On Election Day Tuesday, USC nominated its own candidate.
Presenting Curtis Conway for Heisman Trophy consideration, the Trojans launched a low-key campaign designed to make voters aware of the junior flanker-kick returner, whom they have dubbed "the Comet."
Flyers detailing Conway's accomplishments were mailed to more than 500 media outlets throughout the country.
"If a person's good enough for it and deserves a shot, we need to get behind him," Coach Larry Smith said. "(If) he's doing his job on Saturday afternoon, we need to do our job (of promoting him).
"He's on a streak that, if it continues, could thrust him right to the top. From what I see, there isn't a strong favorite. So, I say, 'Hey, let's go for it.' "
Running backs Marshall Faulk of San Diego State and Garrison Hearst of Georgia have been mentioned most frequently as the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
"Not to take anything away from them--they are both great players--but I feel I'm at that same level," Conway said.
Conway, USC's leading receiver with 31 catches for 497 yards, is fourth in the nation with an average of 178.3 all-purpose yards.
Third in the nation with an average of 31.4 yards per kickoff return, he has scored eight touchdowns in seven games--five on pass receptions, one on a run, one on a 96-yard punt return and one on a 95-yard kickoff return.
"He's the best I've coached as far as a guy who can do so many things," Smith said of Conway, who also was a backup quarterback last season. "I've never coached a more versatile big-play athlete."
Said Stanford Coach Bill Walsh, whose team will play the Trojans Saturday at Palo Alto: "Naturally, we at Stanford hope that he will join the National Football League \o7 very \f7 soon because this guy is just outstanding. . . .
"With the ball in his hands, he's as great a player as there is in the country. I consider him to be the best receiver in college football."
USC players have figured prominently in balloting for the Heisman Trophy since 1965, when Mike Garrett became the first of four Trojan tailbacks to win college football's most prestigious award.
O.J. Simpson won it in 1968, Charles White in 1979 and Marcus Allen in 1981.
Two other USC tailbacks--Anthony Davis in 1974 and Ricky Bell in 1976--were runners-up, as was Simpson in 1967. A USC quarterback, Rodney Peete, finished second in the voting in 1988.
But each established himself as a viable candidate during the season before he made his most serious run at the Heisman Trophy.
Conway made the All-Pacific 10 Conference team as a return specialist last season, but he was only the No. 3 receiver--with 21 catches for 240 yards--on a USC team that was 3-8, the Trojans' worst record in 35 years. He scored two touchdowns.
This season, Conway has led USC to a 5-1-1 start and No. 11 ranking:
--Against Oklahoma, he had a personal-best nine catches for a personal-best 115 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown reception that sparked a fourth-quarter rally as USC rallied from a 10-0 deficit to a 20-10 victory.
--Against Oregon, he had 224 all-purpose yards, including a 96-yard punt return for a touchdown, the longest in USC history.
--Against Washington State, he scored on a 24-yard reverse and a 27-yard reception before setting up the Trojans' last touchdown. He also broke the Cougars' momentum with a 58-yard kickoff return.
--Against Arizona State last Saturday, he returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, the first kickoff return for a touchdown by the Trojans since 1974.
After USC's 31-21 victory over previously unbeaten Washington State on Oct. 24, quarterback Rob Johnson wondered why Conway hadn't been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Several other Trojans have since stumped for their teammate.
"We're talking about a guy who gets the football only eight times a game and he makes plays every time," safety Stephon Pace said.
Actually, Conway gets the ball about 10 times a game. The average gain for USC is 16.9 yards.
Have the voters noticed?
If not, they will have plenty of opportunity to see Conway this month. USC's final four games--against No. 21 Stanford, No. 12 Arizona, UCLA and No. 8 Notre Dame--all will be televised.
"The table is set for Curtis to have a dramatic finish," said Tim Tessalone, USC's sports information director. "We're there to try to create awareness. It's up to the player to do the job on the field.
"The hope here is that he has a great final four games, (and) if he doesn't win it this year, he sets himself up for next year."