It is difficult to say which is the bigger surprise, that the Pacific 10 Conference may claim its first Heisman Trophy winner since 1981 or that the league's two leading candidates are from the state of Oregon.
Things are looking up for the Pac-10. Up, as in north of Grants Pass.
The conference used to collect Heismans in bunches: Terry Baker in 1962, Mike Garrett in 1965, Gary Beban in '67, O.J. Simpson in '68, Jim Plunkett in 1970.
But the Pac-10 has not gone Downtown Athletic Club since USC's Marcus Allen won the Heisman in 1981.
You know how many current Pac-10 players had not even been born when Allen bagged his trophy? Well, that would require research, but you can it's a lot.
Yet, Oregon, of all places, boasts two early season front-runners this year in Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington and Oregon State tailback Ken Simonton.
Both have numbers to back up their claims. Harrington's are more like financial statements. The school paid $250,000 to place a 100-foot billboard of Harrington on the side of a Manhattan building.
Harrington 2001 was well orchestrated, Oregon administrators seizing on the Ducks' recent success and a Heisman window opening with the early departure of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick and Michigan quarterback Drew Henson. Vick opted out for the NFL while Henson left to pursue a baseball career.
The Manhattan billboard project?
"It was bold, it was innovative, but I would say it was money well spent," Oregon Athletic Director Bill Moos said.
Harrington, a 6-foot-4 senior, is a fine player. Last year, he led Oregon to a 10-2 record and No. 7 final ranking, passing for 2,967 yards and 22 touchdowns.
"I've got to back it up now," he said of his campaign. "But I'm not worried. People say, 'How can you handle the pressure?' So what? I put so much pressure on myself. I expected to be in the Rose Bowl last year. I expect to win every game."
Oregon State is spending much less on its campaign--you'd have to stack thousands of Simonton's "Heisman" notebooks to reach the height of Harrington's New York City likeness--but the Beavers are hoping Simonton's raw numbers carry the day.
Simonton, with 4,073 yards, can become the first back in Pac-10 history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons.
The 5-8, 191-pound senior needs only 97 yards to move past Darrin Nelson into third place on the conference's all-time rushing list. Another 1,000-yard season would put Simonton alone at No. 2 behind Charles White.
Simonton does not lack confidence.
"I thought I was a candidate every year," he said last week in Corvallis. 'I'm just glad there are more people now that agree with me."
Simonton makes no pretense about his desires, saying being a Heisman winner is "kind of like being called 'Mr. President.' "
This is rarefied air for Oregon.
Terry Baker claimed Oregon State's only Heisman in 1962, but the school has not had another player higher than ninth (Simonton in 2000).
No Oregon player has won the award. Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin came closest, finishing sixth in 1948.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Pacific 10 Heisman Winners
Seven Pacific 10 Conference players have won the Heisman Trophy, and only one from the state of Oregon:
Player, School Year
Marcus Allen, USC 1981
Charles White, USC 1979
Jim Plunkett, Stanford 1970
O.J. Simpson, USC 1968
Gary Beban, UCLA 1967
Mike Garrett, USC 1965
Terry Baker, Oregon State 1962