Look at Us Now
Powerful performances by Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury and Penn
State's Larry Johnson give them Heisman heat
Good heisman Trophy campaigns, like good bourbon, often get
better with time, especially when the preseason favorites--Rex
Grossman, Ken Dorsey, Dave Ragone and Chris Simms--go flat. With
an eye-popping offensive output over the last month, Texas Tech
senior quarterback Kliff Kingsbury has vaulted back into the
By torching No. 4 Texas for 473 yards and six touchdowns in a
42--38 win last Saturday, Kingsbury increased his
flag-football-like season totals to 4,455 yards and 41
touchdowns, both best in the nation. "We were trying everything,"
said Longhorns defensive coordinator Carl Reese. "We were mixing
zone and blitzes, but Kingsbury always had the answer."
Kingsbury's performance helped Tech improve to 8--4 (5--2 in the
Big 12 South) and capped a five-game stretch in which he passed
for 2,087 yards and 18 touchdowns and revived the Heisman talk
that began this summer. In July, Tech distributed 800 promotional
CD-ROMs to the media, had Kingsbury on a weekly telephone
conference call with national reporters and created a website,
November 25, 2002
But the conference calls ended after a 51--48 overtime loss to
North Carolina State on Sept. 21 dropped the Red Raiders to 2--2.
"It wasn't disappointing," says the 6'4", 210-pound Kingsbury, a
three-year starter. "We had lost a couple of games, and that's
just the way the award goes." Some have devalued his gaudy
numbers as being a product of coach Mike Leach's wide-open
offense, which features frequent five-wideout sets. But as
Kingsbury showed in shredding Texas' secondary, he is a savvy
decision-maker. He has completed 68.1% of his throws and been
intercepted only 10 times despite attempting 52.8 passes per
Like Kingsbury, Penn State tailback Larry Johnson has entered the
Heisman picture on the strength of an explosive second half. As
he ran for four touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' 58--25 win over
Indiana on Saturday, Johnson set school rushing records for a
game (327 yards) and a season (1,736). That capped a freakishly
prolific five-game stretch during which he was the country's top
back, averaging 25.8 carries and 223.4 yards while scoring nine
A bullish 6'2", 222-pound fifth-year senior, Johnson has thriven
since coach Joe Paterno anointed him the feature back last
spring. After spending his first three years as a backup, never
exceeding 14 rushes or 94 yards in a game, Johnson labored this
off-season to develop more endurance. Besides jumping rope and
doing hurdling drills to improve his mobility, he ran
religiously, roaming the State College area in his 1992 Acura
Legend and hopping out to run hills that looked inviting.
Johnson will try to add to his credentials this week against
Michigan Sate. But it's Kingsbury who has the big opportunity to
impress voters with a strong showing on Saturday at No. 3
Oklahoma, in a game that will decide the Big 12 South title. "I
don't know how much the Texas game helped my chances," Kingsbury
says, "but I feel like this week's game will go a long way."
Terps Are Undefeated In a "New Season"
During a team meeting on Sept. 16, two days after Maryland
dropped to 1--2 with a 37--10 loss to Florida State, Terrapins
coach Ralph Friedgen told his team to consider its next game as
the start of a new season. "That really gave the guys a clean
slate," says junior quarterback Scott McBrien. "It made guys want
to play football again."
Since Friedgen's message, the Terrapins have reeled off eight
wins, including a 30--12 victory at Clemson last Saturday.
Maryland (9--2, 5--1 in the ACC), which last season won the ACC
title for the first time in 16 years, now sits one game behind
Florida State in the conference.
During its winning streak, Maryland has relied on strong special
teams (punter Brooks Barnard leads the ACC with a 42.9-yard
average, and Steve Suter has returned four punts for touchdowns)
and a stifling defense. (The Terps have allowed 14.8 points a
game, sixth in the nation.) But the biggest surprise has been the
offense, which has averaged 40.3 points in the eight victories.
That number is all the more remarkable given that for most of the
season Maryland has been without last year's ACC offensive player
of the year, running back Bruce Perry, who missed the first seven
games with a torn groin muscle and a strained shoulder. The
offense has jelled under McBrien and fifth-year senior tailback
Chris Downs, who has rushed for 995 yards and 13 touchdowns.
After Maryland lost to Notre Dame on Aug. 31, "we cut back our
offensive package and tried to simplify things," says Terrapins
offensive coordinator Charlie Taaffe. The offense may be more
conservative, but it still keeps defenses guessing, thanks to
Friedgen's creative playbook. "It's hard to say I've fully
grasped [the offense]," says McBrien. "It's an NFL offense, very
tough to run, but the improvement has been building."
What Friedgen has done this fall is no less remarkable than what
he accomplished last year, when he led Maryland to a 10--2 record
and was voted national coach of the year in his first season in
College Park. "Last year you said, 'Is this going to be a
one-year wonder?'" says Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. "You
see that a lot--a guy has a great year, and the next year he
fades out. This year kind of proved to me that [Friedgen] is for
real." --Albert Chen
Rocky Week for Arizona
Coach Mackovic Is a Wounded Cat
It was a modest show of support, but after the week he'd endured,
Arizona coach John Mackovic would take it. Last Saturday, minutes
after the Wildcats beat Cal 52--41 for their first Pac10 win of
the season, two Arizona freshmen hoisted their beleaguered coach
onto their shoulders. Mackovic broke into a wide smile.
Just three days earlier he had held back tears at a press
conference to discuss a meeting the night before between 41
players and university president Peter Likins. Some of the
players complained about Mackovic's verbally abusive style, among
other things. "It was a feeling that was echoed throughout the
team," says senior linebacker Lance Briggs. Though Mackovic
wasn't fired or asked to resign, he apologized for having berated
his players. For example, on Nov. 9 after a loss to UCLA, he told
senior tight end Justin Levasseur, "You're a disgrace to your
Before his surprise hiring in December 2000, Mackovic hadn't
coached since Texas fired him after a 4--7 season in 1997,
capping a rocky 41282 six-year tenure. After leaving Austin,
Mackovic spent the next three years as an analyst at ESPN. Since
his arrival at Arizona, the Wildcats (4--7, 1--6 in the Pac10
this season) have gone 3--12 in conference play. If nothing else,
Saturday's offensive outburst, in which senior quarterback Jason
Johnson passed for 489 yards and four touchdowns, suggested that
Arizona (with 17 returning starters) had no business being ninth
in the Pac10 and 116th in the nation in scoring offense.
Mackovic, 59, may survive the season, but last week's damage
could be irreversible. "I don't know if he can change, but I hope
he can," says Levasseur. "I've got one year left. I'm a Wildcat,
and I love to play football." --A.C.
Head to Head
Michigan QB John Navarre
Ohio State CB Chris Gamble
Navarre is averaging 211.6 passing yards a game, second in the
Big Ten. In his last seven outings, the 6'6", 236-pound junior
has thrown 13 touchdown passes and just three interceptions.
Gamble, a 6'2", 180-pound sophomore, has had four huge picks for
the 12--0 Buckeyes. In addition to preserving Ohio State's 10--6
win over Purdue on Nov. 9 with an interception at the
Boilermakers' 11yard line with 45 seconds left, Gamble picked off
passes against Cincinnati and Wisconsin. He also returned an
interception for a touchdown in a 13--7 victory over Penn State.