Why Heisman Doesn't Mean NFL Fame ; Reggie Bush of USC Is the Odds-On Favorite to Win This Year's Trophy, Awarded Saturday

Article excerpt

The Heisman highway is littered with players who scored big in college and flamed out in the NFL. For every Barry Sanders (1988) or Carson Palmer (2002), there is a Gino Torretta (1992), a Rashaan Salaam (1994), and an Eric Crouch (2001). Who?

Hall of Famers Tony Dorsett (1976) and Earl Campbell (1977) carry impeccable NFL credentials. But what of Mike Rozier (1983), who ran for more than 1,000 yards just once in seven NFL seasons? Or two- time Heisman winner Archie Griffin (1974-75), who never topped 700 yards rushing in the pros? Not to mention 2003's Jason White, who now works for a securities firm in Oklahoma City two years after being voted the best college football player in the nation.

Clearly, college football's top individual honor doesn't necessarily translate into success on Sundays. The pro game is faster and more complex than its college counterpart, and the best players usually go to the worst teams, ensuring a steep uphill climb from the outset. The question now is, will this year's winner, announced Saturday in New York, be the next Roger Staubach (1963, NFL Hall of Fame) or Charlie Ward (1993, never played a down in the pros)?

The award is such an honor "it shouldn't even matter whether the guy even plays pro football," says Bill Curry, a former NFL player and college coach. "But I can guarantee you, [the winner] this year will be playing in the pros, and he will be a great one."

Mr. Curry is referring to all-everything running back Reggie Bush, the versatile offensive weapon employed by the University of Southern California and the favorite to take home the trophy. In the past two games alone the junior has accumulated more than 600 yards of offense, helping lead his team to a 12-0 record and a berth in the national championship game on Jan. 4. His main competition is teammate Matt Leinart, who's trying to become just the second player to win the award twice. The only other serious candidate is Texas Longhorns quarterback Vince Young.

What about defense?

Many experts agree with Curry that Mr. Bush is destined to be an NFL star. With Heisman winners, though, strange things can happen. A few logical reasons exist for the struggles they face once off campus. For starters, the vast majority of honorees - all but five players awarded the trophy since its 1935 inception - have been quarterbacks and running backs, eliminating virtually all defensive and offensive positions on the field. This removes a host of pro- caliber players from consideration, narrowing the choice to two of the more demanding positions in the NFL.

In addition, intangible factors play an important role, from how many times a school appears on TV (stirring fan and media attention) to the quality of teammates (few Heisman winners come from schools not ranked among the Top 25 teams). …


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