Last year Michael Vick became only the third freshman to finish among the top three in Heisman Trophy voting. This season he attempts to become the first sophomore to win it.
Presented annually since 1935 to college football's most outstanding player, the Heisman has become the most (over) hyped award in sports. Newspapers publish weekly "Heisman Watches," and universities create Web sites to trumpet their candidates.
Virginia Tech to the national championship game last season and set an NCAA freshman record for passing efficiency. Perhaps most important, Vick's electric style captivated the hundreds of media members who vote for the Heisman.
But preseason attention does not a Heisman guarantee. Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning was among the favorites to win in 1996 and '97 but never took home the bronze statue. Conversely, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, the '97 Heisman winner, appeared on few, if any, preseason watches.
Simply stated, performance counts - individual and team. Only one of 65 Heisman winners, Notre Dame's Paul Hornung in 1956, played for a losing team. Only 13 played for teams that lost more than two games.
Experience also counts. Fifty-two seniors and 13 juniors have won the Heisman. Sophomores and freshmen need not apply.
So here is one handicapper's view of a handful of potential Heisman winners.
Background: Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback.
Numbers: As a redshirt freshman, Vick led the nation in passing efficiency, and his 180.37 rating was the second-best in Division I-A history. He was intercepted only five times in 152 attempts and also rushed for 585 yards and eight touchdowns. Vick was third in the Heisman race last year, equaling the highest finish for a freshman.
Thumbs up: Vick is arguably the nation's most spectacular player, and win or lose he figures to make SportsCenter every week.
Thumbs down: Given the Hokies' balanced offense, Vick isn't likely to produce the 300-plus yard passing games that are the staple of most Heisman- winning quarterbacks.
Did you know? The last freshman to finish third in the Heisman race, Georgia's Herschel Walker, won the award two years later.
Web site: hokiesportsinfo.com/vick
Background: Purdue senior quarterback.
Numbers: Brees is on pace for more than 11,500 career passing yards, which would place him second all-time behind Brigham Young's Ty Detmer, the 1990 Heisman winner. After posting pedestrian stats as a backup in 1997, Brees passed for a combined 7,284 yards and 57 touchdowns in 1998 and '99. He finished fourth in Heisman voting last year.
Thumbs up: Operating from a one-back, spread formation, Purdue attempted nearly 50 passes per game last season, virtually assuring Brees eye- popping stats.
Thumbs down: Is Brees truly a big-time quarterback, or merely a product of a system?
Did you know? Brees earned a 4.0 grade-point average during the spring 2000 semester.
Web site: purduesports.com
Background: Texas Christian senior tailback.
Numbers: Tomlinson edged Heisman winner Ron Dayne for the Division I-A rushing title last year with 1,850 yards. He also averaged 6.9 yards per carry, best among the nation's top-50 rushers. Tomlinson's 406 yards against Texas El-Paso broke the NCAA's single-game record of 396 set by Kansas' Tony Sands in 1991. Last year was his first 1,000-yard season.
Thumbs up: Tomlinson appears primed for a 2,000- yard season, and five of the previous eight backs to crack that barrier won the Heisman.
Thumbs down: Voters may discount the statistics Tomlinson compiles against weak Western Athletic Conference competition.
Did you know? TCU's Sammy Baugh finished a distant fourth in the 1936 Heisman voting won by Yale's Larry Kelley.
Web site: LTfor2000.com
Background: Florida State senior quarterback.
Numbers: Weinke is 21-1 in two seasons as the Seminoles' starter, the last 20 victories coming in succession. He passed for 3,103 yards and 25 touchdowns last season in leading Florida State to the national championship. He also proved himself completely recovered from the frightening neck injury he sustained against Virginia late in the '98 season.
Thumbs up: Weinke is the most visible player on the nation's most visible team, and another championship run would assure Heisman contention.
Thumbs down: Weinke won't produce Brees-like numbers or Vick-like highlights.
Did you know? Weinke is 28, one year older than Super Bowl quarterback Steve McNair of the Tennessee Titans.
Web site: seminoles.com
Background: Georgia junior quarterback.
Numbers: Carter passed for more than 2,400 yards in each of his first two seasons, and his career total of 5,197 is better than the two-year aggregates posted by Peyton Manning, Tim Couch, Danny Wuerffel and John Elway. His greatest improvement last year was cutting his interceptions from 12 to six while attempting 57 more passes.
Thumbs up: The Dawgs should boost Carter's profile by contending for their first Southeastern Conference title since 1982.
Thumbs down: Carter is 0-6 as a starter against Georgia's three most-hated rivals - Florida, Tennessee and Georgia Tech.
Did you know: Carter signed with Georgia Tech out of high school but opted for two years of minor league baseball instead.
Web site: quincyforheisman.com
Every compelling race includes surprises, and the 2000 season could produce plenty. Among them: quarterbacks Eric Crouch of Nebraska and Marques Tuiasosopo of Washington; running backs LaMont Jordan of Maryland, Travis Minor of Florida State and Anthony Thomas of Michigan; receivers Santana Moss and David Terrell of Michigan; all-purpose threats Freddie Milons of Alabama and Bobby Newcombe of Nebraska; defensive end Alex Brown of Florida.
Campaigning has commenced. Games begin Aug. 26. The 700-plus voters speak Dec. 9 at New York's Downtown Athletic Club.
Bush versus Gore may pale in comparison.
Aug. 13, 2000: Operation Heisman begins for Michael Vick at Virginia Tech
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