Best Of The Rest

Arkansas' Darren McFadden becomes third player to finish second in Heisman voting twice

Dec. 8, 2007

By Carolyn Braff


Carolyn Braff

Carolyn is an assistant editor and writer for
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NEW YORK - For Darren McFadden, old habit is no fun.


When the results for the 73rd Heisman Trophy were released tonight, Arkansas' running back-cum-quarterback made history, but not with the record he was hoping for. McFadden became the third player ever to finish second in the Heisman voting in back-to-back years, and the first to do so in half a century - North Carolina's Charlie Justice was the last back-to-back runner up in 1948 and 1949.




"This year was a little unnerving," McFadden said after the results were announced. "Last year there was a clear-cut winner."


Many would argue that Florida's Tim Tebow was this year's clear-cut winner, but McFadden finished far closer than he did last year, and closer than any runner-up has before. The junior earned 31-percent of the votes, and with 1,703 points to Tebow's 1,957, he received the highest point total for a runner-up in the modern era. By comparison, Troy Smith won last year's trophy with 2,540 points to McFadden's distant 878.


"It's a great accomplishment, I'm very thankful just to be here again," McFadden said. "It could have been someone else here in my place. I love all my fans back home and I know they love me. I don't think they're going to disown me because I didn't win the Heisman."


Even returning home without the 25-pound bronze stiff arm, the two-time reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Year has plenty to be proud of. McFadden recorded 2,172 all-purpose yards this season, the most in the history of the SEC, and topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive season, putting him in the privileged company of 1982 Heisman winner Herschel Walker as the only players in SEC history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of their freshman, sophomore and junior seasons.


But even with his accolades spilling from the pages of his Heisman campaign brochures scattered throughout the auditorium, McFadden could not match the magic of Tebow.


The dual-threat rusher is certainly the poster boy for the month of November - he averages 152.4 yards per game and 5.94 yards per carry in the 11th month - but his late comeback this year was not enough to overcome a marked mid-season slump in which he virtually disappeared from the national scene. He gained just 43 yards rushing against Auburn on Oct. 13 and a mere 61 yards against lowly FIU on Oct. 27, a team that finished the year with the nation's 105th-ranked rushing defense.


His 321-yard record-tying performance on Nov. 3 against South Carolina put him back in the running, and his 206-yard, three-TD season finale at LSU came close to making him the frontrunner, but even those late pushes were not enough to catch up with the consistency of Tebow's season.


"It's a damper," McFadden said of the back-to-back shortfalls, as shouts of "Tebow!" filtered into the auditorium from the Gator faithful waiting outside, underscoring his point.


While Tebow's teammates helped his campaign to shine, it may have been McFadden's teammates that took the award from his grasp. Fellow running back Felix Jones also ran for more than 1,000 yards this season, making the two the second pair of teammates in NCAA history to put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. But if that entered McFadden's mind, he never shared it.


"I don't have any regrets," McFadden said defiantly. "I feel like I had a great season. If I had to do it all over again, I'd do it the same way."


After two runner-up finishes, McFadden would certainly be the favorite to finally take home the trophy in 2008, should he return for a senior season. But after all but declaring his intention to enter April's NFL draft before this season even began, and with his beloved coach Houston Nutt taking the sideline at Ole Miss, the likelihood of McFadden spending a fourth year in Fayetteville seems a longer shot than his winning tonight.


"That's something I haven't thought about yet," McFadden said of his odds of winning the Heisman next season. "I'm going to sit down with my family and the coaching staff and just see what's best for my future. I've had a great career at Arkansas and I'm very thankful for it."


"Darren's a great player," Tebow said. "I know he's probably going to be drafted in the NFL and go on to have a great career in the NFL. It's tough, but he's a strong person."


In the meantime, McFadden has a game to prepare for, the Jan. 1 Cotton Bowl where he will face none other than another one of his newfound friends, fellow Heisman finalist Chase Daniel and Missouri.


"We're going out there to win, so I've got to get everybody prepared," McFadden said.


His focus still sharp as ever, McFadden returns to the gridiron with one more chance to show that this season, he was college football's most outstanding player. Even without the bronze statue to back him up, Jan. 1 should be an impressive day in Dallas.