McFadden No Shoo-In For Heisman In ‘07

LITTLE ROCK--Before making room in the Broyles Center museum for the statue with the stiff arm, ponder the fate of Marshall Faulk, Adrian Peterson and Barack Obama.

The first two are football players who never duplicated the season that grabbed Heisman voters. A U.S. senator from Illinois, Obama is a media darling who will undergo more and more scrutiny if he jumps into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. With their late-on-the-scene splash, Arkansas running back Darren McFadden and Obama have been in the same sentence previously. After finishing second in the Heisman voting last week, McFadden is the favorite for 2007. With that role comes expectations, maybe unfairly high expectations. For instance, he piled up a school-record 1,558 yards rushing in 13 games and scored 15 touchdowns. If Arkansas is more adept at throwing the ball in 2007, but fails to make the SEC title game, will McFadden get his due with 1,358 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns? Such things are left to the vagaries of the voters. Sometimes, they get bored with a front-runner and look for options. McFadden is the eighth freshman or sophomore to finish second in the Heisman balloting. The first three — Notre Dame's Angelo Bertelli, Army's Glenn Davis and Georgia's Herschel Walker — went on to win the hardware. The other four — Faulk, Peterson, Rex Grossman and Larry Fitzgerald — did not. A wide receiver from Pittsburgh, Fitzgerald was zapped by the money, turning pro after his stellar year as a redshirt sophomore. He lost 1,628 to 1,552 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White, who was handed the Heisman in 2003 because there were not many other viable choices. A quarterback at Florida, Grossman was Zooked. Ron Zook replaced Steve Spurrier and Grossman bailed a year after option quarterback Eric Crouch of Nebraska beat him by 62 points, the fourth smallest margin in history. Troy Smith's margin over McFadden is to be noted. The vote was 2,540 to 878 and brings to mind a horse race in which a favorite wins by 10 lengths. McFadden had a stellar year, but cynics will dismiss the runner-up by saying somebody has to finish second. As a freshman at San Diego State, Faulk ran for more than 1,400 yards and scored 23 touchdowns. The next two years, he did less. Peterson rushed for 1,925 yards as a freshman in 2004 and received 997 votes to Matt Leinart's 1,325. The 2005 winner, Reggie Bush, was fifth. Bothered by nagging injuries, Peterson made 1,108 as a sophomore. He was up to 935 through six games this year and would have been in New York except that he broke his collarbone on his 26th carry in a 34-9 victory over Iowa State. It was that injury and McFadden's fast finish, particularly TV games against South Carolina, Tennessee, and LSU, that earned the Arkansas back a tour of the Big Apple. McFadden's status as the favorite dictates more of a never-ending campaign for Arkansas' first legitimate Heisman candidate. This year, McFadden was a late arrival on the national scene and about 1,000 postcards went to the media in early November. For now, it's more about making certain that preseason magazines and other national media remember McFadden when it comes time for them to do their thing. All other things being equal, Arkansas' offensive line might be the key for McFadden in 2007. It will not be easy to replace tackle Tony Ugoh and guard Stephen Parker and the Razorbacks must win at least nine for McFadden to remain in the spotlight. A target of Arkansas opponents most of the 2006 season, McFadden can deal with stacked defenses. Injuries are unpredictable and voters who respond to the bottom line won't care much that he was less than 100 percent against Florida when he made only 73 yards on 21 carries. Measured by the numbers, there is no waiver for a sick day. Although his skills are obvious from the stands, I remember offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn telling the SEC media that he didn't appreciate McFadden's width and acceleration until he stood behind him during spring practice. With the wind whipping, I had to wait on the tee Saturday while a playing partner retold the 2004 story of how Paul Eells and I agreed that McFadden ran too upright and would make a whale of a safety. Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. e-mail: hking@arkansasnews.com.

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