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Who’ll Grab Heisman?

From Associated Press

Archie Manning glanced over at his son, Peyton, who once again was standing his ground as TV cameras, photographers and reporters swarmed around him.

“When he decided to come back for his senior year,” Archie said this week. “I never envisioned just how that was going to immediately set him up to be the front runner for the Heisman, and as soon as the season started everybody would start taking their shots. I was impressed he hung in there. He never talked about the Heisman.”

Tonight, after a season filled with Heisman hype and hoopla, Peyton Manning finds out whether he’ll become the first Tennessee player to win college football’s most prestigious award.

“I’d be honored to receive it, but if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world,” said Manning, who led the No. 3 Volunteers (11-1) to the Southeastern Conference title and a possible national championship game against No. 2 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 2.

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“My daddy never brought it up, never has been disappointed [that he didn’t win] and it’s worked out for him,” Manning said. “My daddy taught me to play the game to help your team win.”

Although Manning has been atop most Heisman Watch lists, Michigan’s Charles Woodson has made a late run. Woodson, who intercepted seven passes and also scored four TDs as a receiver and punt returner, could become the first primarily defensive player to win the award.

“Really, in all honesty, I don’t expect to win the Heisman,” said Woodson, a major reason the top-ranked Wolverines (11-0) are a Rose Bowl win away from their first national title since 1948. “The way the Heisman has been won the last couple of years, the focus is on numbers.”

Not since Pittsburgh’s Hugh Green in 1980, has a defensive player finished as high as second in the Heisman voting. South Carolina running back George Rogers won that year.

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Manning, Woodson, Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf and Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss were invited to attend today’s presentation at the Downtown Athletic Club,, but it looks like it’s a two-man race.

Leaf, who led the No. 8 Cougars (10-1) to a Rose Bowl matchup against Michigan, felt strongly for Woodson--and Manning.

“I would have to say Charles, because he does so many things for his team,” Leaf said. “That makes him the best college football player.”

But . . . “if the Heisman goes to the player who best exemplifies what college football is all about, then Peyton Manning should get it. He passed up millions of dollars last year to come back and play his senior year.”

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The Heisman Trophy is given to the “outstanding college football player of the United States,” as defined by the DAC.

What that exactly means is open to debate, although 38 running backs and 19 quarterbacks have won the past 62 Heismans.

“I here people saying the best player,” said Archie Manning, who finished third behind fellow quarterbacks Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann in the 1970 balloting. “This year I hear people saying the best athlete. Does the career have anything to do with it? I don’t know.

It sure is a prestigious, highly visible award, for there to be so much ambiguous criteria.”

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In a numbers game, it’s tough to top the 6-foot-5, 222-pound Manning, who completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,819 yards and 36 touchdowns. The All-American already has several postseason honors, including the Maxwell Award as the best all-around player and the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas quarterback awards.

Woodson, the 6-1, 198-pound All-American cornerback, had his best game at the best possible time. In the season-finale against Ohio State, Woodson returned a punt 78 yards for a TD, intercepted an end zone pass to stop a Buckeyes’ threat and caught a 37-yard pass to set up Michigan’s opening TD.

He also won the Walter Camp Award as the nation’s top player. Only five times in 31 years has the award gone to a player who did not win the Heisman.

Leaf, the 6-5, 238-pounder playing in remote Pullman, Wash., nearly matched Manning’s numbers--the junior passed for 3,637 yards and 33 TDs--but lack of national exposure is sure to cost him votes.

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Moss, playing in the Mid-American Conference, set an NCAA single-season record with 25 touchdown catches, but is considered the longest shot of the final four.

Earlier this week, Manning said he can’t wait for the winner to be announced so he can return to Knoxville and begin preparing for Nebraska.

“People ask me if I’m worried about it,” Manning said. “I don’t get worried or nervous about things I have no control over. I get worried before the game. There, I can have an affect on the outcome.”


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