September 17, 2002

A Freshman for the Heisman?: Why Maurice Clarett is a serious Heisman candidate

The Downtown Athletic Club of New York City's list of winners of the Heisman Trophy does not indicate the years of collegiate experience garnered by each recipient. But of the 67 winners, 54 have been seniors, reflecting the idea that experience does matter in the minds of voters.

This year, they might have to put that notion aside. Ohio State freshman running back Maurice Clarett has put on an awesome display in the Buckeyes' first three games, all wins. Clarett has carried for 471 yards and six touchdowns, including a 230-yard performance Saturday against Washington State. His running style combines speed with a bruising style, making him a fan and media favorite. The Sporting News currently ranks Clarett behind only Miami QB Ken Dorsey on its "Heisman Watch" list, with the comment: "If the Buckeyes keep winning and Clarett keeps producing, it's going to get interesting."

So how likely is that? Check the schedule - Ohio State has an arguably smooth ride until mid-October, when the Buckeyes face Wisconsin and Penn State in successive weeks. The first is in Madison while Penn State comes to Columbus. Of course, the Michigan game also looms large, but that's at home, too.

In between are teams that the rejuvenated Buckeyes should beat, some of them handily, which should mean more carries for Clarett. Health seems to be his biggest opponent so far - Clarett had arthroscopic surgery on his knee after Saturday's game, but he could play this week, Ohio State says. Provided he holds up under the rigors of his first college football season, Clarett will have every chance to make his case on the field.

Now check his likely competition. The Sporting News' list also has quarterbacks Chris Simms of Texas, Rex Grossman of Florida and Carson Palmer of USC. Grossman needs huge performances against Tennessee and Florida State to be a serious contender. Palmer's middle name should be "Inconsistency," so it's tough seeing him hanging around in a competitive PAC-10. Simms probably has the best chance of the QBs, especially given his supporting cast. I'll include Charles Rogers, Michigan State's standout receiver, Iowa State QB Seneca Wallace and Oregon runner Onterrio Smith as longshots. But MSU has already lost to Cal, ISU faces a tough Big 12 schedule and Oregon doesn't figure to produce two Heisman hopefuls in consecutive years.

That leaves Dorsey, who finished third in last year's voting. He'll no doubt have a great season for Miami, but his team has an embarrassment of riches that likely will cause voters to look elsewhere. The rising tide of Miami's running game and secondary has made the Canes the best team in the nation, and Dorsey is an important part of the team. But is he the best player in the nation? Somehow you get the feeling that Miami could fare pretty well without him.

Clarett, on the other hand, is a difference-maker for Ohio State. Quick - name the Buckeyes' quarterback (it's Craig Krenzel, a workman-like junior). How about another offensive starter? Exactly. Clarett is the show in Columbus, and that's what the Heisman has been about - the guy who makes it all happen.

Yes, it's only mid-September, and Clarett could stumble, get injured or simply tire. But if the preseason Heisman hopefuls thought they could get off to a slow start and still comeback to win, they were mistaken. Ken Dorsey does have a reason to look over his shoulder this year, and it's Maurice Clarett.

Derek Willis, a former sports reporter now covering politics, is the editor of, a weblog about college football.

posted by thescoop to commentary at 04:22 PM - 0 comments

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