McFadden Tries To Keep Hope Alive

FAYETTEVILLE -- In the 72 seasons the Heisman Trophy has been awarded, it has gone to players from teams that finished with two losses or less 59 times.

Seven won college football's most coveted individual award on teams with three losses. Four came from teams with four losses. One team finished .500. Another had a losing record.

In other words, even though Arkansas running back Darren McFadden has sprinted to the best start of his career with 822 yards and 7 touchdowns, broken the school's all-time rushing mark and shrugged off nagging injuries, the Razorbacks' 3-3 record so far this season has made one thing is clear: The junior is fighting an uphill battle to win the Heisman Trophy.

"It's a critical time," said Dennis Dodd, a Heisman voter and senior writer for "We're halfway through now. This is when reputations are made or wrecked. Teams are too."

McFadden and Arkansas, which is 0-3 in the SEC since 2001, obviously have much more on the mind than the Little Rock native's Heisman hopes as it prepares for Saturday's game at Ole Miss (2-5, 0-4 in SEC). But, in reality, the Razorbacks success -- or lack thereof -- will impact whether McFadden grabs the award or falls completely off the radar in the next few weeks.

Take last Saturday for instance. McFadden's resume took another big hit after rushing for a season-low 43 yards in Arkansas' 9-7 loss to Auburn on national television. The Tigers bottled up McFadden -- last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up -- and nearly shut out the Razorbacks.

"To me it was a failure, but it goes along with football," said McFadden, who says he hasn't been keeping up with Heisman Trophy lists or statistics this season. "People may not look at it the same as I do, but it just goes along with football.

"You can't go out there and rush for 100, 200 yards every game."

But the less-than-impressive performance had an obvious affect on McFadden's status.

Scripps Howard, ESPN and USA Today conduct weekly Heisman polls that have resembled the topsy-turvy top 25. Votes are cast, tallied and released to the public each week. In this unsettled season, McFadden was at the top of all three lists two weeks ago. He's not in the top three after the loss.

The Scripps Howard poll, which consists of 10 writers, dropped McFadden to sixth. He's fifth on ESPN's list. USA Today has McFadden listed fourth behind Boston College's Matt Ryan, Kentucky's Andre Woodson and Michigan's Michael Hart.

No one is writing McFadden off despite Arkansas' poor start because of the unusual season in which the top five has been a revolving door. But they're getting closer. And closer. And closer.

"Right now, nobody's driving the bus," said Wendell Barnhouse, a national college football writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who participates in the Scripps Howard poll. "So I don't think you can count McFadden out. But I think he's probably got the toughest road because I think it's going to be hard for him to get numbers with Arkansas' performance."

Said Dodd: "I said at the beginning of the season he could win it if Arkansas went 8-4, but I thought it would be really tough. It usually goes to a team in the top five and wins at least 10 or 11 and does something dramatic in November on television. He did those things last year."

One of McFadden's major attractions in 2006 was his unbelievable versatility. He ran for 14 touchdowns, caught a touchdown pass, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and even threw for three scores. It was evident against Tennessee, when his Heisman campaign kicked off after he ran for 181 yards and two touchdowns, then threw for another score during a nationally televised game.

But McFadden's do-it-all skills haven't been as jaw-dropping this season. He has only thrown two passes. He doesn't have a touchdown catch. He hasn't returned a kickoff for a score.

"I feel like I've had some pretty good games, but I still don't feel like I've been at my best this year," McFadden said. "I don't feel like I've had my best game."

McFadden was scratching his head when he said it. The running back said it was pure coincidence, but coming up with the reasons why weren't easy for McFadden to figure out Wednesday.

Is it the injuries (concussion and ribs) which haven't let him finish two of Arkansas' six games? Is it Marcus Monk's knee injury, which has hampered Arkansas' ability to throw the ball? Is it SEC defenses, who have had a year to study the Razorbacks and figure out ways to slow McFadden? Is it Arkansas' offense, which has been one dimensional and lacking creativity?

Whatever it is, coach Houston Nutt believes one great game will launch McFadden back into the Heisman picture. He also said the Hogs plan to spruce things up against Ole Miss, which is one of three SEC teams that hasn't allowed McFadden to run for 100 yards (Florida and Vanderbilt).

But is it already too late? Some think so.

"Going into the season he had a major, uphill battle because he was on a team that had little or no chance to be a national championship contender and was going to have a very difficult chance to be a contender in its own conference," said Joe Schad, an ESPN college football reporter and Heisman voter. "You don't finish, potentially, .500 in your conference and win a Heisman."

For those reasons, Schad said in his mind there's only one way McFadden will win it now.

"He would have to single-handedly save Houston Nutt," Schad said, referring to the uncertainty surrounding Nutt's future with the Razorbacks.

McFadden, who said he hasn't felt any added pressure to perform because of the Heisman hype, offered a quick reminder there's still six games left. The running back made his biggest impact in the second half of the 2006 regular season, rushing for 860 yards in the final 6 games. senior writer Ivan Maisel said McFadden still holds the necessary notoriety, which he called the "hard part" of a Heisman campaign. He has his own Web site. Notepads have been distributed to Heisman voters. His name remains in the mainstream despite Arkansas' struggles.

"Now he's just got to produce," Maisel said. "He picked the right year to be on a team that has three losses. The national championship race looks like a child's finger painting. You can interpret it any way that you want. There's not anybody on one of those teams that has run away with it."

But those Heisman statistics remain. The last player to win the Heisman Trophy from a three-loss team was Texas running back Ricky Williams in 1998.

Center Jonathan Luigs said the Razorbacks are well-versed in Heisman history. If the team doesn't win, chances are, the player won't either. He said it's part of Arkansas' motivation in the second half.

"It's a burning desire for everybody," Luigs said. "We want it for Darren. We want it for the state. We want to make history for this program and be a part of it. I think that motivates everybody."

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