In perhaps any other year, Texas quarterback Vince Young would be the odds-on favorite to claim the Heisman Trophy tonight.
Young, the fleet-footed Houston native with a cannon right arm, is the unabashed playmaker and leader for the second-ranked Longhorns, who will play No. 1 Southern California in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 4 for the national title.
Under Young's guidance, Texas (12-0), seeking its first outright national championship since 1969, has won 19 straight games and 29 of its last 31.
With 2,769 passing yards, 850 rushing yards and 35 combined touchdowns (26 passing and nine rushing) this season, he has been just as impressive as other quarterbacks who have won the Heisman in the last 12 years, and clearly better than two of them, Charlie Ward (1993) and Eric Crouch (2001).
And he has the nation's top passer rating, at 168.6.
But he faces competition from another quarterback, Southern California's Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman last year. And he also faces an apparently uncatchable opponent in Leinart's teammate Reggie Bush, a dazzling running back and the solid favorite to win the award.
On Monday, Young said that the award was always on his mind and that he had been "praying about it." Because many of the Longhorns' victories were routs, he said, voters needed to be aware that he appeared sparingly in the second half of games, playing in every series in only four of them.
"If they just basically look at that and how much I love my teammates and how good we play together and how big of a leader I am to them guys, I'm pretty sure I should win it," Young said.
"If they're looking for just the big, big highlights, you've got Bush winning. He is a great athlete, though."
Regardless of the outcome, Young will continue to be the toast of this eclectic city, known for its unofficial "Keep Austin Weird" slogan.
"He's a legend," said Heather Cox, 22, an Austin resident. "He's our hero."
The popularity of Young, evident by the burnt orange No. 10 jerseys worn throughout Austin, has reached such a fever that he is outshining local lights like the gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman.
Governor Rick Perry of Texas said Young was like "the second coming of Secretariat in a football sense."
"We're obviously all pulling for him," Perry said. "He probably means a thousand things to Texas in that we have one of the top three football players in America. It's probably a million things or more."
Young's star power will be on display in New York this weekend. While in town, he said he wanted to attend Saturday's game between the No. 2 Texas men's basketball team and top-ranked Duke in East Rutherford, New Jersey. He also plans to visit the rapper Jay-Z.
Carina Sahni, a sophomore government major at Texas who had a class with Young last year, said he was at his best in the spotlight. She said Facebook, a popular Internet social network for college students, had as many as 50 groups devoted to him.
"He's like a celebrity," Sahni, 18, said. "Everybody knows who he is."
Sahni, however, said she did not want Young to win the award. That way, she said, there would be a better chance he would follow through on a pledge he made last month to return for his senior season. Nonetheless, she said he deserved the award.
"It's kind of sad how they vote based on the recent games," Sahni said. "He's had like 10 amazing games. I don't think Reggie has had 10 amazing games. He's just had like three good games recently."