Dec 072004
Authors: Preston Cagle

Entering the final week for Heisman Trophy voters to make their decision, the race has turned out tighter than it was believed to be last week.

Southern California's junior quarterback Matt Leinart still emerges as the top choice this week, but the decision is increasingly unclear. He has thrown for 2,990 yards and 28 touchdowns with only six interceptions, and he also managed three rushing touchdowns. He has completed 251-of-377 passes on the season for a 66.6 completion percentage and has a passer rating of 154.5. Leinart's best game was two weeks ago versus rival Notre Dame when he completed 24 passes for 400 yards and five touchdowns without a pick. Without a touchdown pass in his final game versus UCLA, and with teammate Reggie Bush stepping up for a big game, enough votes might be split to dislodge Leinart from the top spot.

Bush is probably the most exciting player in the game at the moment. He returns kicks, rushes and receives passes, and he is only a sophomore. This season he has posted great numbers, rushing for 833 yards and six touchdowns on 137 attempts and catching another 41 passes for 478 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has the advantage of having his best game in the season's final game. Against UCLA, Bush gained 204 yards and two touchdowns running while picking up another 73 yards through the air.

Oklahoma also boasts two Heisman candidates and will get to show its stuff in the national championship game against the Trojans. The defending Heisman winner, senior quarterback Jason White, heads the OU offense. White boasts a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than he did in last season's Heisman campaign, but he also knows that he has something to prove to voters who turned their ballots in before his poor performance in the 2003 Big 12 Championship game. He has thrown for 2,961 yards this season and has 33 touchdowns to only six interceptions. He is 231-of-354 with a completion percentage of 65.3 and a passer rating of 162.9.

True freshman running back Adrian Peterson has turned into a household name this season. He has made the Sooners a more balanced team and broke the century mark in 11-of-12 games this season. Peterson has gained 1,843 yards and scored 15 touchdowns this season on 314 carries. His best statistical game this season came against Baylor when he gained 240 yards and scored three touchdowns, but his more impressive game was when he ran through that vaunted Texas defense and dropped 225 yards on the Sooners' archrival.

To go along with those four top candidates there are a couple of dark horses hoping that enough votes may be split to make it into the final running. Topping that list is senior running back Cedric Benson from Texas. Benson has busted the 1,000-yard barrier in all four years of his career. He rushed for 1,764 yards and 19 touchdowns on 303 carries and caught another 22 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown this season. Benson surpassed the 140-yard barrier in 10- of-11 games this season but was shutdown by OU for only 92 yards on 23 carries.

The other candidate that may be able to benefit from split voting is junior quarterback Alex Smith from Utah. Smith led the Utes to an undefeated season (11-0) and to the Fiesta Bowl for the first Bowl Championship Series bowl bid for a non-BCS team. He has thrown for 2,624 yards and 28 touchdowns this season to go with only four interceptions, and he has rushed for another 563 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He has a 66.1 completion percentage, which is comparable to Leinart, a 174.9 quarterback rating, which is higher than both White and Leinart, and he also has more rushing yards and a better touchdown-to-interception ratio than the two top quarterbacks. The knock against the Utes was their quality of competition, which could hold Smith back from getting the recognition he should as one of the great quarterbacks in the nation.

The votes will be counted and the winner will be announced at 6 p.m. Saturday evening on ESPN.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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