Last year Michael Vick became only the third freshman to finish among the top three in Heisman Trophy voting. This season he attempts to become the first sophomore to win it.

Presented annually since 1935 to college football's most outstanding player, the Heisman has become the most (over) hyped award in sports. Newspapers publish weekly "Heisman Watches," and universities create Web sites to trumpet their candidates.

As the 2000 season beckons, Vick is among several players whose resume translates to Heisman candidate. He quarterbacked Virginia Tech to the national championship game last season and set an NCAA freshman record for passing efficiency. Perhaps most important, Vick's electric style captivated the hundreds of media members who vote for the Heisman.

But preseason attention does not a Heisman guarantee. Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning was among the favorites to win in 1996 and '97 but never took home the bronze statue. Conversely, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson, the '97 Heisman winner, appeared on few, if any, preseason watches.

Simply stated, performance counts - individual and team. Only one of 65 Heisman winners, Notre Dame's Paul Hornung in 1956, played for a losing team. Only 13 played for teams that lost more than two games.

Experience also counts. Fifty-two seniors and 13 juniors have won the Heisman. Sophomores and freshmen need not apply.

So here is one handicapper's view of a handful of potential Heisman winners.


Background: Virginia Tech sophomore quarterback.

Numbers: As a redshirt freshman, Vick led the nation in passing efficiency, and his 180.37 rating was the second-best in Division I-A history. He was intercepted only five times in 152 attempts and also rushed for 585 yards and eight touchdowns. Vick was third in the Heisman race last year, equaling the highest finish for a freshman.

Thumbs up: Vick is arguably the nation's most spectacular player, and win or lose he figures to make SportsCenter every week.

Thumbs down: Given the Hokies' balanced offense, Vick isn't likely to produce the 300-plus yard passing games that are the staple of most Heisman- winning quarterbacks.

Did you know? The last freshman to finish third in the Heisman race, Georgia's Herschel Walker, won the award two years later.

Web site:


Background: Purdue senior quarterback.

Numbers: Brees is on pace for more than 11,500 career passing yards, which would place him second all-time behind Brigham Young's Ty Detmer, the 1990 Heisman winner. After posting pedestrian stats as a backup in 1997, Brees passed for a combined 7,284 yards and 57 touchdowns in 1998 and '99. He finished fourth in Heisman voting last year.

Thumbs up: Operating from a one-back, spread formation, Purdue attempted nearly 50 passes per game last season, virtually assuring Brees eye- popping stats.

Thumbs down: Is Brees truly a big-time quarterback, or merely a product of a system?