Only three times since 1950 has a Heisman winner had a teammate who finished in the top five in the voting. (In '83 Nebraska's Mike Rozier won and Turner Gill was fourth; in '72 the Cornhuskers' Johnny Rodgers was first and Rich Glover third; in '64 John Huarte of Notre Dame won and Jack Snow was fifth.) But this year four teams have two solid candidates. While conventional wisdom says teammates siphon votes from each other, the sheer quality of these eight players suggests that the '04 winner will come from this group.
OKLAHOMA True freshman Adrian Peterson has burst to the front of the Heisman pack with one of the most jaw-dropping debuts in college football history. He's third in the nation in rushing, at 159.0 yards per game, and his maturity has been nearly as impressive. The Sooners have relied on him heavily as a second-half weapon, and he has ground down defenses with his remarkable combination of power and speed. Meanwhile sixth-year senior quarterback Jason White, the Heisman incumbent, has bounced back strongly from last season's late collapse, connecting on 64% of his passes, for 20 TDs and just four interceptions.
USC Junior quarterback Matt Leinart, the consensus preseason pick, has done nothing to hurt his Heisman candidacy, completing 65.4% of his passes for 18 touchdowns and four interceptions for the No. 1 Trojans. But much of his thunder has been stolen by supersoph Reggie Bush. The most electrifying player in the nation, Bush is averaging 171.6 all-purpose yards and has 11 touchdowns, including a dazzling 59-yard punt return in USC's 42-12 demolition of Washington State last Saturday.
CALIFORNIA If there's a quarterback better than Leinart, it's junior Aaron Rodgers, who outplayed his counterpart in their Oct. 9 showdown and has hit on 71.1% of his passes, helping position the Bears for their first Rose Bowl berth since 1959. Rodgers's backfield mate, senior J.J. Arrington, is fourth in the nation in rushing (158.0 yards per game) and is the only player other than Oklahoma's Peterson to have rushed for 100 yards in every game.
MICHIGAN Two Wolverines have thrust themselves into the Heisman race. True freshman back Michael Hart has been even more productive than Peterson recently, with three straight 200-yard rushing performances following his breakout 160-yard game against Minnesota on Oct. 9. Over the same span Braylon Edwards has solidified his standing as the nation's top wideout. He had a Heisman-worthy performance in last Saturday's 45-37 win against Michigan State, with 11 catches for 189 yards, including two leaping grabs in the end zone in the fourth quarter and a 24-yard catch-and-run for the game-winner in the third overtime.
SI'S HEISMAN TOP FIVE (this week) 1. Peterson 2. Rodgers 3. Bush 4. Leinart 5. Edwards