Coming Down To The Wire

NEW YORK — As Darren McFadden sat in a plush chair, answering questions about the Heisman Trophy, his biggest competition for the award relaxed in the other room.

For a few minutes Friday evening, McFadden and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow shared a suite on the 43rd floor of the Hilton New York.

Tebow spoke to reporters in the living room while McFadden sat in the bedroom, trying to sound calm even though he was admittedly nervous leading up to tonight's Heisman ceremony.

"It will be a big disappointment to me (if I don't win) because I feel like I've put in a lot of hard work this year and I feel like it's something I really deserve," McFadden said.

And unlike this time last year, the Arkansas running back actually has a chance to win college football's most prestigious individual award.

There was no suspense when it came to the 2006 Heisman ceremony. Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith was among the favorites heading into the season, and the only question was whether he'd win by the largest margin in the award's history.

For as impressive as McFadden looked in his unforgettable sophomore season, neither he nor Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn had much of a chance of beating out Smith for the Heisman.

Smith ended up winning in a landslide. He received 86.7 percent of the first-place votes, the highest percentage ever. And his margin of victory was the second largest in the 72-year history of the Heisman.

But things are much closer this year. In fact, McFadden and Tebow appear to be in a tight two-man race that has only gotten closer over the past few weeks.

It's anyone's guess which name will be called at around 7:50 p.m. tonight during the 73rd Heisman ceremony in the Nokia Theatre. ESPN's Heisman coverage begins at 7 p.m.

"For me, it's very nerve-racking because you don't know who's going to win when you get up there and they announce a name," McFadden said. "It's going to be the worst part of it because it's like your heart's ready to jump out your chest."

Quarterbacks Chase Daniel of Missouri and Colt Brennan of Hawaii join McFadden and Tebow as the four finalists invited to New York City for the Heisman ceremony.

But all indications point to either McFadden, a running back known for his passing, or Tebow, a quarterback known for his running, taking home the famous bronze statue.

McFadden was named the Walter Camp Player of the Year earlier this week; Tebow won the Maxwell Award as college football's top all-around player.

Even more confusing, the Associated Press named Tebow the Southeastern Conference's offensive player of the year while the league's coaches gave the honor to McFadden.

It should make for plenty of drama tonight.

"I'm not really going to try to worry about it too much and just have fun and enjoy the experience and let all that (voting) work itself out," Tebow said. "I'll be happy either way."

McFadden insisted he's trying not to worry about it, either. Of course, the idea of being Arkansas' first Heisman winner has crossed his mind.

For Arkansas fullback Peyton Hillis, it's a no-brainer which player deserves the Heisman.

"I look forward to him winning it, and I'll be behind him the entire time," Hillis said of McFadden.

Former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt and former running backs coach Danny Nutt will join McFadden at tonight's ceremony, along with his family and current Arkansas running backs coach Tim Horton.

"It will mean a whole lot to me, being the first person from the University of Arkansas to win it," McFadden said. "It would just mean a whole lot to me."

So why should McFadden get the award over Tebow?

"Oh, why should I?" McFadden said, pausing. "LSU, South Carolina, those two games right there speak for themselves."

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