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THE CHANT went up in the north end zone of Memorial Stadium after Cal had punked visiting Stanford in the Big Game, 41-6, on Nov. 20. While quarterback Aaron Rodgers and running back J.J. Arrington posed for a picture at the mouth of the tunnel, a delirious (and possibly deluded) mob of Bears fans shouted over and over, "Heisman! Heisman!"
Yes, but for which one? For Arrington, the mild-mannered senior with 10 straight games of more than 100 rushing yards and the top yards-per-carry average (6.8) in the country--the guy who late in the first quarter against Stanford broke Cal's 29-year-old single-season rushing record of 1,460 yards?
Or should the trophy go to Rodgers, the swashbuckling junior who, just before posing with Arrington, had been held aloft and joyously passed through the crowd on the hands of a sea of students? Rodgers had the top passing-efficiency rating in the Pac-10 (164.0), went over 2,000 passing yards for the year against the Cardinal and had a 69.1 completion percentage. In a narrow loss to top-ranked Southern Cal on Oct. 9, he connected on his first 23 passes, tying an NCAA record, and outplayed Trojans counterpart Matt Leinart.
Through no fault of their own, the Heisman most likely will not go to either of the Bears. Against Stanford, a game in which he needed to put up big numbers to get into the mix with Leinart and Jason White, Rodgers threw all of 14 passes, completing 11, including one for a touchdown. The strategy made sense: Stanford had surprised the Bears by deploying what Cal coach Jeff Tedford called some "nice pressure packages," behind which they kept two safeties in a two-deep zone.
With Rodgers's arm effectively taken out of the game, Arrington was able to shine. He rushed for 169 yards on 27 carries, upping his season total to 1,584 yards. Despite his terrific numbers, though, Arrington is no sure bet to even be called to New York City as one of the five finalists. You figure White, Leinart and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson are locks. That leaves two slots, and Utah quarterback Alex Smith and Texas running back Cedric Benson aren't splitting votes with teammates.
Even in that milestone game against Stanford, Arrington was overshadowed by his freshman teammate Marshawn Lynch, an electrifying runner who needed just nine carries to cover 122 yards. While Tedford concedes that Arrington may be less spectacular to watch than other backs, including Lynch, he insists that "consistency needs to be factored into" Heisman voters' calculations. "If you look around the country, it would be hard to find a guy as consistent as J.J."
If you looked around the locker room after the game, you saw a single reporter speaking to Arrington, while a small mob peppered Lynch and Rodgers with questions. "Although I'd like to open it up and throw for 300 yards," Rodgers said into a thicket of microphones, "I'm going to lead this offense however I can. If we're winning, I'm happy." After the crowd around him had thinned, he was more candid about how this game had affected his Heisman chances. "Deep down," he said, "it's a little disappointing." --A.M.