Originally created 11/05/99

Virginia running back deserves Heisman attention



The newspaper opinion makers and radio yackity-yacks agree. Thomas Jones is not a serious candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

Apparently, Jones doesn't have the credentials. His name isn't mentioned in the same breath with that of Wisconsin's Ron Dayne and Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton. Never has been.

But with an average of 159.13 yards, the Virginia senior leads the nation in per-game rushing. Leads the nation. That counts for nothing?

As if to make a point, Jones ran for 164 yards Saturday against No.1-ranked Florida State.

A lot of people missed the point. But if you ask me, Jones has entered the running for the Heisman. Believe it or not, some people are foolish enough to do just that: ask me.

For another year, I've been granted an official Heisman vote. I get to pick my top three candidates -- win, place and show.

For now, I've got Jones in the mix. I'm one of the few who does. A check of some Heisman Web sites Tuesday failed to turn up Jones' name.

The USA Today Heisman poll goes 10 deep, and includes Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Moore, in a tie for No. 9. I'm all for defensive players getting Heisman attention. Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington, whom I've heard described as Lawrence Taylor without the drug habit, should be in the pool, too.

USA Today editors list Dayne as their top choice. Dayne is third in the nation in rushing. He ran for 162 yards last Saturday. But it was against Northwestern.

After Dayne, top candidates include Hamilton, Alabama tailback Shaun Alexander and Purdue quarterback Drew Brees. Even now, after missing two games for his department store caper, Peter Warrick of Florida State comes in at No. 7.

But no T.J. On the field, every running back is trying to keep up with this Jones, so what gives?

It helps to understand how Heisman hype works. A player must be a household name in July or August. Jones wasn't. Not even U.Va. beat the drums loudly enough for its star player. Why? Who knows? Incredibly, he isn't even pictured on the front cover of the Cavaliers' media guide.

Dayne, Hamilton, Alexander, Brees, Warrick; they began the season with the handle: "Heisman Trophy candidate." Jones has no label. Once you miss out on that, not even a pair of 200-plus-yard games (against BYU and North Carolina State) can get you on the Heisman radar screen.

Give a player the Heisman handle, and he can stumble through a terrible game -- as Dayne did against Cincinnati -- and still bounce back into contention.

It doesn't help Jones' chances that U.Va. is 4-4. There are legitimate reasons why he isn't a front-runner for the Heisman. But to not even receive consideration? That's almost insulting.

Jones gets a chance to open more eyes Saturday when Hamilton and Georgia Tech visit Charlottesville. Heisman electorate consists of more than 1,000 college football experts, some of whom have seen a game this season. Maybe a few voters who tune in to watch Hamilton will be strongly impressed with what they see of a certain tailback who just happens to lead the nation in rushing.

At least one already is.