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This Heisman Trophy race was no contest

While college football goes into a state of semi-dormancy for the next three weeks, consider what happened before the bowl game pairings and what didn't . . .

My Heisman Trophy ballot went this way:

1. Troy Smith, the Ohio State quarterback, a classic no-brainer; 2. Darren McFadden, Arkansas tailback; 3. Steve Slaton, West Virginia tailback.

The what-ifs: Two more tailbacks, Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma and Michael Bush of Louisville, viable Heisman candidates before injuries took them down. Once they prove they're healthy again and declare for the NFL draft, both could be top 10 picks, maybe top five.

There was no disrespect for Brady Quinn, the Notre Dame quarterback, on my ballot. It wasn't that he didn't do enough to be a serious candidate for the trophy but that others did more. McFadden was the Arkansas offense. Slaton was the engine for the Mountaineers' attack in which passing was an afterthought.

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Florida versus Ohio State is the right BCS matchup to decide the national championship, but there remains fodder for those who still want an actual college playoff.

The major argument against a playoff system is that the players would miss too much class even if the playoff field were limited to 16 teams and four rounds. That argument vanished when the date for the Buckeyes-Gators game was set for Jan. 8. Ohio State's players will have been practicing and preparing for 50 days by the time they play for the title.

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Incidentally, Ohio State won't be done with national championship possibilities after Jan. 8, as long as it can find a solid quarterback on its roster of underclassmen. Except for starter Smith and his backup, Justin Zwick, most of the Buckeye talent may return in 2007 if they don't choose to enter the draft.

That group includes Ted Ginn Jr., the sensational wide receiver/return specialist, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, running backs Antonio Pittman and Chris Wells and James Laurinaitis, who was just named the nation's top linebacker.

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Until defensive coordinator Randy Shannon was promoted to the head job, it looked as if Donna Shalala, president of the University of Miami, would have had to call in James Baker, the ex-secretary of state, to straighten out the mess in the Hurricanes' football program.

Having Greg Schiano decide to stay at Rutgers rather than accept the challenge to sweep up after deposed coach Larry Coker was embarrassment enough, but the talk that ex-quarterback Bernie Kosar might be a compromise candidate was a joke. Kosar is an extremely smart man, but he has no coaching experience at any level. Running a high-octane college operation is a little more complicated than managing a fast-food outlet.

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From now until February could be a critical time for the future of University at Buffalo football. Turner Gill came here with a reputation as a first-rate recruiter and he has to find a quarterback to make the Bulls contenders in the Mid-American Conference, which has a well-earned reputation as a quarterback's league.

Larry Felser, former News columnist, appears in Sunday's editions.

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