Ainge getting Heisman pop

Someone already has compiled a list of the top 20 Heisman Trophy candidates for the 2007 college football season, and the University of Tennessee's senior quarterback checks in at No. 12 on it.

Erik Ainge ranks among the leading contenders for college football's most celebrated award. So says Richard Cirminiello in his annual "Ridiculously Early Heisman Rankings" - posted Feb. 25 on

Here's what Cirminiello has to say about the Vols' strong-armed passing whiz:

12. QB Erik Ainge, Sr., Tennessee

Fund a campaign: Ainge regained his freshman form in 2006, authoring one of last season's comeback stories of the year. With similar strides in his second full season with offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, he'll be in the thick of the race, especially if Tennessee can win the SEC title.

Buy new wrestling mats: Ainge was good last season, but a lot of the credit for his rebound goes to receivers Robert Meachem and Jayson Swain, both of whom are off to the NFL. All but five of his 19 touchdown passes went to the duo, production which will be real difficult to replace.

Not surprisingly, Cirminiello rates Arkansas running back Darren McFadden the odds-on favorite for the '07 Heisman. Here is Cirminiello's top 20:

1.Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas

2.Colt Brennan, QB, Hawaii

3.John David Booty, QB, Southern California

4.Pat White, QB, West Virginia

5.Brian Brohm, QB, Louisville

6.Steve Slaton, RB, West Virginia

7.Michael Hart, RB, Michigan

8.Colt McCoy, QB, Texas

9.Ray Rice, RB, Rutgers

10.Ian Johnson, RB, Boise State

11.Chad Henne, QB, Michigan

12.Erik Ainge, QB, Tennessee

13.P.J. Hill, RB, Wisconsin

14.Sam Keller, RB, Nebraska

15.DeSean Jackson, WR, California

16.Tim Tebow, QB, Florida

17.James Davis, RB, Clemson

18.Teshard Choice, RB, Georgia Tech

19.Jonathan Stewart, RB, Oregon

20.Branden Ore, RB, Virginia Tech

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