Peterson running to change history

Adrian Peterson is running his way into the NCAA history books. But when it comes to his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy, history will not be on his side. (AP Photo/Jerry Laizure)

Adrian Peterson is running his way into the NCAA history books. But when it comes to his chances of winning the Heisman Trophy, history will not be on his side.

That's because no freshman player has ever won college football's most coveted statuette. In fact, no freshman has ever even finished as runner-up in the final voting.

The Heisman has traditionally been an award reserved for upperclassmen who have theoretically "paid their dues" while coming up through the ranks. Quarterbacks and running backs have dominated the balloting for years, but voters have always leaned away from the rookies — even if they are as good as Hershel Walker was during his first year at Georgia.

Walker turned the college football world on its ear by running for over 1,600 yards as a Bulldog freshman in 1980. A blend of speed and power, Walker topped the 200-yard mark four different times that season, smashing several NCAA records in the process.

But when it came Heisman time, South Carolina back George Rogers — the nation's leading rusher — ran away with the award. Walker finished a distant third in the voting.

Only three times in the history of the Heisman has a freshman finished among the top three vote getters — Walker in '80, Georgia Tech's Clint Castleberry in 1942 and Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick in 1999.

Amazingly, Ron Dayne, who broke Hershel Walker's freshman rushing record with 1,863 yards in 1996, did not finish in the top 10 of the Heisman voting that season.

So, is it even conceivable that a freshman like Peterson can even pose a serious challenge for the Heisman?

"It's more conceivable today than ever because more freshmen are playing now," offered OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long. "If you couple that fact with a guy who has broken some records and played as well as Adrian has then I'd say it's possible."

Long, a former quarterback for the NFL's Detroit Lions, knows a little bit about the Heisman system and how voters around the country are swayed one direction or the other. As a senior at Iowa, he was runner-up to Bo Jackson in the 1985 Heisman voting.

"Voters have traditionally gone for older players, but I think with the excitement A.D. brings to the game, that could change," Long noted.

Peterson currently ranks fifth nationally in rushing with 152.6 yards per game. But a more telling stat is the 191.3 yards he has averaged in OU's three wins over ranked opponents — Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.

The Palestine, Texas, product owns the NCAA mark with nine consecutive 100-plus rushing games, and he tied the NCAA freshman record for reaching 1,000 yards in the fewest games (7). Peterson also already owns OU's freshman rushing record (1,373 yards) with four games remaining.

"A.D. is special, there's no doubt about it," said OU coach Bob Stoops. "The way he has played this season has been sensational."

Of course, Peterson may very well be running second in the Heisman voting on his own team. Jason White, the 2003 Heisman winner, is the guy handing the ball off to the freshman sensation, and he'll have a say in who collects the hardware next month.

White has said all along his vote will go to Peterson, but if he continues to put up the kinds of numbers he has in recent weeks, that may not matter. OU's sixth-year senior has thrown for 16 touchdowns and just one interception over the Sooners' last four games. At that pace, he will break his own single-season record for TD passes with 40.

Could White and Peterson potentially cancel each other out when it comes to the Heisman voting?

That's a "problem" Long doesn't mind dealing with.

"We love the fact we have two guys on the same team in the race for college football's greatest award," said a smiling Long. "All it does is put OU football in the spotlight that much more, which certainly can't hurt our recruiting efforts. It's a great thing for our program."

In the 1944 Heisman race, a pair of sophomores from Army — Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis — finished a very close second and third, respectively, in the voting. That allowed Ohio State's Les Horvath to grab the prize.

Of course, Blanchard and Davis each went on to win a Heisman the following two seasons.

And that may be the case where Peterson is concerned. He may have to wait.

According to him, winning the Heisman takes a backseat to the fortunes of the Sooners.

"It's nice to be mentioned in that kind of talk, but my focus is winning games. I can't control that other stuff," Peterson said recently.

There are a handful of other Heisman-worthy candidates, but White and Peterson certainly deserve all of the attention they're getting these days. And both should have a good shot at receiving an invitation for a trip to New York City when the winner is announced.

Depending on which national Heisman poll you look at right now, either White or Peterson are sitting at the top. That doesn't figure to change as long as both stay healthy and continue to help the Sooners march toward a possible national title.

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