Took a poll the other day. Seemed like the thing to do, considering the time of year. Among likely Heisman voters, I found no surprises — if the election were held today, Ohio State's Troy Smith would be the runaway winner. "He's so far ahead, I don't even know who's second," said one savvy pundit. Brady Quinn? Brian Brohm? Those quarterbacks named Colt (McCoy of Texas, Brennan of Hawaii)? Nice candidates, good resumes. But according to the voters, each has his drawbacks. Unless Quinn's platform as Notre Dame quarterback sways 'em in the 11th hour, no one appears likely to seriously challenge Smith. Some are ready to predict a landslide, and maybe the biggest ever. And so, in the spirit of the season, here's the alternative I posed: What if there was a tailback — a former Heisman finalist — with 1,375 yards through nine games (a 152.8-yard average)? Seeing through the ruse, the likely voters answered: Yep, if Adrian Peterson was still running, "he'd be right in there," said one respondent. And there's the shame of it all. As it turns out, A.D.'s snapped collarbone didn't leave the gigantic void in Oklahoma's offense many predicted. But it punched a huge hole in the Heisman race. Perhaps you haven't paid quite as much attention, because like so many other things in this strange autumn — the BCS argument bothering anyone? — when it comes to the Heisman race, OU fans find themselves in the unfamiliar position of disinterested bystanders. But the polls show it's been a cakewalk so far for Smith, who has been the runaway leader in a race that didn't have a returning finalist (at least, not a 2005 finalist). By mid-October, it was shaping up as a two-horse race. While Smith was the front-runner after shredding Texas, Peterson was running a strong campaign through six games — 935 yards and 10 touchdowns, without a subpar game. This brings us to the 1,375 yards, which is the combined total of Peterson and Allen Patrick, his replacement. In three games since Peterson's injury, Patrick has 440 yards. Sudden thought: Together, they make a highly attractive ticket. "If you can box that up and get approval from the Heisman committee, I'll give you my vote," said one extremely likely voter. Can't be done, of course. And no one has stepped into the Heisman void left by Peterson. Smith is so far ahead, not even the 13-of-23, 108-yard clunker he dropped off in last week's slog past Illinois has tightened the polls, at least not enough to notice. What would have happened to Jason White or Matt Leinart or Reggie Bush if they had played like that? Larry Fitzgerald or Peterson or Vince Young would have won the Heisman, maybe. But how would Smith's sudden mortal appearance have been received if on the same night, Peterson had run for 167 yards (Patrick's total) to help OU beat Texas A&M? And while we're at it, does anyone think Peterson might have run for more yards than Patrick these last three games? Maybe they'd have defensed OU a little differently. Maybe OU, which has given Patrick an average of 34 carries each game, wouldn't have fed the tailback quite as often (although that would seem strange strategy, considering Peterson is the team's best weapon). Still, it's not a stretch to believe Peterson would have surpassed Patrick's numbers against Colorado, Missouri and Texas A&M. Now, consider the Sooners' immediate future. You think A.D. might have romped in the homestretch against Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State — with rush defenses ranked 66th (140.9-yard average), 97th (167.0) and 85th (154.1), respectively? (Quick aside: It's been suggested that if Peterson comes back for Bedlam, there's no real risk. When has a Cowboy ever laid a hand on him?) Without the injury, it's not a stretch to think Peterson might have run for 2,000 yards. Or more. And that would have been mighty appealing to those Heisman voters. We'll never know, of course. And if Ohio State keeps winning, Smith seems a sure bet to take home the Heisman. Without A.D., Smith isn't running unopposed. It just seems like it.
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