No matter what people think about the validity of the Heisman Trophy, the competition is compelling theater.
"If one more Heisman candidate wins who can’t play in the pros, it would be ridiculous," said Mike Piranio, race and sports manager at New York, New York.
This year’s field is down to six finalists and will be decided Saturday at the New York Athletic Club. Top-ranked Miami has two opportunities with quarterback Ken Dorsey and runningback Willis McGahee.
The other four include QBs Carson Palmer (USC), Brad Banks (Iowa) and Byron Leftwich (Marshall), along with RB Larry Johnson (Penn State).
"The best player is Palmer, but the award doesn’t always go to who’s best," Piranio said. "If I had a vote, I would pick Johnson. Anyone who rushes for 2,000 yards should be considered for the Heisman. However, Johnson would only make it in the pros as a fullback or tight end. Too slow."
Piranio said the memory of last year’s winner, Nebraska’s Eric Crouch, failing to make the St. Louis Rams roster at quarterback prevents him was picking Dorsey.
"Banks and Leftwich are better pro prospects, but neither player has had enough exposure," he said. "I would rank them behind Palmer as a pro prospect. I don’t think Dorsey will make it in the NFL."
Dave Pemberton, Rio race and sports manager, favors McGahee ahead of Banks on his odds sheet.
"McGahee is having a great year and Miami looks so good," Pemberton said. "If USC played early like they did against UCLA and Notre Dame, Palmer would have a great shot. Larry Johnson has better stats than McGahee but Miami is the team. The voting just goes that way."
Pemberton gives Banks a solid chance, thanks to a stellar season for the Rose Bowl-bound Hawkeyes.
"Banks was the reason behind their success," he said. "He could pull an upset, but McGahee is the front runner."
Of the last 10 Heisman winners only Ricky Williams (Miami Dolphins), Charles Woodson (Oakland Raiders) and Eddie George (Tennessee Titans) could be considered stars in the NFL.
The Heisman race often boils down to politics and geographical bias. If that again holds up this year, Palmer could benefit from Dorsey and McGahee dividing East Coast voting.