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Heisman D-Day No. 1: Ryan Mallett and Alabama

Setting the table for today:

There are currently four major candidates for the 2010 Heisman Trophy and several minor candidates behind them trying to gain traction.

As the race now stands, the leader (if the vote were held today) is a sophomore quarterbacking phenom from a traditional power who has burst onto the scene with his passing and running.  He is on pace for a record-breaking season.

Not far behind him–and with more overall advantages in the campaign–is a junior quarterback with elite size and athleticism (and good name recognition) who is in his third year as a starter and is also from a traditional power, though one that is competing for the national title.

Then there is the gutty and diminutive junior from the upstart national title-contending program whose passing numbers and winning percentage as a starter are unmatched and whose Heisman fortunes are, more than anyone else, tied in with those of his team. 

Finally, we get to the mountainous junior quarterback with the rocket arm who may well set all kinds of SEC records before he’s through. 

Denard Robinson and Terrelle Pryor will not see their Heisman hopes change much as a result of what happens in their games today.  And while Kellen Moore’s Heisman aspirations could be dealt a mortal blow if Boise State loses to Oregon State, he’s not going to jump over Robinson and Pryor if the Broncos win.

The one player who has the most to gain from Saturday is Ryan Mallett.

If Mallett plays well and leads the Razorbacks to a win over No. 1 Alabama, I think he’s got a chance to move into the No. 1 spot in the Heisman race or, at the worst, dislodge Pryor for the No. 2 spot.

If the Razorbacks lose a closely-contested game despite Mallett playing well–or if Arkansas wins despite Mallett being ineffective–I think he can stick around in third or fourth place and be in position for a late season Heisman run if the Hogs win out and he puts up some sick numbers.

But if Mallett plays poorly and Alabama wins, then his Heisman hopes will be difficult to revive unless the contenders ahead of him hit similiar road bumps.  One thing in Mallett’s favor is that the remainder of the Arkansas schedule features some ‘name’ teams like Texas A&M, Auburn and LSU, but the Hogs are likely to be favored to beat each of them, depending on what happens today.

What kind of game does Mallet have to have to take control of the race?  I’m thinking he needs over 300 yards and 3 TDs with no costly picks.  That would be impressive against a tough–although untested–‘Bama defense. 

Well, the table is set.  Time to watch the games.

Feel free to comment below as the day goes on…I’d love to get everyone’s thoughts on week four.

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Q & A With Ryan Mallett

There’s a bit of an offensive juggernaut building at Arkansas.  The trigger man for that offense is junior quarterback Ryan Mallett, a tall, big-armed Texan who made quite a splash as a 2009 sophomore.

Though he started out at Michigan, Mallett always wanted to play for the Razorbacks.  He got his wish last year following sitting out the 2008 season due to transfer rules.  In his first year starting for the Razorbacks, Mallett threw for 3,624 yards and 30 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.  He set or tied 16 school records and led the nation with 44 completions of 25 yards or more.

It’s no wonder that he’s considered a top candidate to go high in the next NFL draft (should he choose to leave school early).  Not since Joe Ferguson has Arkansas had a talent like this at quarterback.

Big things are expected in 2010, as the Razorbacks return 10 starters in Bobby Petrino’s offense.  Look for Mallett–currently rehabbing from a broken bone in his foot–to have another huge year and be mentioned in the running for the most prestigious award in sports.  We talked to him this week and here’s what transpired:

So how is summer going?  What have you been up to?

I’ve been rehabbing and getting in shape.  The whole team is here getting ready for the season.

You went from Texas high school football to Michigan and then back down to Arkansas.  What was all that like?

It’s been a learning process.  I started out at Michigan and then Coach Carr retired.  Things were really tough in that aspect.  Everyone knows what happened there.  There was a new system and I wasn’t really a fit for it.  So I decided to come back down here.

Describe the difference in what you did under Coach Carr at Michigan and how you do things under Coach Petrino at Arkansas.

Michigan’s offense under Coach Carr was primarily based on power running.  We ran first and then we did play action.  Here with Coach Petrino, we throw it a lot more.  The system starts with the quarterback.  As a quarterback, you want to be in a system where you can take control of the game.  It’s great that Coach Petrino trusts me to do that.

Did it take a while to adjust to the new system?

I don’t feel it took that long to grasp it.  I’ve been a quarterback since I was little.  But I think the year off (due to transfer) helped.

How long have you been a quarterback?

I’ve played the position since the seventh grade.  I would’ve played it in sixth grade, but I was over the weight limit for Pee Wee football and I had to play offensive guard.

Were you always the tall kid?

Yeah.  There are pictures of me in elementary school and I’m always head and shoulders taller than everyone.

How is the offseason going for you and your teammates?  Who do you predict will breakout on the team?

It’s been a lot of fun.  We have a lot of guys here who are working hard to get a lot better.  This is the closest team I’ve ever been on.  There’s a ton of great athletes and leaders.  We’re loaded with guys on the perimeter, from Joe Adams, to Greg Childs, to Jarius Wright.  We are five deep at running back.  It’s hard to say exactly who will break out, since there are so many guys who could.  But we’ve got a lot of big-time games on our schedule.  We’re ready to get to camp and get started.

How does it feel to be mentioned as a Heisman candidate?

It’s great.  It’s an honor to be mentioned with all those other guys.  Individual honors like that are cool, but what I want most is to get wins for the team.

How have the past Heisman winners influenced you?

I remember watching the guys who were up for it in the past, guys like Peyton Manning, though he didn’t win it.  Watching them makes you want to be like those guys.  Seeing them gives you a good grasp of their approach and how they prepare.  I just want to enjoy the whole experience and have fun.

How are you handling all the added media attention?

I don’t like to be talked about that much.  I’d rather talk about stuff like our offensive line.  We’ve got three three-year starters and four overall starters returning.  I’d rather talk about our receivers.  We’re six or seven deep there.  We’re all excited to go out and perform.

What do you have to work on to become the quarterback you want to be?

I’ve got to continue to work harder in the film room and in the weight room to get stronger.  Also, I need to work on my decision-making.  I overthink things sometimes.  Also, I could stand to improve some of the little things in my technique.

You say you want to get stronger…what is your size now?

I’m 6-7 and 238.  That’s about where I want to be.  You definitely take a beating back there in the pocket with all those great players in the SEC.

I first saw you out at the Elite 11 camp back in California a few years back.  Back then, did you ever think you’d be in this position you are right now?

When you’re that young, you always picture this.  But you never know.  I always wanted to be the best since I was in high school.  So, I’m where I always thought I’d be.

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