WHILE TEBOW seems mature beyond his years, McFadden's charm is that he still has a childlike playfulness. On Halloween no one was surprised to see him walking across campus dressed as Fred Flintstone with his buddy Jones decked out as Barney Rubble. "Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I'm always going to have fun," he says.
The Heisman competition is one of the few races in which McFadden has been caught from behind. After finishing second to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006, he began this season as the favorite, and for the first five games he played like one, with more than 120 yards rushing in each of them, including 195 in a 41--38 loss at Alabama. But he hit a midseason lull in which he gained only 43 yards in a 9--7 loss to Auburn and 61 in a 58--10 victory over winless Florida International two weeks later. Meanwhile, other contenders such as quarterbacks Andre Woodson of Kentucky, Pat White of West Virginia, Matt Ryan of Boston College and Dennis Dixon of Oregon, as well as Tebow, were drawing Heisman attention.
McFadden's slump was at least partially caused by the bruised ribs he suffered in the third game of the season, against Kentucky. After gaining 121 yards in the first half, he took a hard hit early in the second and gained just 22 yards the rest of the way. "It might have taken a toll," McFadden says, "but I'd never blame an injury for the way that I play. I felt good enough to keep playing, so I expect to produce."
Like an experienced campaigner, McFadden knew that elections aren't won in the early primaries. He finished second a year ago even though he wasn't considered a serious candidate until he ran for 219 yards in the Razorbacks' ninth game, against Tennessee. This year, although the consensus was that he had slipped well down the list of candidates because of his October slump, he seemed to sense that an instant replay was coming in the ninth game, against South Carolina. "I'm not really concerned about it," he said of his Heisman status on the Monday before playing the Gamecocks, "because I don't feel like I came onto the Heisman scene until around this time last season."
Even McFadden couldn't have predicted how emphatically he would declare his reentry into the race. In his historic performance against the Gamecocks, he broke an 80-yard touchdown run and averaged 9.4 yards per carry. "[The Heisman voters] took him out of the race, but I bet they'll open their eyes now," Razorbacks right guard Robert Felton said afterward.
But the issue isn't whether the voters' eyes are open, it's which vision they prefer—a one-of-a-kind quarterback who played at a consistently high level from the beginning of the season to the end, or a brilliant tailback who provided two of the season's greatest individual performances. With all due respect to McFadden, there is at least one ballot that will have the kid quarterback's name at the top.