The Most Underrated

SIX UNSUNG STARS
November 29, 2004

Fans are well acquainted with the college game's biggest names, such as Matt Leinart and Jason White. There are, however, 10,000 other Division I-A players, and plenty of them also deserve recognition. Here are the most underrated players from each of the six BCS conferences. (To Louisville and Utah and all other mid-major schools outside the BCS: In our eyes every one of your players is underrated.)

ACC: Alvin Pearman, tailback, Virginia. The 5'9", 204-pound senior has done a bit of everything for the Cavaliers. His average of 159.4 all-purpose yards is the 13th best in Division I-A. He's Virginia's leading rusher and punt returner as well as its second-leading receiver. Though he began the year backing up Wali Lundy, Pearman took over after the Cavs gained just 20 yards on the ground in an embarrassing 36--3 loss to Florida State on Oct. 16. He has run for 582 yards in the four games since.

Big East: Brian Leonard, fullback, Rutgers. A 6'2", 230-pounder in the mold of John Riggins, the sophomore ran for 150 yards in the Scarlet Knights' 19--14 upset of Michigan State on Sept. 4. Leonard has also displayed remarkable talent as a receiver: He leads all Division I-A running backs with 6.1 receptions per game and has caught eight or more passes on three occasions. Leonard has gained more than 100 all-purpose yards in 14 straight games, and his average of 127.0 yards is second in the conference.

Big Ten: Steve Weatherford, punter, Illinois. The junior is the main reason the Illini--who excel at almost nothing else--are second in the Big Ten (and 12th in the nation) in net punting, averaging 39.0 yards per kick. Weatherford's 45.4 yards per boot ranks fourth in Division I-A. He has pinned 23 of 57 punts inside the 20-yard line and has 20 punts of 50 yards or more, including a 79-yard bomb against Iowa on Oct. 30. Only 39% of his punts this year have been returned.

Big 12: Charles Gordon, cornerback, Kansas. The Jayhawks' defense has 19 interceptions, tied for second most in Division I-A. Gordon, a 5'11", 170-pound sophomore, has seven, tied for first in the nation. The holder of the Kansas freshman records for receptions and receiving yards, Gordon switched from wideout to cornerback this fall because coaches thought his speed and quickness made him ideal for the position. He still sees some time on offense and is the Jayhawks' punt returner.

Pac-10: Lorenzo Alexander, defensive tackle, California. The 6'3", 300-pound senior has been the mainstay of the country's No. 4 rush defense. His statistics aren't flashy--he has just 23 tackles and 11/2 sacks--but that's because opponents either run away from him or double-team him. By drawing an extra blocker, Alexander has opened the way for Cal defensive end Ryan Riddle to make a Pac10--leading 121/2 sacks.

SEC: Freddie Roach, linebacker, Alabama. The 6'2", 239-pound junior is listed as a middle linebacker--it's where he played the last two seasons--but this fall the hard-hitting Roach has also lined up at outside linebacker and defensive end. The shuffling has caused his numbers to dip some, but he is still fourth on the team in tackles (39) and tackles-for-loss (six). --Mark Beech

COLOR PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (WEATHERFORD) GOLDEN BOOT Illinois punter Weatherford has done his part to help the struggling Illini.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)