Larry vs. Jason (and Eli)
Whom do you like—the spectacular player for a flawed team or the phenomenal performer for the nation's best squad? That's what this year's Heisman race will most likely come down to, as nearly 1,000 voters choose between Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, with Ole Miss QB Eli Manning as a wild card. To get a read on how the polling might go, six SI voters—writers Tim Layden, Austin Murphy, Phil Taylor and Kelley King and editors Mark Mravic and B.J. Schecter—listed their top three choices as of last weekend. As in actual Heisman voting, points were assigned (three for first, two for second, one for third), with final rankings based on total points. Looks like a tight two-man race.
1. LARRY FITZGERALD, WR, Pittsburgh, Soph.
POINTS: 16 (four first-place votes, two seconds) STATS: 77 receptions, 1,467 yards, 19 touchdowns; NCAA-record 16 straight games with a TD reception SKINNY: Don't penalize Fitzgerald for his youth (he'd be the first sophomore to win the Heisman) or his team's failings (in Saturday's 52-31 loss to West Virginia he had nine catches for 185 yards and two TDs). Despite seeing double and triple teams all season, he continues to churn out huge numbers—at 146.7 receiving yards per game, he leads the nation by nearly 30 yards—and make out-of-this world catches. Still, some voters will be reluctant to hand him a Heisman when Herschel Walker, considered by many the best college player ever, didn't win it as a sophomore.
2. JASON WHITE, QB, Oklahoma, Sr.
POINTS: 12 (two firsts, three seconds) STATS: 332 attempts, 216 completions (65.1%), 3,052 yards, 36 touchdown passes, six interceptions, 174.4 passer rating (first in the nation) SKINNY: White's camp must wonder what more a guy can do to win the Heisman beyond leading the country in passing while directing an undefeated team to the No. I ranking. Meanwhile, his detractors call him another Gino Torretta, riding the coattails of a supremely talented team. History is also against him—since 1960, only four players on national championship teams have won the award—but White will get plenty of support from voters in the Midwest, South and West, maybe enough to overcome Fitzgerald's growing East Coast media buzz.
3. ELI MANNING, QB, Mississippi, Sr.
POINTS: 5 (one second, three thirds) STATS: 347 attempts, 218 completions (62.8%), 2,881 yards, 23 touchdowns passes, eight interceptions, 149.8 passer rating (16th in the nation) SKINNY: In the past two years Manning popped up on preseason Heisman lists based seemingly on the strength of his name rather than his game. But it's his performance this year that has pushed him into contention for the award that eluded brother Peyton. He has Ole Miss vying for its first SEC title in 40 years, and he's the most poised and fundamentally sound quarterback in the country. A big win against LSU in Oxford this weekend would boost his candidacy, but it's hard to imagine him passing Fitzgerald or White.
OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES: USC quarterback Matt Leinart (two third-place votes), Michigan running back Chris Perry (one third-place vote)