Todd Hartley: He could always endorse UPS |

Todd Hartley: He could always endorse UPS

You may not know this, but there’s an entire side of a building, somewhere in New York City, painted in the likeness of Oregon running back Onterrio Smith. Why? Because that is how far some schools and their fans will go to hype a Heisman Trophy candidate.

In fact, just last year a group of Ducks boosters had the same building adorned with an image of quarterback Joey Harrington, a first-round pick of the Detroit Lions.

Harrington didn’t win the Heisman. Neither will Smith.

Don’t get me wrong. Smith is a fine running back, with 12 touchdowns on the season for the Ducks, but he trails a freshman in current Heisman opinion polls. That freshman, Maurice Clarett, is also a tremendous back, and with Ohio State and its media machine working for him, he has become a fashionable pick to take home a trophy no first-year player has ever won.

Clarett, however, will also not win the Heisman. He plays for an undefeated team and has the numbers ? 13 touchdowns and a sparkling 6.2 yards-per-carry average ? but he is only seventh in the country in rushing yards.

It may surprise you to know that the man who leads the nation in rushing plays right here in Colorado, because most folks have never heard of him. Well, it’s time you did, because he’s putting together a season for the ages.

His name is Chris Brown and he has amassed 1,303 yards this year at an eye-popping 6.9 yards a clip. He has also scored 14 touchdowns along the way, the longest of which was 85 yards, better than anyone else in the top 50. Most importantly, Brown has led a Buffaloes resurgence that has seen Colorado go undefeated in the Big 12 after a horrific start to the season.

Furthermore, Brown reached the 1,000-yard mark faster than any Colorado back ever, including 1994 Heisman winner Rashaan Salaam, one of a handful of men in history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season.

Here’s the problem, though: Brown will also probably not win the Heisman.

There are a number of reasons for this, including, one might imagine, the everyday-ness of his name. He’s tough to hype with a name like that, but that shouldn’t stop the folks in Boulder from trying. So far, however, there has been almost no talk of Brown as a Heisman candidate.

I’m not saying the Buffs have to go paint a building, but at least they could make some noise, because sportswriters, who vote for the Heisman, are a lazy bunch of front-runners who won’t notice something unless you bludgeon them over the head with it.

If you need proof, take this as an example: In Heisman opinion polls, Brown, who is currently fourth, trails running back Willis McGahee of Miami. McGahee can match Brown’s TD total but has a paltrier average and nearly 500 less total yards.

The only reason McGahee leads Brown in the polls is because his team is No. 1 in the country and in the media eye much more than Colorado. This would be fine if McGahee were the sole reason for Miami’s success, but he shares a backfield with the current Heisman leader, Hurricanes quarterback Ken Dorsey.

It will be a shame if Dorsey or McGahee wins the Heisman over Brown, because my guess is you won’t be hearing much from them in the pro ranks. Like former Heisman winners Gino Torretta and Andre Ware, both are fine college ballplayers but not great football players, if you know what I mean.

Brown, on the other hand, is an exceedingly rare combination of size, speed and power who, barring injury, will be a star in the NFL. He seems, at times, a man among boys on the field and has drawn numerous comparisons to Eric Dickerson and even the great Jim Brown. Odd thing, too: Neither of them won the Heisman either, though both are among the NFL’s greatest running backs ever.

The true test for Brown and the Buffaloes comes tomorrow when they square off with undefeated and No. 2-ranked Oklahoma and its vaunted defense. If Colorado can eke out a win or at least get Brown 150-plus yards on the ground, it’s this writer’s opinion that Brown should be the Heisman favorite.

Todd Hartley, the 1922 Heisman Trophy winner, writes this column every Friday in The Aspen Times. E-mail at

Sportswriters, who vote for the Heisman, are a lazy bunch of front-runners who won’t notice something unless you bludgeon them over the head with it.

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