Nov. 7, 2007
By Nakia Hogan
New Orleans Times Picayune
Three SMU defenders converged on a Tulane ball carrier, and it appeared the running back was ready to be slammed to the turf Oct. 20 in Dallas.
But before senior Matt Forté could be brought to the ground, he wrestled free and took off down the right sideline for a 65-yard run.
Jaws dropped as he sprinted toward the end zone. It was one of those runs that won't soon be forgotten in the Green Wave's 41-34 overtime victory against the Mustangs.
It was a run that started the questions: Is Forté being considered for the Heisman Trophy? Why can't he win the Heisman Trophy?
The answer is simple and emphatic: because he plays for Tulane.
While Forté is running his way through the Tulane and Conference USA record books, he's doing so outside of the nation's spotlight on a team with a 2-7 record.
That's why, despite his NCAA-best 1,642 rushing yards, Forté isn't holding any hope that he'll be one of the handful of players invited to the ceremony for the Heisman Trophy, an award given to college football's best player.
"The Heisman is supposed to be the best collegiate football player," Forté said. "But I think it's based upon your team and how many wins you have. Winning games gets your team out there also. If we had more wins, I think I'd be considered more for the Heisman."
Paul Hornung, the 1956 Heisman Trophy winner, is somewhat familiar with the uphill battle Forté faces. Hornung is the only person to win the award despite playing on a losing team.
But unlike Forté, Hornung played in the limelight, scoring touchdowns at Notre Dame.
In Forté's case, however, it'll take even more than just leading the nation in rushing to garner enough attention to be considered for the Heisman.
"I don't think there has ever been a player that has done those things, so it's hard to look at a kid today, because if he's a single running back on offense and he gains 2,800 yards, he'll probably win," said Hornung, who led the Fighting Irish ( 2-8) in rushing, tackles and interceptions, along with serving as the team's kicker, punter and return man on his way winning the award. "But back then, you had to be an all-around football player. It was a lot different.
Still, everyone isn't jumping off the bandwagon. Forté's name has been mentioned at the bottom of some watch lists, as Florida's Tim Tebow, Arkansas' Darren McFadden, Boston College's Matt Ryan, Oregon's Dennis Dixon and Hawaii's Colt Brennan have made the top of the lists.
Among the publications and Web sites that have listed Forté among the Heisman Trophy hopefuls are:
- ESPN.com, which has Forté ranked 11th on its Heisman watch list.
- Athlon, which has Forté on its 10-player list of Heisman candidates.
- CSTV, which until last week had tapped Forté as a Heisman possibility.
-- Foxsports.com, which lists Forté as one of three players with "no current chance to win it, but deserves to be in the discussion."
"His team is awful, but the numbers are becoming too ridiculous to ignore," Pete Fiutak wrote in his weekly column for Foxsports.com. "He has five 200-yard games on the year, and two with more than 300. Currently on pace to rush for 2,308 yards and 21 touchdowns, he might end up a finalist in the same way Colt Brennan will be in the mix for his passing numbers."
History says if Forté continues at his pace, averaging 182.4 yards rushing per game, he could get the most Heisman attention since former Tulane quarterback Shaun King finished seventh in the 1998 voting.
At his current rate, Forté will finish with 2,189 yards, third in Division I-A history.
And of the 11 Division I-A players to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season, each has finished in the top eight of the Heisman voting.
Barry Sanders (2,628) won in 1988, Marcus Allen (2,342) won in 1981, Troy Davis (2,185) was second in 1996, LaDainian Tomlinson (2,158) fourth in 2000, Mike Rozier (2,148) won in 1983, Ricky Williams (2,124) won in 1998, Larry Johnson (2,087) third in 2002, Byron Hanspard (2,084) sixth in 1996, Rashaan Salaam (2,055) won in 1994, J.J. Arrington (2,018) eighth in 2004 and Davis (2,010) fifth in 1995.
Some voters said those numbers might be hard to overlook. Meanwhile, they will keep a close eye on how Forté, who ended a string of four consecutive 200-plus rushing games this past Saturday in the Green Wave's 49-25 setback against Tulsa, finishes.
"I would have liked to have seen him go for over 100 against LSU or Mississippi State, one of the better-type teams," said Shreveport Times sports editor Scott Ferrell, who has a Heisman vote. "The losing record, yeah that hurts, because theoretically you should be elevating your team. But I will say this, it's a wide-open race. I haven't closed the door on him completely. There is nobody out there who is a cut above anybody else. Last year at this time, I had my three guys, and I was ready to vote."
The reality, though, is Forté likely will end up like last season's Division I-A rushing champion, Northern Illinois' Garret Wolfe, who rushed for 1,928 yards and 18 touchdowns, but didn't receive an invitation to the Heisman ceremony in New York.
Wolfe, who like Forté, didn't play in a BCS conference, was not among the top 10 vote-getters.
Tulane Coach Bob Toledo said he's afraid history might repeat itself.
"I've been to other places, and I know how other people view it, and I know how writers view it," Toledo said. "They don't compare us to the Southeastern Conference or to the Pac-10 or what have you. And that's what happens. He's being slighted because of that. He'll show everybody in the long run that he's the best running back in this country. And when he gets into the NFL, he'll prove to everybody that he's a great, great running back, just like I've said from the beginning.
"But I don't think he worries about that. He wants to win. He'd give up a lot of those yards and accolades for winning some football games."
SENIOR DAY NEARS: When Tulane plays its final home game against Texas-El Paso on Saturday night at the Superdome, Toledo said he would honor his seniors by starting every scholarship senior who is healthy enough to play.