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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

Question for the ages: Freshman back is the best choice

You can't go wrong selecting a Heisman Trophy winner this year.

I'm totally at ease with any of four of the five finalists taking home the statue of the bronze football player striking the famous pose. My reluctance in endorsing Utah quarterback Alex Smith is because of the level of competition he faced.

I'm most comfortable endorsing Oklahoma freshman running back Adrian Peterson. My No. 2 choice is Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart, followed by USC running back/wideout/kick returner Reggie Bush.

With all due respect to his more famous teammate, Sooner quarterback Jason White, Peterson, pound-for-pound, is the best college football player in the country. He blends speed and power with a built-in compass for the end zone.

Peterson rushed for 1,843 yards and 15 touchdowns. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry and 153.6 yards per game.

He set an NCAA freshman record with 11 100-yard rushing games. He topped 200 yards three times.

Peterson makes everyone around him better. Case in point: His teammate White.

White's credentials are impeccable. He passed for 2,961 yards and 33 touchdowns with only six interceptions this season after winning the Heisman a year ago. But his numbers didn't start taking off until Peterson became the starter four games into the season.

Perhaps White's best argument forwinning back-to-back statues is that Peterson's worst performance of the year was probably White's best.

With Nebraska positioned to stop the run, Oklahoma amassed a season-low 98 yards on the ground. Peterson totaled 58 yards on 15 carries - his only sub-100-yard performance.

White, meanwhile, completed 29 of 35 passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions without being sacked in Oklahoma's 30-3 win.

White's already won the Heisman once. If he doesn't win two in a row, life will go on.

I'm campaigning for Peterson to win for the same reason I voted for Chris Weinke to win the Heisman in 2000.

Peterson isn't supposed to win because he's too young, a mere pup at 19.

Weinke wasn't supposed to win because he was too old.

Originally drafted to play baseball, Weinke returned to Florida State to play football. He won the Heisman at 28.

Nowhere in the Heisman Trophy manual does it say Weinke couldn't win because he was too old. And no where in the fine print does it say Peterson can't win because he's too young.

Peterson is the best freshman running back since Herschel Walker finished third in the Heisman voting.

Walker was penalized by the same archaic thought process that likely will prevent Peterson from winning college football's top individual award in his first season.

Peterson is bucking tradition. If he somehow wins the Heisman tomorrow night, his biggest remaining challenge might be taking on the court system so he doesn't have to wait two more years to play in the NFL.

Peterson's value may never be higher than it is right now. He deserves to win the Heisman, so skip all the pretense and hand it over.

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