Chris Huston a.k.a. "The Heisman Pundit" produces HeismanPundit.com.
Over the past 24 hours, I've given four radio interviews, contributed to three internet podcasts, spoken to two newspapers, written upwards of 4,000 words and pored over countless articles and pieces of anecdotal evidence regarding the race for the 2008 Heisman.
After all of that, I only know this:
1. This race is as close as any in a generation, and ...
2. Despite some grumbling, the Heisman appears to be as popular and intriguing to fans as ever.
This weekend, three outstanding football players will descend upon New York City without having any idea which of them is going to leave town with the most prestigious award in sports. It's quite a change from recent years, when names like Vince Young and Darren McFadden (among others) were brought to the ceremony despite having no real shot at winning. This time, it's going to be a cliffhanger, reminiscent of the 1995 race between Eddie George, Tommie Frazier and Danny Wuerffel. I can see each of the top three candidates collecting over 200 first-place votes. All three of them better have a speech ready.
While Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow sweat it out at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square on Saturday, millions of fans from Austin to Norman to Gainesville will be on pins and needles. And why wouldn't they be? They've been duking it out for weeks on message boards and blogs, in e-mails and letters to the editor, stating their case as to why their player is the most outstanding in college football. The closeness of the race and the worthiness of the three candidates has captured the imagination of the fans. When the winner is finally announced, there will be plenty of jubilation, bitterness and resignation to go around.
That's because after 73 years, the Heisman incites as much passion as ever. It seems like everyone has an opinion on who should win. It could be, too, that the Internet encourages such brazenness. On my own website, I've been accused of being both for and against each of the three candidates. One reader reproached me angrily via e-mail after it was announced Graham Harrell was not invited to New York -- as if I had anything to do with it.
I'll take such misplaced passion over snobby indifference any day. A lot of hotshots out there like to sniff that the Heisman is just a trifle that goes to the quarterback on the No. 1 team. Some claim the Heisman is irrelevant. Others think that it's a sham, part and parcel with the grinches at BCS headquarters (and their never-ending conspiracy to steal Christmas/keep team X out of bowl Z).
But this season should renew everyone's faith in the Heisman. We have three extremely worthy candidates locked in an incredibly tight race. Two of the three carried their team to the national title game and the third would have, too, were it not for the fine print in the Big 12 South contract that everyone signed without reading. Neither Florida nor Oklahoma nor Texas would be where they are today without their quarterbacks. Recognizing these three for their achievement -- even if it is for an hour on a mid-December Saturday night -- is entirely relevant.
The Heisman process isn't perfect. But neither is college football. That's why the debate is always brewing -- and fun.
So while no one really knows who's going to win this year's Heisman (except the people at Deloitte, the Heisman accounting firm), I am, after all, the Heisman Pundit. Without further ado, here is my predicted top five:
1. Sam Bradford: Forty-eight touchdown passes by a quarterback for a traditional Heisman power on its way to the BCS title game was too much for voters to overlook.
2. Tim Tebow: Don't be shocked if Tebow gets the most first place votes, but still finishes second.
3. Colt McCoy: If he just had that extra game to show his stuff (instead of Bradford), he'd be the clear winner.
4. Graham Harrell: He was just 44 points away from winning the Heisman.
5. Michael Crabtree: Two straight Biletnikoffs will be his reward.
Chris Huston is a former assistant sports information director at the University of Southern California, where, among other things, he conceived and directed the successful Heisman campaigns of both Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. His column and Heisman straw poll appear weekly in the Orlando Sentinel. He is in his fifth season covering college football and the Heisman.