College Football

December 12, 2005

Bush's League

With anotherdazzling performance, this time against UCLA, Reggie Bush sealed his placeamong USC's alltime greatest

Reggie Bush was onthe sideline in the fourth quarter last Saturday, having contributed mightilyto USC's 66--19 dismantling of UCLA, when the screen on the Los AngelesColiseum scoreboard showed a highlight reel of former Trojans tailback AnthonyDavis's greatest runs. Bush, USC's current star at the position, looked up atthe screen for a second before coach Pete Carroll slapped him on the shoulderpads and sent him back into the game. It was a typical moment for Bush, who istoo busy making history to study it.

The juniorcontinued to carve out a prominent place for himself in Trojans lore with 260rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Bruins, which makes him a nearcertainty to become the fifth USC tailback to win the Heisman Trophy--joiningMike Garrett (1965), O.J. Simpson ('68), Charles White ('79) and Marcus Allen('81)--when the prize is awarded on Saturday. Bush was already the clearfavorite for the award, and after making UCLA defenders look jelly-legged withhis fakes and feints all afternoon, he should have about as much troublefinishing first in the Heisman balloting as his matinee-idol teammate MattLeinart has getting a date.

Although he refusesto discuss the chances that he will give up his last year of eligibility, Bushis also considered a virtual lock to enter the NFL draft, which means he mostlikely has only one college game remaining, the Rose Bowl against second-rankedTexas for the national championship. One of the few remaining questions aboutBush as a collegian is where he ranks among the luminaries who preceded him asTrojans tailbacks--in addition to the four Heisman winners, Davis ('74) andRicky Bell ('76) finished second in the voting. Not surprisingly, Bush haslittle to offer on the subject. "I'm probably the worst person to ask,"he says. "I don't really study other running backs. All I know is that ifpeople want to mention me in the same breath as guys like Marcus Allen, CharlesWhite and Anthony Davis and the other guys who have come through here, then I'mhonored to be in that company."

USC's former starbacks are just as honored to have him. "It doesn't take a Heisman to provethat Reggie is one of the greatest Trojans ever," says Davis. "He's thebiggest game-breaking running back I've seen in the last 30 years. There aredangerous backs, there are very dangerous backs, and then there's ReggieBush."

Bush ranks at ornear the top of the list in versatility--Davis was the only one of the USCgreats who equaled Bush's kick-returning ability--and in speed, where Simpson,who was also a member of the Trojans' track team, is probably the only one ofUSC's magnificent seven who in his prime could have run step for step withBush. A former high school sprinter who has been timed at 4.25 seconds for 40yards, Bush displayed his astonishing acceleration on several runs against theBruins, including a 10-yard touchdown dash in which he simply outran a pair ofunblocked UCLA defenders to the corner of the end zone.

Although his speedhas never been questioned, Bush's power has. He is listed at 6 feet, whichmight be stretching it by an inch or two, and 200 pounds, putting him in themiddle of the Trojans' great backs in terms of size. (Davis, Garrett and Whitewere smaller.) Bell was the runner most likely to steamroller tacklers, andAllen, who was a fine blocker as a fullback before he became the featuredrunner, could punish tacklers as well. USC doesn't need Bush to pack that kindof punch because he splits time with power back LenDale White, but Bush isnevertheless determined not to be known as a lightweight. In high school heonce scaled the side of a building to climb through the window of the weightroom and start pumping iron at 6 a.m., and he's among the Trojans' more devotedlifters. He realizes that one of the questions about his NFL future is whetherhe is sturdy enough to be an every-down back who can run regularly between thetackles. "I don't see myself as just a little, situational back," hesays. "I can carry the ball as many times as you want to give it tome."

At USC that hasn'tbeen nearly as often as Bush's illustrious predecessors carried the ball, whichis why his career statistics won't be an accurate measure of how he stacks upagainst them. His performance against UCLA left him in seventh place on theTrojans' career rushing list with 3,087 yards, fewer than half of CharlesWhite's school record of 6,245. "He ranks a lot higher than that in termsof his place in USC history," says White. "I don't think you would getany of us to rank who's first, second, third and so on, but in terms of makingcuts at full speed and making people miss, Reggie doesn't have to take abackseat to anybody."

Despite Bush'semergence as one of the greatest Trojans, the runners he is most often comparedwith aren't USC backs. Some NFL scouts see him as an updated version ofMarshall Faulk because of his size, elusiveness and pass-catching skill, whilehis ability to change direction at full speed, as if operated by a joystick,reminds others of Barry Sanders. Carroll's mind went further back in historywhen Bush first arrived on campus in 2003. "I gave him a tape of GaleSayers," Carroll says. "Sayers is the greatest back I ever saw, andeven early on it was clear that Reggie had some of those same moves, thatspecial ability that can't be taught."

Carroll recallsthat Bush wasn't especially impressed by what he saw on the video. "I guessI need to show him a better set of highlights," the coach says. Bush wouldno doubt be happy to take another look. "I know about the great backs,especially the ones from USC," he says, "but I probably don't know asmuch history as I should." That's understandable. Looking back at the pasthas to be difficult for someone who seems stuck on fast forward.

WEST VIRGINIA

Fighting forRecognition

This was supposedto be a rebuilding year at West Virginia. Nearly 70% of its players are eitherfreshmen or sophomores, and entering the season, coach Rich Rodriguez faced thedaunting task of replacing starters at every offensive skill position. TheMountaineers have been consistent contenders in the Big East recently,finishing first or second in the conference the last three years, but mostpundits picked them to finish no better than third this fall, behind Louisvilleand Pittsburgh. "It was kind of disheartening," says junior guard DanMozes. "Somebody even had us ranked behind UConn."

If Mozes and histeammates found such indignities demoralizing, they didn't let it show, as theyput together one of the most successful seasons in school history. Indeed, WestVirginia might be the best team nobody knows about. With a methodical 28--13victory over South Florida last Saturday, the No. 11 Mountaineers ran theirrecord to 10--1 and put the finishing touches on their first undefeated BigEast season in 12 years. They will make their BCS debut on Jan. 2 in the SugarBowl against No. 8 Georgia. "I can almost understand the preseason rankingsbecause we had practically no experience on offense," says Rodriguez."But these guys have grown up right in front of our eyes."

Two young playersin particular have keyed West Virginia's surprising season: scrambling redshirtfreshman quarterback Pat White and freshman tailback Steve Slaton. Runningbehind an experienced offensive line, the two burners--both have 4.4speed--have scored 21 of the Mountaineers' 27 touchdowns over the last fivegames and lead the fifth-best rushing offense in the nation (262.5 yards pergame). Slaton, who has run for 924 yards in just over seven full games, is thesixth-leading rusher in the country among true freshmen, ahead of JamaalCharles of Texas. White has 875 yards of his own on the ground, more than theLonghorns' Vince Young and Penn State's Michael Robinson.

Both Slaton andWhite were as unheralded as their team when West Virginia broke camp. The5'10", 185-pound Slaton began the season buried at No. 4 on the depthchart, and the 6'2", 185-pound White split time with starter Adam Bednarikthrough the first seven games. Injuries opened the door for both players,however, and they held a coming out party in the Mountaineers' 46--44triple-overtime upset of No. 19 Louisville on Oct. 15. Bednarik sprained hisfoot in the fourth quarter of that game, with West Virginia--which had gainedjust 56 yards the entire first half--trailing 24--7. Enter White, whose skillsas a runner, combined with Slaton's speed, proved too much for the Cardinals'defense to handle. White picked up 69 yards on 11 carries while Slaton had thegame of his life, rushing for 188 yards and five touchdowns. "We werepicking up huge chunks of yardage," says Mozes. "Everybody just hadthis fire in his eyes."

The Mountaineershave been on a roll ever since. And now that they are BCS-bound, maybe theywill finally get their due. Because of its young lineup and low preseasonexpectations, West Virginia has stayed under the radar for much of the season.Even playing all three of its November games on weeknights didn't help much.The Mountaineers are a member of the weakest BCS conference, so voters haveremained skeptical of them despite their impressive record. When the latestpoll was released on Sunday, West Virginia was still outside the Top 10, andsix teams ranked ahead of it have more losses. Even the season's signaturemoment, the comeback against Louisville, was barely noticed because the game'slast seconds coincided with the final moments of the USC-- Notre Dame battle."A lot of the Big East negativity filters down to us," says Rodriguez."Our guys have taken that to heart. Having to prove ourselves all the timehas been a real help." --Mark Beech

NEW K-STATECOACH

Wildcats Find TheirPrince

And then there werefour. In what could be either a masterstroke or a monumental reach, KansasState confirmed on Sunday the hiring of Ron Prince to succeed Bill Snyder ascoach. Prince, 36, spent the past five seasons at Virginia, the last three asoffensive coordinator. It is his only experience at a Division I-A school.Wildcats fans underwhelmed by Prince's selection point out that he has neverbeen a head coach and has no name recognition in the Big 12, and that theCavaliers have fielded a so-so offense (ranked 55th, 24th and 69th nationallyin his three seasons as coordinator) in a middling football conference.

But as K-State athletic director Tim Weiser remarked on Monday, Prince has muchto recommend him. A Junction City, Kans., native who played offensive tackle atDodge City (Kans.) Community College and Appalachian State, Prince is by allaccounts a bright offensive mind and an indefatigable recruiter.

"In Ron Prince we saw a young coach who had the fundamentals, core valuesand coaching strategy to continue the success we have enjoyed here," schoolpresident Jon Wefald said.

It is a testament to the sad, stubborn imbalance in big-time college footballthat Prince's hiring is big news, first and foremost, because he is black.Prince becomes just the fourth African-American head coach in I-A, whichcomprises 117 schools. Clearly, Weiser hopes his new coach will help theWildcats lure minority blue-chip players to monochromatic Manhattan.

Snyder, the notorious workaholic who engineered the so-called "miracle inManhattan," took a program that had gone winless in the 27 games before hisarrival and molded it into a national power. When he announced his retirementon Nov. 15, there was an immediate speculation that he would be succeeded bySouth Florida coach Jim Leavitt (an assistant under Snyder in the '90s beforestarting the Bulls program from scratch). But Leavitt pulled his hat from thering two weeks later.

In choosing Prince, who met with school officials at a hotel in Topeka lastweek--Weiser reportedly said he was "blown away" by Prince'sinterview--Kansas State passed on two former Wildcats, TCU coach Gary Pattersonand, more suprisingly, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables, a Salina,Kans., native and member of Snyder's staff from 1993 to '98.

Prince walks into a job that has become more difficult in the last few years.The Wildcats were adversely affected by a recent NCAA rule change that preventsschools from flying in recruits on private jets. (Manhattan in a two-hour drivefrom the nearest major airport, in Wichita.) Kansas State's streak of 11straight bowl appearances ended in 2004, and the Wildcats have struggled in thepast two seasons, going 9--13.

Were Prince to engineer a turnaround of his own, it would be no miracle. Themiracle, sadly, is that a major college hired a black man as head coach.--Austin Murphy

How Reggie Rates

Phil Taylor picks the Trojans' top backs ever.

1. O.J. Simpson (right) Despite his tarnished name, heremains the best combination of speed, power and elusiveness USC has everhad.

2. Marcus Allen The second-leading rusher of this groupand a standout receiver, he was also tireless, averaging 36.1 carries per gameas a senior.

3. Reggie Bush The only one of the five who matchesSimpson in open-field creativity, he would rank higher if he'd had moretouches.

4. Mike Garrett Somewhat forgotten because most of hisschool records have been broken, USC's current athletic director was a big-playback who averaged 5.3 yards per carry.

5. Charles White Though not especially big or fast,USC's alltime leading rusher seemed to squeeze a few extra yards out of everycarry.

STEWART MANDEL'S Two-Minute Drill

2005 AWARDS

Offensive player of the year Reggie Bush, RB, USC. Theelectrifying junior averaged 10.1 yards--and at least two befuddleddefenders--every time he touched the ball. Runner-up: Vince Young, QB,Texas.

Defensive player of the year Elvis Dumervil, DE,Louisville (left). His idol, Dwight Freeney, would be proud: The Cardinals'pass-rushing menace had 20 sacks and 10 forced fumbles. Runner-up: A.J. Hawk,LB, Ohio State.

Coach of the year Joe Paterno, Penn State. JoePa's 40thyear at the helm may have been his most remarkable yet. The Nittany Lionsimproved from 7--16 over the past two seasons to 10--1. Runner-up: RichRodriguez, West Virginia.

Worst coaching performance Phillip Fulmer, Tennessee.The Vols' captain lost control of his ship in the off-season--as evidenced by arash of disciplinary problems--then yo-yoed his quarterbacks, sending apreseason Top 5 team crashing to a 5--6 finish. Runner-up: Dennis Franchione,Texas A&M.

Freshman of the year Sidney Rice, WR, South Carolina(below). Steve Spurrier's latest pass-catching protégé led the SEC in receivingyards (952) and set a school single-season record for touchdowns (12).Runner-up: Tyrell Sutton, RB, Northwestern.

Toughest conference ACC. In a league loaded withdefensive talent (six teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in total defense),the competitive gap was razor thin. For instance, conference champion FloridaState (8--4) beat both Virginia Tech (10--2) and Miami (9--2) but lost to N.C.State (6--5), Virginia (6--5) and Clemson (7--4).

Feel-good player of the year D.J. Shockley, QB, Georgia.After four years of biding his time behind NCAA career wins leader DavidGreene, the home-state hero led the Dawgs to a surprising SEC championship.

Feel-good team of the year Tulane (below). Displacedfrom its campus by Hurricane Katrina, the Green Wave toughed out a 2--9 seasonin which it relocated to Ruston, La., and played games in 11 cities.

Sorest losers Colorado students who showered their homefield with water bottles and other debris in the fourth quarter of the Buffs'30--3 loss to Nebraska, causing officials to eject two entire sections ofspectators.

Game of the year A toss-up between the USC--Notre Dameclassic and the Trojans' frenetic 50--42 win over Fresno State. With any luck,the Rose Bowl will trump both.

PHOTOPETER READ MILLER (BUSH)STRIKE A POSE Bush should be all smiles on Saturday when the Heisman is awarded. PHOTOROBERT BECK (BUSH INSET) [Seecaption above] PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR. (SIMPSON) PHOTOJEFF FISHBEIN/WIREIMAGE.COM (WHITE)SCRAMBLING MAN White has given the Mountaineers a second threat on the ground. PHOTOJOHN SOMMERS II/REUTERS (DUMERVIL) PHOTOSEAN MEYERS/ICON SMI (RICE) PHOTORICKY MOON/THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS (TULANE) PHOTORICH KANE/US PRESSWIREQUICK ON HIS FEET Slaton has gained nearly 1,000 yards in little more than seven games. PHOTOANDREW SHURTLEFF/THE DAILY PROGRESS/APHOME WORK Little-known in his native Kansas, Prince has much to prove to K-State fans.

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