The 76th annual Heisman Memorial Trophy will be awarded tonight to the best player in college football. There have been few instances when a player clearly has been ahead of his competition on the playing field, as Auburn quarterback Cam Newton has been this season. And there have been few instances when there has been as much controversy surrounding a Heisman favorite, as there is this year with Newton. So, here's a preview of tonight's presentation, the finalists, why Newton should win the award and why he might not:
Why Cam Newton should win
Simply put, he was college football's best player in 2010. By far. He not only led the SEC in rushing with 1,409 yards, but he also led the country in passing efficiency, completing 67 percent for 2,589 yards. He threw for 28 touchdowns, ran for 20 and, just for good measure, even caught a touchdown pass. He led the Tigers to an undefeated record, the SEC championship and a spot in next month's BCS national title game. He had signature victories against LSU, Mississippi State, Georgia and a stunning comeback victory against archrival Alabama in one of the best games of the season. And despite controversy about whether he and/or his family received payment or knew of the request for payment, he was allowed to play by the NCAA. In the end, can he be punished for something voters think he might have done? Bottom line: He was allowed to play, and he ultimately played better than every other player in the country.
Why Cam Newton might not win
There certainly was a lot of smoke surrounding Newton and whether he and/or his father were a part of a pay-to-play scheme. After Auburn ruled him ineligible, the next day the NCAA reinstated Newton, but it hasn't said the case is entirely closed. The last thing anyone wants is another Reggie Bush scandal where the former Southern Cal running back ended up giving back his Heisman because of allegations he received benefits. Several voters already have stated that they did not vote for Newton because of the allegations. Those who have withheld their vote for Newton have added they've done so while believing their vote will not cost Newton the Heisman. Jenni Carlson, a columnist for the Oklahoman newspaper, wrote a column with a headline that read, "Why Cam Newton Will Win The Heisman Without My Vote." But what if the majority of voters take the same stance? It's conceivable that enough voters will apply their own moral code and belief that all that smoke came from an actual fire. If that's the case, Newton could be left off too many ballots to win.
The other candidates
Let's assume for the moment that enough voters leave Newton off their lists to keep him from winning the Heisman. A look at the other finalists and why they might or might not win.
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Why James could win: The only nonquarterback among the finalists, James led Division I-A in rushing with 1,682 yards and rushing touchdowns with 21. And he did all this despite missing the season opener. He had nine 100-yard games. Voters love when the Heisman comes from a national championship contender, and Oregon is undefeated and playing Auburn for the national title. Plus, James could pick up the anti-Newton vote — a way for voters to show their disdain for Newton by voting for a player he will face in the BCS title game.
Why James might not win: It's an old stereotype, but it's true that players on the West Coast just aren't seen enough by voters from the East and Midwest. The Ducks had several high-profile games on national television, but they also had their share of games that didn't start until many voters already went to bed. Voters can read all they can on a player, but it's not the same as watching his impact live. The other thing against James is he is simply just a piece, albeit an important one, in an offensive machine loaded with stars.
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Why Luck could win: The redshirt sophomore quarterback threw for more than 3,000 yards and set a school record with 28 touchdown passes. He completed 70 percent and threw only seven interceptions. If he enters the NFL draft, he could be the No. 1 overall pick. Plus, he played for a winner. The Cardinal had its best season since going undefeated in 1940. It went 11-1 and is headed to the Orange Bowl. And, this is stretching it, but Luck could pick up a sympathy vote from those who didn't vote for Stanford running back Toby Gerhart last year.
Why Luck might not win: Just like Oregon's LaMichael James, Luck didn't get a lot of national exposure because he plays on the West Coast. The most high-profile game he played was against Oregon, when Luck was picked off twice in a 51-31 loss. His best games came against Sacramento State, Wake Forest and Oregon State — opponents who aren't likely to impress voters.
Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State
Why Moore could win: The junior quarterback was second in Division I-A in passing efficiency. He threw for more than 3,500 yards and had an impressive 33 touchdown passes compared to only five interceptions. Again, sympathy might play a role as those who feel Boise State gets a raw deal from the BCS might feel like tossing the program a bone by selecting Moore for the Heisman.
Why Moore might not win: Even though it was hardly Moore's fault, Boise State's lone loss, to Nevada, could wreck his chances. As it is, many don't believe Moore and the Broncos play strong enough competition for one of their players to be considered the best in the nation. While the other finalists are playing teams from the SEC and the Pac-10, Moore is competing mostly against teams such as San Diego State, Utah State and Idaho in the WAC. And of the four finalists, Moore had the least exposure. Boise State is rarely on national television, and even when it is, it's at odd times.