Gesser joins elite group with high Heisman finish

RECORD-SETTING Cougar quarterback Jason Gesser, already the Pac-10's Co-Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-America pick by College Football News, added another notch to his belt of honor on Saturday when he became the seventh Cougar in the 67-year history of the Heisman Trophy to crack the top 10 in balloting for the game's biggest award.

Gesser finished No. 7, just behind Marshall's Byron Leftwich and just ahead of Colorado running back Chris Brown. Gesser's showing ties him for second-highest among Cougar contenders over the years.

The man Gesser shared Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year kudos with, USC"s Carson Palmer, took home the Heisman in a tight race with Iowa's Brad Banks. Palmer fired 23 TD passes in the final six games of the year to overtake the pack. He also set a new Pac-10 mark for career passing yardage.

Gesser's candidacy, launched on the side of a grain elevator in Dusty last August, is widely considered to have been sunk in week 3 in ront of the East Coast media when the Cougars were thumped in the second half at Ohio State. He regained momentum, though, when national pundits realized he was working much of his magic this season with dislocated ribs. Regrettably, Gesser's strongest bid for consideration --- a gutty, one-legged performance at UCLA last week --- came after nearly 40 percent of Heisman voters had submitted their ballots.

RYAN LEAF, THE Pac-10's Offensive Player of the Year in 1997, was WSU's highest-ever finisher when he placed third that year behind Michigan's Charles Woodson and Tennessee's Peyton Manning.

The other Cougars to place in the Heisman's top 10 were junior QB Drew Bledsoe (eighth in 1993); junior QB Timm Rosenbach (seventh in 1988); junior running back Rueben Mayes (tenth in 1984); senior QB Jack Thompson (ninth in 1978), and senior quarterback Ed Goddard, a three-time All-American believed to have finished eighth, ninth or tenth in 1936.

For the record, the Heisman winners in those years were, respectively, Charlie Ward (Florida State), Barry Sanders (Oklahoma), Doug Flutie (Boston College), Billy Sims (Oklahoma) and Larry Kelley (Yale).

The uncertainty over Goddard's finish stems from the fact records for 1936 only show a top seven. Given the fact he was the second-highest vote getter in the Western region behind winner Kelley, and that Goddard subsequently became the second overall player taken in the NFL draft, odds are good he landed between eighth and tenth in overall balloting.

LEAF'S SHOWING, by the way, was the second-highest ever by a player from the Pacific Northwest, bested only by Oregon State's Terry Baker who won the Heisman in 1962. Further evidence that living West of the Mississippi and/or not in Los Angeles is a serious detriment to a player's Heisman chances, Baker was one of just six --- prior to Palmer's selection -- Pac-10 players to win the award. The others were USC's Marcus Allen ('81), Charles White ('79), O.J. Simpson ('68) and Mike Garrett ('65), Stanford's Jim Plunkett ('70) and UCLA's Gary Beban ('67).

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