COLUMBIA -- Darren McFadden is done clowning around.
The Arkansas tailback, who wore a clown suit around campus last year for Halloween, is letting fans pick the costumes he and backfield mate Felix Jones will wear this week.
But if McFadden hopes to dress up in a suit at New York's Downtown Athletic Club in December, the 2006 Heisman Trophy runner-up might need another strong stretch run. McFadden, the preseason favorite for college football's most storied award, has slipped in the pack of Heisman contenders in recent weeks as he has fought through bruised ribs.
Despite leading the SEC with 993 rushing yards, McFadden is listed sixth in a couple of Heisman straw polls, including one conducted last week by The Associated Press.
McFadden trailed Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan, Kentucky quarterback Andre Woodson, Michigan running back Mike Hart and Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon in the AP sample.
While agreeing he had not done enough to top the balloting, McFadden believes the Heisman race will be won over the next five weeks.
"By them saying (I'm) slipping, it's not something I'm really concerned (about) because I don't feel like I came on to the Heisman scene until around this time last season," McFadden said Monday.
McFadden, second to Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006, began his push last year by ripping off a career-high 219 yards on 25 carries in a 26-20 win at South Carolina. The junior from Little Rock followed that with a 181-yard rushing effort in a win against Tennessee the following week.
In the Razorbacks' regular-season finale against LSU, McFadden burned the nation's No. 1 defense for 222 yards of total offense.
"When the competition starts to go up, Darren McFadden's play goes up," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "And I've seen people go the other way. A bigger game, a TV game or you're playing a top opponent, you can't find 'em. Darren's the opposite.
"We expect him to have his best ball now."
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound McFadden carried 33 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-38 loss to Alabama Sept. 15. But the next week against Kentucky, McFadden bruised his ribs on his first carry of the second half -- an injury that bothered him for more than a month.
McFadden put up pedestrian numbers against Auburn (17 carries for 43 yards) and Florida International (19-61), although he scored a career-high four touchdowns last week vs. FIU.
Because of McFadden's success last year, Nutt said all eyes are on No. 5 every time he gets "off the bus." That attention has created opportunities for Jones, the SEC's second-leading rusher with 863 yards and an 8.8 yards-per-carry average.
McFadden said it is hard not to notice the defensive spies, particularly on plays when he is blocking and looks up to see a linebacker or safety shadowing him across the line.
Even so, McFadden enters the USC game needing 7 yards to join Georgia's Herschel Walker as the only SEC backs to run for 1,000 yards in each of their first three seasons.
"I think if you go by the best player or the player that's supposed to be the best in the country, he's got to be up there. I've seen a lot of these guys play ... and I haven't seen one better," Nutt said. "I'm just amazed at how he could be slipping. I don't see it."
While McFadden played through his injury, Michigan's Hart is among the Heisman favorites despite sitting out the past two games with an ankle injury.
Though Nutt said he would not make a point to showcase McFadden for Heisman voters, he expects McFadden to get more touches now that he is close to 100 percent. Nutt said he would give McFadden the ball "as long as he can keep taking it."
Likewise, McFadden is taking a low-key approach to the Heisman hoopla.
"I feel like if I go out there and just play my game and do my best then everything else will take care of itself."
NO. 23 SOUTH CAROLINA (6-3, 3-3 SEC) AT ARKANSAS (5-3, 1-3)
• When: 8 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
• TV: ESPN2 (cable channel 28 in Rock Hill)
• Tickets: Sold out