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November 3, 2006

Experts break down the Heisman race

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The Heisman Trophy is one of the storied awards in all of sports.

It's instantly recognizable, even if it hasn't ensured future NFL success.

The race for the Heisman this year appears to center on the Midwest, where a pair of senior quarterbacks are the front-runners.

Can anyone sneak up on the outside? What has to happen for the favorites to fade?

We asked Rivals.com's guys on the front line what they've seen from the leading contenders, and here's what they told us. The players are listed in the order they would appear on Rivals.com national writer Olin Buchanan's Heisman ballot if he had to turn it in before this weekend's games:

The Heisman front-runners
1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State
Kevin Noon of BuckeyeGrove.com on why Smith will win:
"Everybody loves an underdog, and not to say that he is an underdog in any way, but people remember when he was suspended for the Alamo Bowl (at the end of the 2004 season, a suspension which carried over to the 2005 season opener for accepting $500 from a booster) and the way he has come back from that. The Heisman often goes to someone for a body of work, not a single season, and he has an impressive body of work. This season he has completed almost 68 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And he has a flair for the magnificent. He has put together quite a Heisman highlight reel, whether it's spinning away from a defender and throwing a touchdown pass or tucking it in for a big gainer when his team needs it the most. The Heisman goes to the best player in college football, but if you took him away from the Buckeyes his on-field talents tell only half of the story."

How could Smith lose: "He really would have to lay an egg against Michigan. A couple of interceptions, sub-50 percent, a lot of critical errors. I'm sure that a bad game against Northwestern or Illinois wouldn't help, but the Michigan game will be overly critical. He could survive a bad game if Ohio State wins, but if he has a bad game they won't win."

2. Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame
Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated.com on why Quinn will win:
"I think he's been so great for not just this year but last year. I know it's not a lifetime achievement award, but for the better part of two years he has been among if not the best quarterback in the country. In the last 20 games, he has 53 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Which is, when you put it in those terms, absolutely dominant football."

Why Quinn won't win: "Because so much emphasis is placed on the Michigan game. He had three touchdown passes but three interceptions. Too often the burden of winning and losing is on the shoulders of the quarterback. Three interceptions is hard for some people to discount regardless of what else he's done."

3. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Chris Balas of TheWolverine.com on why Hart will win:
"Because Michigan has a great chance to be undefeated. People are discounting their chances against Ohio State, but Michigan will be right there in that game. He's the reason for their resurgence. He makes the chains move. He's the reason they can control the ball like they want to. He's not going to make a lot of long runs, but he's going to make 2 yards into 5 yards, and 5 yards into 10 yards. For a guy who grinds it out, he fits the bill perfectly. It would help a lot if he pulls a Tshimanga Biakabutuka against the Buckeyes (Biakabutuka erupted for 313 rushing yards against Ohio State in the 1995 game to help Michigan spring the upset). Mike Hart makes the Michigan offense go."

Why Hart won't win: "He's not putting up gaudy numbers, he's just consistent. People will say he got a lot of his yardage because he carries so much. You should be getting that many when you carry that much. But that does a disservice to how valuable he is. He makes the play-action pass work. He's one of the best pass-blockers at his position that Lloyd Carr has ever had. He can catch the ball, too, and we might see a little bit more of that down the stretch. He's a complete player. He's the real deal."



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