The campaign trail is already heating up. Candidates are making their cases, and voters are watching their progress. Bold moves are rewarded. Missteps are scrutinized. Yep, the race for the Heisman sure is intense. Thing is, this election is different than that other one captivating the nation. The campaign that culminates on a December evening in New York has an incumbent. Tim Tebow won the Heisman Trophy last year as a sophomore. Does that give the Florida quarterback an advantage? No doubt he is one of the favorites, but he is hardly the only candidate. Local product Sam Bradford is in the mix. So are Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel, Southern Cal quarterback Mark Sanchez and Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno. But really, do they have a chance? Does Bradford have a legitimate campaign? Is the Oklahoma quarterback electable? Will his performances have an impact when Heisman voters cast their ballots? Or are he and everyone else just fighting for second behind Tebow? Turns out, incumbency isn't such a good thing when it comes to the Heisman. Advantage, Bradford. "He has an excellent shot,” SI.com senior writer Stewart Mandel said, adding that Bradford has name recognition and national exposure going for him, too. "And more importantly, he's putting up huge numbers for the No. 2 team in the country.” Hard to argue that. Bradford has thrown for 882 yards with 12 touchdown and only two interceptions in the Sooners' first three games. His passing efficiency rating is off the charts at 214.4, second only to Tulsa quarterback David Johnson's outrageous 241.6. Slingin' Sam has a serious shot at the Heisman. No doubt it's early in the season. A couple weeks into the season a year ago, Bradford looked pretty good, too. Then came Colorado and Iowa State and Texas Tech. But already, Bradford looks more comfortable and more refined than he was last season. Important primaries remain for all the other candidates in this election. The second Saturday in October is shaping up to be an important one. Bradford faces Texas, Tebow plays LSU and Southern Cal's Sanchez takes on Arizona State. Call it Super Saturday. Daniel will have his first big test the following weekend when Missouri goes to Texas. Performing well on those big stages will be important in swaying voters. No one has more big-time, high-stakes games than Tebow, and as it turns out, no one needs them more in the Heisman campaign. "Strange as it sounds, Tebow's incumbency probably works against him,” Mandel said. "He's already set the bar so high that the only way he would measure up to peoples' expectations is to exceed what he did last year.” What Tebow did a year ago was darn impressive. His passing stats: 3,286 yards, 32 touchdowns. His rushing stats: 895 yards, 23 touchdowns. Consider this — only 26 teams in Division-I football scored more touchdowns than Tebow did last season. That kind of performance will be tough to top. Chris Huston suspects Tebow is fighting an unwinnable uphill battle. For years, he worked as an assistant sports information director at Southern Cal, where he directed successful Heisman campaigns for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. A few years ago, he started sharing his expertise on his Web site heismanpundit.com. "As with any product or politician, the freshness of a player's brand only lasts so long,” Huston said, "and then the natural inclination is to try to poke holes in it.” So it is with the Gator in Gainesville. Fair or not, voters will be judging Tebow 2008 against Tebow 2007, and the early exit polls on this year's version are not good. He has plummeted in the Heisman straw polls after gaining less than 500 yards and scoring only three touchdowns in his first two games. Winning the Heisman even once is difficult, but Huston believes that the process is set up to make a repeat difficult if not impossible. "So if Tebow does win again,” Huston said of the player who was the first sophomore to win the Heisman, "he would once again be defying all college football history and logic.” This sure doesn't feel like Tebow's Heisman to lose "It's more like everyone else's to lose,” Mandel said. "It seems like people are more fixated on the other candidates right now.” None is hotter than Bradford. He has rocketed up Heisman polls, going from an others-receiving-votes candidate in the preseason to a top vote-getter after three weeks. He even tops CBSSports.com's rankings. So, who will win this election? Will it be the incumbent Tebow? Will it be the candidate who missed out last time, Daniel? Or will it be one of the "change” candidates, Bradford or Sanchez or some other fresh face? The campaign has only just begun. This one, as they say in politics, is too close to call.
They said it about Sam Bradford: Tim Griffin, ESPN.com:
"How about consecutive weeks of five TD passing games? Most striking of all, Bradford is averaging 10.9 yards per attempt and has thrown 12 TDs with two interceptions.” Chris Huston, Heismanpundit.com:
"He's off to maybe the greatest start for a passer in college football history ... but all things being equal, voters will favor Chase Daniel in this race. They will always choose the senior, established quarterback when given the choice. The two won't play each other potentially until the Big 12 title game, and by then, Daniel may have it wrapped up.”