The runaway race has tightened up. The candidates are campaigning in different parts of the country. The voters appear to be hedging, changing their minds as the countdown begins.
Clinton and Bush?
Nah, Faulk and Hearst.
The race for the Heisman Trophy is going down to the wire.
"We play in two different types of offenses, and two different schedules, so it's hard to compare," said San Diego State's Marshall Faulk, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore. "I'll leave it up to the voters."
"What I've seen of him [Faulk] is only from one game on TV, but I can see he's a great runner," said Georgia's Garrison Hearst, a 5-11, 202-pound junior. "I wish him the best of luck."
But the comparisons will be made nonetheless. Faulk is stronger. Hearst is faster. Faulk plays in a one-back passing offense, Hearst in a more balanced scheme. A sophomore never has won the award. A junior has won it four straight years after having done it only seven times in the first 48.
For a while, it seemed as if it was going to be a landslide, history-making victory for Faulk. After finishing ninth in the voting as a freshman, Faulk solidified his candidacy with back-to-back, eye-popping performances to start the 1992 season.
"I thought Marshall Faulk would win because of the year he had last year, and all the hype this year," said Hearst, whose campaign didn't take shape until three weeks ago.
While Faulk was rushing for 220 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Cal and 299 yards and three more scores against BYU, the other contenders were falling out of the race. First went Notre Dame's Rick Mirer, then Florida's Shane Matthews and finally Miami's Gino Torretta.
But as Faulk's stock rose, so did the scrutiny. Suddenly, his two fumbles against UCLA on national television were more important than his 118 yards and a touchdown. Suddenly, the fact that he played in the Western Athletic Conference seemed to be a drawback, even though BYU's Ty Detmer won the Heisman two years ago playing in the same league.
"He's not Superman; he's a human being," said San Diego State quarterback David Lowery.
Faulk seems to be wearing down, mentally and physically. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times last week, Faulk said: "Whatever happens, they're finding an excuse for whatever I do. If I have 250-some yards this week, it's not going to be because the offensive line blocked good and we played well. It will be because Air Force didn't play a good game."
As things turned out, Air Force played its best game of the season and upset the Aztecs, 20-17. With the help of San Diego State coach Al Luginbill, who seemed to rest his star player an inordinate amount of time, Faulk was held to 129 yards on 29 carries. He failed to score a touchdown for only the second time in his career.
Standing in a small interview room last Saturday night at Jack Murphy Stadium, Faulk refused to blame his coach for what many perceived as a pedestrian performance. When asked about his limited role in the team's offense for most of the night, Faulk was diplomatic, but insightful.
"It's the game plan," he said, when reminded that he only carried three times in the first quarter. "It just worked out that way. It's not like they're saying, 'We're not going to give the ball to Marshall.' This is a passing offense. It's hard for any back to put up big numbers when you're passing a lot."
Faulk has been putting up big numbers special ever since coming to San Diego State out of high school in New Orleans. His rushing average as a freshman -- 158.8 yards a game -- was the most by a first-year Division I player since Herschel Walker rushed for 146.9 a game at Georgia 12 years ago. His 386 yards against Pacific was an NCAA record, and his seven touchdowns in the same game were also the most by a freshman.
"This is an athlete that comes along once a decade," Luginbill said before this season began.
Though Georgia has had its share of blue-chip running backs since Walker left after winning the Heisman as a junior in 1982, Hearst is putting up better numbers than anybody else. Better than Rodney Hampton. Better than Tim Worley. Better than Lars Tate. Better, in fact, than Walker did the year he won the Heisman.
And, for now, better than Faulk. After rushing 22 times for 171 yards and a touchdown in the seventh-ranked Bulldogs' 40-7 victory last week over Kentucky, Hearst has 1,232 yards on 152 carries with a nation-leading 16 touchdowns. Faulk has 1,112 yards on 169 attempts with 10 touchdowns.
"Hopefully, I can go out and get 100 yards and a touchdown every game," said Hearst. "If I do that, I'll help my team and my chances."
Georgia coach Ray Goff, a former Bulldogs quarterback who finished a distant fifth to Tony Dorsett in the 1976 Heisman race, said: "I think he's playing as well as anybody in the country. I think the key is that he's been able to relax. He hasn't had the attention others have had. I think the guy has a great chance to win it."
Hearst certainly has the momentum. He plays on a better team. Defenses can't be geared just to stopping him, because Georgia has the Southeastern Conference's leading passer in Eric Zeier and its leading receiver in Andre Hastings. He plays in a more respected league, against better defensive teams.
This Saturday's nationally televised game against Florida could put Hearst clearly in the lead, or push him further behind. "The thing with national exposure is that it will help me a lot if I have a good game, and if I have a bad game, it can hurt me," said Hearst.
Like his Heisman competitor, Hearst came out of nowhere. But it took him much longer to find the spotlight than Faulk. While Faulk burst on the scene in his second college game, Hearst's rise has been steady. Coming into the season, he wasn't considered among the top 10 running backs in the country by most of the national publications.
"I think they kind of overlooked me," said Hearst, who is from Lincolnton, Ga., near Augusta. "They had me rated pretty low."
After starting the season with three straight 100-yard plus games, Hearst was not even mentioned among the Heisman pretenders. The 14 attempts for 40 yards against Mississippi sent him further into oblivion. In truth, Hearst's candidacy was fueled mostly by the skepticism surrounding Faulk's numbers.
The biggest knock against Faulk is the competition. Air Force is the top defensive team in the WAC, and the Falcons are now a distant 63rd in the country. Four others are ranked 90th or higher. This week's opponent, Colorado State, is 105th out of 107 teams. Conversely, Kentucky was the lowest-rated defensive team (58th) Georgia has played in the SEC.
"Everyone knows the SEC is one of the toughest leagues; the guys play hardball," said Hearst. "I don't know how tough the conference is he plays in."
With a strong performance Saturday, Hearst clearly can take over as the favorite, if he isn't already. If that happens, he won't be compared with Faulk, but with Walker, whose Heisman Trophy sits two floors above the Georgia locker room.
With what some folks in San Diego call a "Faulkanic Eruption" against Colorado State, the fading front-runner could pick up a few votes. But the big game for Faulk, as it was for Detmer two years ago, will come when San Diego State plays Miami in the Orange Bowl Nov. 28. For now, he is trying to hold onto what once seemed like an insurmountable lead.
"I never looked at myself as some kind of front-runner," Faulk said Monday. "If he accepts being the favorite now, that just puts pressure on him. A lot of things come with that."
The way things are going, a Heisman Trophy just might be one of them.
When: Dec. 12
Where: Downtown Athletic Club, New York
What: Naming the nation's outstanding college football player
How: By 918 voters -- 870 members of the media and 48 former Heisman winners
TV: NBC (channels 2, 4), approximately 3:30 p.m.
Stat for stat
Career and 1992 game-by-game statistics of Heisman Trophy
candidates Marshall Faulk and Garrison Hearst:
.. .. .. .. ..Att... .. .. ..Yds... ... ..TD
1991.. .. .. .201.. .. .. ..1429.. .. .. .21
USC.. .. .. ...27.. .. .. ..220.. .. .. ...3
BYU.. .. .. .. 35.. .. .. ..299.. .. .. .. 3
UCLA.. .. .. ..23.. .. .. ..118.. .. .. ...1
N. Mexico.. .. 25.. .. .. ..200.. .. .. .. 2
UTEP.. .. .. ..30.. .. .. ..156.. .. .. .. 1
Air Force.. .. 29.. .. .. ..129.. .. .. .. 0
Totals.. .. ..169.. .. .. .1112.. .. .. ..10
1990.. .. .. .162.. .. .. .717.. .. .. .. .5
1991.. .. .. .153.. .. .. .968.. .. .. .. .9
S. Carolina.. .17.. .. .. .134.. .. .. .. .1
Tennessee.. ...20.. .. .. .161.. .. .. .. .3
Fullerton.. ...19.. .. .. .164.. .. .. .. .4
Mississippi.. .14.. .. .. ..40.. .. .. .. .0
Arkansas.. .. .19.. .. .. .143.. .. .. .. .2
Georgia So... .20.. .. .. .173.. .. .. .. .2
Vanderbilt.. ..21.. .. .. .246.. .. .. .. .2
Kentucky.. .. .22.. .. .. .171.. .. .. .. .1
Totals.. .. ..152.. .. .. 1232.. .. .. .. 16