Forgive Kansas State senior David Allen if he lacks the proper
schooling when it comes to Nebraska football lore. Despite his
status as the NCAA's reigning punt return king, Allen admits
that before last year he wasn't exactly well-versed on the
subject of Johnny Rodgers, the Cornhuskers legend whose
prodigious play and dramatic flair three decades ago made him
the Picasso of the punt return. "I can honestly say I didn't
even know who Johnny Rodgers was," Allen says.
That situation was rectified last November in Lincoln when the
former king introduced himself to the current one before the
annual border war. "He said he was fine with me breaking his
record," recalls Allen, whose seven career punt returns for
touchdowns tie him with Rodgers and Oklahoma's Jack Mitchell for
the NCAA record. "But he did let me know he hoped it wouldn't
happen in his backyard."
Rodgers needn't have worried. Nebraska kept Allen out of
the end zone en route to a 41-15 pasting of K-State. Says senior
quarterback Jonathan Beasley about this year's matchup, "I'm just
glad we'll be walking out seeing purple instead of red."
Whether Beasley will be under center again when Big Red invades
Manhattan this November is another story. Redshirt freshman
quarterback Ell Roberson drew rave reviews this spring and has
narrowed the gap. Whichever player ends up with the nod will have
the security of throwing to the Big 12's best receiving
duo--senior Quincy Morgan and junior Aaron Lockett. He'll also
have Allen as the No. 1 tailback. "Most people just see me as a
return man," says Allen, who needs 172 yards in punt returns to
break the career record of 1,695 yards, set by Vanderbilt's Lee
Nalley from 1947 to '49. "It's my year to prove I can be a return
guy and an every-down back."
The defense isn't as sure a thing. Despite retaining seven
starters from the nation's second-ranked unit, K-State must
replace its top three defensive players from last season.
K-State has an early-season schedule that's softer than George
Foreman's midsection, which means its BCS prospects likely hinge
on an upset of neighbors to the north. "With the people we have,"
says Allen, "we can beat anybody in the country."
If he's right, Allen won't be the only one in Manhattan this
season experiencing many happy returns.
1999 record: 11-1 (7-1, T1 in Big 12 North)
Final ranking: No. 6 AP, No. 6 coaches' poll
Points scored and allowed by the Wildcats in the third quarter of
11 games last season.
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Wildcats
"They'll get stronger as the year goes on. It takes all those
new jucos a while to get going....Morgan is awesome. He just
killed us....I think Roberson, the kid they just brought in at
quarterback, is better than Beasley. He will be better than
Michael Bishop was too....They go with four wideouts and force
you to come out of an eight-man front, and they're patient
enough to nickel-and-dime you."
Strength: 62nd of 115
Aug. 26 vs. Iowa*
Sept. 2 LOUISIANA TECH
16 BALL STATE
23 NORTH TEXAS
30 at Colorado
Oct. 7 at Kansas
21 TEXAS TECH
28 at Texas A&M
Nov. 4 IOWA ST.
18 at Missouri
*At Kansas City
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]