."
Josh Heupel, Oklahoma. The primary competition. Heupel's numbers (3,018 yards, 17 touchdowns) aren't as gaudy as Weinke's, but he has played against four of the top 20 defenses in the country, including two of the top three, and averaged 303 yards in those games. That's a big reason that the Sooners are undefeated. "We'd have great pressure coming up the middle, and he'd be backpedaling and still put the ball on the mark," said Nebraska rush end Kyle Van-den Bosch after Heupel led Oklahoma to a 31-14 defeat of the Huskers. "I don't know if we've ever played a quarterback that good." Last Saturday, Heupel threw for a mortal 248 yards and one touchdown against Texas Tech, but while Weinke is done for the year, Heupel has two more games to pad his stats.
LaDainian Tomlinson, TCU. The spoiler. Tomlinson needs only 16 rushing yards next week against SMU to pass 2,000 for the season. Of the seven men who have hit the 2K mark, five have won the Heisman. Still, because he plays in the rarely televised and little respected WAC, Tomlinson is a long shot. He could, however, have a Nader-like effect on the Heisman race: Since voters who back him are more likely to be swayed by stats, he could cut into Weinke's support.
So there. All we ask now is for a full, fair and accurate count. Oh, and voters: Please do not leave your chads hanging.