Thursday January 20th, 2005

The national title picture came more into focus this weekend, after six ranked, undefeated teams lost. The Heisman picture didn't enjoy the same enhancement of clarity. It couldn't be more of a mess.

Our previously unflappable leader, Purdue's Kyle Orton, threw an interception and coughed up two fumbles, one of which was returned 40 yards for the game-winning TD in a 20-17 loss to Wisconsin.

Our young gun at No. 2, Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, had only one good half (the second one) against Kansas State, not exactly an "assume-the-throne" afternoon in Manhattan, Kan. And four, count 'em, four, contending quarterbacks whose last names weren't Orton had solid, four-TD Saturdays: Cal's Aaron Rodgers, USC's Matt Leinart, OU's Jason White and Utah's Alex Smith.

Sorting all this out didn't make for a pleasant Sunday morning. There is no longer a clear leader, so in a cheaply symbolic gesture, the five best candidates are assigned Nos. 2 through 6. Orton's campaign is not dead, as I've heard quite a few times in the past 15 hours. It is only nearly dead. Give it a week before calling the coroner's office, folks. If Orton leads Purdue past Michigan next Saturday -- a massive if at this point -- the Boilers are right back in the Rose Bowl hunt.

On to the adjusted rankings:

Last week (at Kansas State): 36 carries, 130 yards in 31-21 win Season (6-0): 155 carries, 901 yards (150.2 yards per game), 6 TDs

White was the difference on Saturday against K-State, but A.D. is having the better season. He did post his sixth straight 100-yard game and play a big part in wearing down the Wildcats' D in the second half -- again, not "assume-the-throne" stuff, but this week, it'll do.

Last week (vs. UCLA): 19-of-29 passing, 260 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs 45-28 win Season (4-1): 91-of-121 passing (75.2 percent), 1,141 yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs

With his No. 1 receiver out for the season, all Rodgers did was throw a career-high four TDs. And afterward, he made a reasonable request of a portion of his home-field fans:

"I'm going to call out the alumni a little bit," he told the San Francisco Gate. "It seems like they're sitting on their hands. ... You've got to stand up and cheer."

Last week (vs. Arizona State): 13-of-24 passing, 224 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, rushing TD in 45-7 win Season (6-0): 112-of-172 passing (65.1 percent), 1,411 yards, 14 TDs, 3 INTs, 3 rushing TDs

I'm starting to believe Leinart is a Heisman candidate again; he may be one more big week away from leading this thing. But you can't make me believe he actually writes "his" blog.

Last week (vs. Wisconsin): 25-of-45 passing, 235 yards, TD, INT, rushing TD, two fumbles in 20-17 loss Season (5-1): 144-of-217 passing (66.4 percent), 1,877 yards, 19 TDs, 3 INTs, 3 rushing TDs

On the good side, those Erasmus James nightmares should subside soon.

Last week (vs. Arizona State): 5 carries, 21 yards; 2 catches, 45 yards, TD; 49 punt return yards; 1-of-1 passing, 52 yards, TD in 45-7 win Season (6-0): 374 rushing yards, 52 passing yards, 274 receiving yards, 483 return yards, 9 total TDs (184 all-purpose yards per game)

Apparently Bush decided "all-purpose back" meant he had to become a star passer, too: The SI.com box score computes his mythical QB rating from Saturday as 866.8: one pass, one completion, 52 yards, one TD.

In this order: Smith, Utah; White, Oklahoma; Cedric Benson, Texas; Vernand Morency, Oklahoma State; Stefan Lefors, Louisville; Jason Campbell, Auburn; J.J. Arrington, Cal.

Special mention ...

Goes to Wisconsin's Erasmus James, whose showing against Purdue was simply game-changing -- and played a big role in Orton's downfall. The odds of Lee Corso calling this guy "Eraser Jones" in the next few weeks are excellent.

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