Will Heisman Front-Runners Please Stand Up?

FAYETTEVILLE — When the college football season kicked off in early September, seemingly everyone could identify the early Heisman Trophy favorites by their last names.

Bradford, McCoy and Tebow.

The order of the names could be flipped around, but there was little doubt that one of the three quarterbacks would win the Heisman and the other two would accompany him to New York City for the trophy's presentation.

Not so fast, though.

Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, last year's Heisman winner, has played in only 1 1/2 games this season because of a sprained joint in his right shoulder.

Florida's Tim Tebow — the 2007 winner whose nickname is "Superman" — has looked rather human, putting up sub-par numbers by his standard and getting knocked out in a Sept. 26 win at Kentucky.

"I think there are people who are tired of hearing about Tim Tebow," said Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com college football writer. "(But) I think there are people tired of Barbra Streisand, and she's got the leading album in the nation right now."

As for Texas' Colt McCoy, he's arguably not even the best player on his own team. That title could go to versatile wide receiver Jordan Shipley.

As a result, Heisman voters head into today — which marks the halfway point for many teams — unsure of who's deserving of college football's most coveted individual award. All of a sudden, players with less recognizable names like Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and Cincinnati quarterback Tony Pike have joined the discussion.

But Pike is now nursing a wrist injury. And as strange as it might sound, how about Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who'll be trying to match Tebow in today's 2:30 p.m. game in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium?

"I don't try to pay too much attention to (the Heisman race) until later in the year," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who gets a vote every year as Florida's first Heisman winner in 1966. "I think you sort of watch and see who's real hot right now, and right now it looks like it's pretty much wide-open as far as all the top quarterbacks or so forth.

"Shoot, (Notre Dame quarterback) Jimmy Clausen's maybe got his name in there now, certainly deservingly. But it's still early. I think we're only halfway through the season for most teams, so late in the year it should maybe work it's way out."

Shakeup Day

Actually, today could help sort out a muddled Heisman race. Bradford and McCoy could jump-start their campaigns — and Shipley could get his going — when third-ranked Texas faces No. 20 Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout in Dallas.

Heisman voters will be curious to see how Clausen does in perhaps his biggest test of the season when No. 25 Notre Dame hosts sixth-ranked USC.

And after having limited success in his first game back from a concussion — a 13-3 win over No. 10 LSU — Tebow will try to return to his "Superman" form against an Arkansas defense that has given up several big plays this season.

"I'm not too worried if I throw it 16 times or 62 times (a game)," Tebow said. "Whatever I'm asked to do I'm going to do it to the best of my ability and try to do it well."

Tebow remains atop several weekly Heisman polls conducted by major news outlets. It doesn't matter that his numbers through Florida's first five games aren't on pace to match his output in 2007, when he accounted for 55 touchdowns to edge out former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden for the Heisman.

Tebow has thrown for 777 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions to go along with his 309 yards rushing and five touchdowns.

"It's all about November, (but) this will be a shakeout week," said CBSSports.com college football columnist Dennis Dodd, who votes in the weekly Scripps Howard Heisman poll. "But Tim Tebow had, to me, what was an average game coming back from the concussion (against LSU) and he's still No. 1.

"Frankly, I'm surprised."

Mallett As Darkhorse?

With none of the early Heisman front-runners putting up huge numbers, Mallett has gotten mentioned lately as a darkhorse candidate for the award. He's the Southeastern Conference's leading passer with 1,422 yards and 13 touchdowns to only three interceptions — statistics that are comparable to Clausen (1,544 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions).

So could Mallett's name enter the Heisman discussion if he can lead the Razorbacks to an upset in The Swamp?

"No," Maisel said. "If he had put up the numbers against Alabama that he's put up against somebody else, then maybe he'd make the conversation."

Dodd said he believes Mallett could play his way into the Heisman race, but added that the quarterback has no chance of joining Tebow as the only sophomores to earn the award unless the Razorbacks win the remainder of their games.

"I think he can get into the discussion, but Ryan Mallett could only win if Arkansas goes 10-2 and probably finishes in the top 5," Dodd said. "I mean, that's just the reality of it. I can't remember the last player that won with a 7-5 team."

Mallett admitted he's not too concerned with his numbers, even as gaudy as they might be.

"Seriously, the wins and losses (are) my main concern, especially playing for my hometown team," Mallett said. "They don't like losses around here, and I don't, either. So that's what I try to maintain."

And the jumbled Heisman race continues.

ESPN's latest Heisman poll

Name Position School

1. Tim Tebow QB Florida

2. Jimmy Clausen QB Notre Dame

3. Colt McCoy QB Texas

4. Tony Pike QB Cincinnati

5. Ndamukong Suh DT Nebraska

Scripps Howard's latest Heisman poll

1. Tebow

2. McCoy

3. Pike

4. (tie) Clausen, QB, Notre Dame, Did not play, 12.

4. (tie) Case Keenum QB Houston

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