September 17, 2010

Mailbag: There's a first time for everything

As the old saying goes, there is a first time for everything.

Yale's Larry Kelley was the first lineman to win the Heisman. Notre Dame's Paul Hornung was the first (and only) recipient from a losing team. Syracuse's Ernie Davis was the first black winner. Ohio State's Archie Griffin was the first (and only) two-time winner. Michigan's Charles Woodson was the first player who primarily played defense to win. Florida's Tim Tebow was the first sophomore recipient. USC's Reggie Bush was the first (and only) player to give the trophy back.

Yet the wait goes on for the first freshman recipient.

Georgia's Herschel Walker should have won it as a freshman in 1980 and Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson came close in 2004. But the wait continues.

Maybe it will happen this season. There are certainly some freshmen who are candidates, as we will see in this week's mailbag.

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True contender

If freshman running back Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina keeps having games like he has had and has a great game when the Gamecocks play Alabama, don't you think his name will start to come up as a contender for the Heisman?
Allen in Battle Creek, Mich.

It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Lattimore could join George Rogers as Heisman recipients who played for the Gamecocks. The question is when.

Based on what he's shown so far, Lattimore can't be ruled out as a candidate. He's obviously given an injection of power to South Carolina's running game, which is quite an accomplishment in itself.

Last season, South Carolina was last in the SEC in rushing (121.2 yards per game). The Gamecocks' leading rusher had just 626 yards and no South Carolina player ran for more than six touchdowns.

Lattimore has changed that. After two games, South Carolina is averaging 206.5 rushing yards, with Lattimore accounting for 236 yards and four touchdowns. His 182-yard, two touchdown performance in last week's 17-6 victory over Georgia was the second-highest rushing total ever posted by a South Carolina freshman.

Though he's not as high on the early Heisman lists as Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson or Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, I'd guess that most Heisman voters would list him among the top 10 candidates.

Just how serious a contender he is will be decided soon enough. South Carolina travels to face Auburn on Sept. 25 and is at home against Alabama on Oct. 9. If Lattimore has strong performances in those games he will be included among the top candidates. Heck, if the Gamecocks win both, he could even become the leading contender.

That's asking a lot. After all, he's only played two college games. Still, based on what he has shown so far, everyone should be impressed and Gamecocks fans should be more optimistic than ever about South Carolina's chances of reaching the SEC championship game.


What if ...?

Now that people are more agreeable to the thought of Boise State making it to the national championship game, here's a hypothetical question. If a Pac-10 team (Oregon?), a Big Ten team (Ohio State?) and Boise State go undefeated, who should play in the national championship game?
Landon in Atlanta

Even Boise State's harshest critics had to be impressed by the Broncos' 33-30 season-opening victory over then tenth-ranked Virginia Tech ... well, that is until Virginia Tech lost to James Madison the following week.

Still, even though a lot of college football followers won't admit it, Boise State is a bona-fide top-10 team. Every time Boise State faces a major obstacle, the Broncos seem to overcome it, whether it's Virginia Tech this season, Oregon and TCU last season or Oklahoma in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.

That said, in the scenario described above I'd think the Broncos would be -- and should be -- on the outside looking in at the national championship game.

A perfect record is a tremendous accomplishment and should be acknowledged with respect, regardless of the overall strength of the conference in which a team resides. The Western Athletic Conference is by no means a grind, although Fresno State, Hawaii and Utah State aren't the cream-puffs some may dismiss them to be -- just ask Cincinnati, USC and Oklahoma.

But an unbeaten team coming out of the Pac-10 or the Big Ten would have a better resume than one coming out of the WAC. And the BCS standings largely are based on a team's resume.

An unbeaten Ohio State would have posted victories over Miami, Wisconsin, Penn State and Iowa -- four teams that entered the season ranked in the top 20 and could finish there.

Boise State will play half that many -- Virginia Tech and Oregon State.

Maybe unbeaten Boise State would have a better chance to be chosen ahead of an unbeaten Oregon. After all, the Broncos beat the Ducks last season. But an unbeaten Oregon would have victories over USC, Oregon State, Arizona, Stanford, Washington and California. Any way you slice it, that's more impressive than posting victories over Oregon State, Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Nevada, Utah State and Idaho.

Now, if Boise State was one of just two teams to finish unbeaten, a great argument could be made for the Broncos to be included in BCS championship game. I might agree unless, say, Alabama had a regular-season loss to Florida but avenged that loss in the SEC championship game. Then, my vote (if I had one) would go to Alabama, which would have faced a much more demanding overall schedule than Boise State. And what if Nebraska lost to Texas in the regular season, but then beat the Longhorns (or Oklahoma) in the Big 12 championship game? It would be hard to leave Nebraska out.

At least Boise State would have a chance in that scenario. But if there were two unbeaten teams from "Big Six" conferences, those two would play in the BCS championship game.


Above average

Which active running back has the highest career yards-per-carry average with a minimum of 200 carries? I don't know, but I think it's Kendall Hunter of Oklahoma State. He was out for most of last year, but if I remember, he had a career average of 6.7 yards per carry at the start of the season. I also would like to know how that compares with other running backs over time.
Dan in Lubbock, Texas

Hunter would be a good guess, but he actually ranks fourth in average-per-carry among active players.

In 35 career games, Hunter has rushed for 3,047 yards on 486 carries for a 6.27 average.

Two running backs have a better career average: West Virginia's Noel Devine with a 6.37 average and Nevada's Vai Taua with a 6.93 average. Perhaps surprisingly, the active player with the highest average per carry is Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Quarterbacks don't often have great averages because sack yardage is deducted from their rushing total, but Kaepernick has averaged 6.96 yards per carry

The NCAA record-holders in career average per carry are Army's Glenn Davis (minimum 300 carries) and Nebraska's Mike Rozier (minimum 414 carries). Davis averaged 8.3 yards from 1943-46, while Rozier averaged 7.2 yards from 1981-83.

USC's Reggie Bush averaged 7.3 yards from 2003-05, but his statistics have been erased from the NCAA record books.


Under the radar

N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson has been outstanding his whole career. He had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17-to-1 in his first season, and last season, he threw for 31 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. Of course, the team success hasn't been there because of a lack of defense, but why does he not get the respect he deserves? How good do you think he really is and do you think he is under-appreciated?
Justin in Franklin, Va.

Wilson is a good quarterback who should contend for All-ACC honors this season.

But I would not agree that he gets no respect. In 2008, he became the first freshman to be named first-team All-ACC at quarterback.

Last season, he was the first-team quarterback on the All-ACC preseason team. After the season, Georgia Tech's Joshua Nesbitt was the first-teamer and Duke's Thaddeus Lewis was the second-team selection. Those choices are hard to argue. Nesbitt expertly ran Georgia Tech's triple-option offense, rushed and passed for more than 1,000 yards and led the Yellow Jackets to a conference championship. Lewis also had an outstanding season with 3,330 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. He even outplayed Wilson in a 49-28 Duke victory last season, when he threw five touchdown passes.

Although Wilson struggled in last week's win over UCF, it would come as no surprise if he has a strong season.

I'm not sure how it could be claimed that he has been disrespected in any way.


Among the greats?

The job that Erk Russell did at Georgia Southern is unmatched. How would you rank him with the other great coaches?
Thomas in Eatonton, Ga.

The first time I saw Russell, I was a teen-ager in Texas watching Georgia play on TV when Russell was the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator. Back then, there were only a couple of games on TV every week and the NCAA limited teams to three television appearances a year, so you watched who was on.

Anyway, there was Russell, this energetic bald guy, running around like crazy and bashing his head into his players' helmets. After a while, he had a gash on his forehead and a stream of blood was trickling down his face, but he didn't let up.

Once the game started, his defense didn't, either. I can't remember the year or even what team Georgia was playing, but I became an Erk Russell fan that day. He was one of the best defensive coordinators of his era, without a doubt.

Then, he went to Georgia Southern, restarted a program that hadn't played football in decades, went 70-14 in nine seasons from 1981-89 and won three Division I-AA championships. That's an amazing accomplishment at any level. That's more national championships than Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno have won.

Yet, it's hard to compare Russell as a head coach to Paterno or Bowden or any other successful FBS coach because he competed in a different NCAA division. Still, the numbers speak for themselves.

I wouldn't rank him among the greatest because as successful as he was as a head coach, it was just for a nine-year period.

But he was a great coach.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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