ON THE LAUNCH PAD Rocket has nose ahead in Heisman race


Whoosh!!! Hey, was that The Rocket running away with the Heisman Trophy?

With slightly more than two weeks left before the announcement, Notre Dame's all-purpose player Raghib "Rocket" Ismail seems to be the front-running candidate for college football's big award.

Doesn't this all sound familiar?

Ismail starts out deep behind Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer and Michigan's Jon Vaughn, then runs into a pile of others, including running backs Eric Bieniemy of Colorado and Darren Lewis of Texas A&M;, then out-legs quarterbacks Shawn Moore of Virginia and David Klingler of Houston down the stretch.

"It's his to win," said Mike Francesa, a CBS college football analyst. "He has two more games left, both on national television, and if he plays like he has thus far, it's a lock."

Wait a minute. How can a 5-foot-10, part-time wide receiver, running back and full-time specialist win the Heisman with only six total touchdowns? The national television exposure most of the season certainly helped, but one doesn't win a Heisman on primetime alone. Ismail has handled the ball on 101 plays, gaining 1,421 yards. His statistics are comparable to former Notre Dame star Tim Brown's. Brown handled the ball 111 times for 1,640 yards and seven touchdowns in his 1987 Heisman season.

"Explosive,the ability to dominate or turn around a game so quickly,"that ABC commentator Dick Vermeil about Ismail.

"No player has such an impact. Personally, I would pick Shawn Moore, but, at this particular time, Ismail has to be the favorite and picking up steam."

"He gives his team good field position without even touching the ball, because other teams kick away from him," said Francesa. "His ability to turn a game around in one play is not matched in college football."

There are others, though, who say Moore was the most valuableplayer of any top 10 team.

Moore, 6-2, 213 pounds, runs the option, has a decent arm and operates an offense that averages 44.3 points.

"Moore is a Tony Rice with an arm," said Ivan Maisel of The Dallas Morning News.

"When you look at the overall picture, no one has done and meant more to their team than Shawn Moore," said ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. "If you took the Rocket or Jon Vaughn away from their respective teams, they would still have good teams. But if you took Shawn Moore away from Virginia, they would be average."

Moore's chances for the Heisman, though, faded Nov. 3, when the then-No. 1 and unbeaten Cavaliers lost to Georgia Tech, 41-38, on national television.

"Basically, Virginia had to go undefeated for him to win it," said Francesa. "Even though Virginia scored 41 points that day, and it wasn't his fault they lost, it put him behind Ismail."

Moore has company in others who have taken a Heisman slide in one game. Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer may have lost his Heisman to a bunch of attacking Ducks, as in Oregon, which beatBrigham Young, 32-16.

Detmer completed 33 of 57 passes for 442 yards against Oregon, but five of his passes were intercepted. He failed to revive the magic of three weeks before in a near-perfect, gutty performance and a 28-21 victory over then-top-ranked Miami, which made him the leading candidate for the Heisman.

"Who can vote for a guy who loses to a team called the Ducks?" said one Heisman voter.

"He may have played his best game too early, and the school doesn't get a whole lot of exposure," said Kiper. "You know, it's one of those out-of-mind, out-of-voting things. Plus, their schedule just wasn't that tough."

Miami quarterback Craig Erickson lost his luster in the race because the Hurricanes committed a cardinal sin this season. Miami lost two games. Goodbye, Heisman.

Klingler, 6-3, 205, had an outside chance until Saturday night, when the Cougars (8-1) lost to Texas, 45-24, as Klingler completed only 22 of 52 passes for 299 yards and was intercepted four times.

Klingler also has the odds against him.

Andre Ware, the 1989 Heisman winner and former Houston quarterback, produced a number of 400-yard games last season, and such games no longer are a big deal in Houston's run-and-shoot offense.

And and only two schools, Yale (Larry Kelley and Clint Frank in 1936 and 1937) and Army (Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis in1945-46) turned out different Heisman winners in consecutive seasons. Ohio State also produced a Heisman winner two straight years, but he was the same player -- Archie Griffin.

"I have a tough time believing anybody judges a player on one game," said Detmer, 6-0, 175, referring to him and Klingler. "I'm not going to worry about it, because we're here to play for a whole season. And if by the end, I win the Heisman, that's fine. If not, well, that's fine, too."

Bieniemy, 5-6, 195, seems to be the top running back, but his troubles earlier in the season may cost him a few votes. Bieniemy was charged with interfering with firefighters while they tried to put out a fire at his parents' home. He was suspended for the team's season opener against Tennessee. In 1988, Bieniemy received a deferred sentence after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct stemming from a bar fight.

"I think people will still remember," said Kiper.

"He's an exciting back, but if you give [the Heisman] to Bieniemy, then you should have given it to [Washington State running back Steve] Broussard last year," said Joel Buchsbaum, draft analyst and associate editor of Pro Football Weekly. "Bieniemy is exciting, but I don't know if he's a great back."

Vaughn, 5-11, 200, started off the year well, averaging 244.5 yards, but has been only average the rest of the way, and Lewis, 6-0, 220, may have become a candidate too late in the season.

"Look at it this way," said Francesa. "Moore loses the big game. Klingler and Detmer have similar stats which cancel each other. There are no super running backs, so that just leaves the Rocket, who is clearly above and ahead of the rest of the field."


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