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October 2, 2006

Storylines: Calvin Johnson makes Heisman statement

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Last week in this space, we wrote that Georgia Tech's Calvin Johnson could make himself a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender by catching two touchdown passes to help the Yellow Jackets upset Virginia Tech.

Consider it done.

Johnson's two first-quarter touchdown receptions in a 38-27 victory over the previously unbeaten Hokies catapulted Georgia Tech into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division.

His performance also should help Johnson join Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith and Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson as Heisman Trophy front-runners, even if history is working against the 6-foot-5 junior receiver.

The last two receivers to win the Heisman Trophy Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987 and Michigan's Desmond Howard in 1991 were known as much for their kick-return skills as their pass-catching ability.

Notre Dame end Leon Hart claimed the Heisman in 1949, but he was a two-way player who occasionally lined up at fullback.

You have to go all the way back to 1936 winner Larry Kelley of Yale the second man ever awarded the Heisman to find a pure receiver who captured college football's most prestigious prize.

All those facts could prevent Johnson from earning serious consideration, and that would be a shame. Johnson has made himself arguably college football's most dangerous player.

Before this season, Johnson was a superstar performer without superstar production. He never had scored more than seven touchdowns or collected more than 888 receiving yards in a single year.

This year, he has the numbers to back up his sterling reputation.

Johnson has caught 25 passes for 426 yards and seven touchdowns through Georgia Tech's first five games. And those numbers don't even tell half the story.

Johnson has scored at least one touchdown in every game except for a 35-20 victory over Troy, when he had just two receptions for nine yards while playing with a bruised quadriceps muscle. Even with the leg continuing to bother him, Johnson has caught 12 passes for 280 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks.

Throw out that Troy game, and Johnson is averaging six catches for 104 yards and 1.8 touchdowns per week.

Johnson is doing all this in an offense that doesn't emphasize the passing game. Georgia Tech quarterback Reggie Ball has completed less than half his career pass attempts.

Johnson has seven of Georgia Tech's nine touchdown catches this year and 49 percent of his team's receiving yards this season. Although Georgia Tech has an outstanding defense, Johnson is the major reason why the Yellow Jackets suddenly have realistic BCS hopes.

The victory over Virginia Tech has made Georgia Tech the surprise leader in the Coastal Division, ahead of both the Hokies and Miami. The Jackets' big test begins three weeks from now, when they travel to Clemson and play host to Miami on back-to-back weeks.

If the Jackets win those games, they probably will earn a trip to the ACC championship game in Jacksonville, Fla.

And if that happens, Johnson ought to receive a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

The emergence of Johnson and the Jackets was the biggest development to come out of the fifth week of the college football season. Here are the rest of the weekend's top 25 stories.

2. CARDINALS CRY WOLFE: Johnson wasn't the only unlikely Heisman contender to boost his candidacy this weekend.

No player from a non-BCS school has won the Heisman since Brigham Young quarterback Ty Detmer in 1990, but Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe at least merits serious consideration.

Wolfe continued his brilliant season Saturday by rushing for a career-high 353 yards in a 40-28 victory over Ball State. The senior tailback already has rushed for 1,181 yards 375 more than anyone else in the nation.

3. BUCKEYES SITTING PRETTY: Ohio State's 38-17 victory over Iowa clears the way for the Buckeyes to enter the regular-season finale with Michigan undefeated.

Ohio State is an early 33-point favorite over Bowling Green. The Falcons and Michigan State are the only teams with winning records as of now on the Buckeyes' schedule until the Michigan game.

Michigan has a much tougher road. The undefeated Wolverines still must travel to Penn State and play host to Iowa in the next three weeks.

4. GEORGIA'S QB QUANDARY: No matter who's playing quarterback, Georgia can't seem to establish a rhythm on offense. The nation's least impressive undefeated team this side of Wake Forest failed to score in the first half for the second consecutive week.

Last week, redshirt freshman Joe Cox replaced ineffective true freshman Matthew Stafford and rallied the Bulldogs past Colorado. This week, Stafford replaced an ineffective Cox and helped Georgia withstand Ole Miss.

Next weekend marks the return of Joe Tereshinski, a fifth-year senior who opened the year as the starter before missing three games with an ankle injury. Although the fifth-year senior has never looked particularly impressive, his experience may be just what the Bulldogs need right now.

5. ACC-IDENT: How bad a season has this been for the ACC?

After the first month, every team in the conference is virtually eliminated from contention for the national title.

The biggest shocker of all is that perennial also-ran Wake Forest has emerged as the conference's last unbeaten team. The Demon Deacons will be heavy underdogs against Clemson next week, but they have beaten the Tigers two of the last three years.

6. EMOTION LEAKS OUT: It took him 3 years, but Florida quarterback Chris Leak finally showed some emotion.

Maybe now the Florida faithful will finally show him some love.

Leak leaped and pumped his fists after delivering a career-long 45-yard run during the second quarter of Florida's 28-13 victory over Alabama. The normally slow-footed Leak delivered some of the same moves that have made freshman backup quarterback Tim Tebow such a fan favorite.

The combination of Leak the passer and Tebow the runner has given Florida the nation's most dangerous quarterback duo.

7. RUSSELL'S REBIRTH: Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell has taken heat throughout his career for his supposed lack of passing consistency. Perhaps it's time to revise that scouting report.

Russell threw a school-record 14 consecutive completions and ended up going 18-of-20 for 327 yards with three touchdowns in the Tigers' 48-17 rout of Mississippi State. Russell has completed 70 percent of his attempts this season and is ranked second in the nation in passing efficiency.

8. SPARTY SADNESS: Michigan State's inability to handle adversity reached new depths Saturday when the Spartans followed their fourth-quarter collapse against Notre Dame with an incomprehensible 23-20 homecoming loss to Illinois.

The Spartans couldn't have picked a worse time to come out flat. They badly needed a win before back-to-back tests with Michigan and Ohio State.

If Michigan State doesn't at least stay competitive in one of those two games, it's tough to imagine Spartans coach John L. Smith keeping his job next year.

Smith justifiably deserves blame for his team's performance the last two weeks, but quarterback Drew Stanton also should receive some criticism. Stanton turned the ball over on the Spartans' last three possessions against Notre Dame and on their first possession against Illinois on Saturday. He now owns a career 11-12 record as a starter.

9. POURING IT ON: Illinois quarterback Isiah Williams had a forgettable performance last week in his first start, but the true freshman made his second start one to remember.

He threw a 69-yard touchdown pass, rushed for 103 yards and engineered the winning drive to help Illinois earn its first Big Ten victory since 2004. Williams has completed barely one-third of his passes and remains extremely raw, but that final-minute drive showed the true freshman already has developed into a team leader.

10. WHAT ABOUT BRIAN?: Williams wasn't the only quarterback to show off his ability as a dual threat this weekend.

Navy quarterback Brian Hampton ran for 182 yards and three touchdowns while also passing for 141 yards and a fourth score in a 41-17 whipping of Connecticut. Hampton is ranked 16th in the nation and first among quarterbacks with 108 rushing yards per game.

11. THE REAL McCOY: One of the interesting angles to next weekend's Texas-Oklahoma showdown involves the surprising quarterback production from each team.

Both teams entered the season with major quarterback issues, but Texas' Colt McCoy is ranked 10th and Oklahoma's Paul Thompson is 13th in passing efficiency. McCoy has completed 82.6 percent of his passes in the Longhorns' last three games.

Although most of the pregame speculation will surround Peterson and that outstanding Texas run defense, the game could come down to which quarterback plays better.

12. CARPENTER'S MISFORTUNE: Arizona State's supporters would call it bad luck. The Sun Devils' detractors might call it instant karma.

Whatever the reason, the Sun Devils are turning into one of the season's biggest disappointments. Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter the NCAA leader in passing efficiency last year has completed 44 percent of his passes with five interceptions during the Devils' two-game losing streak.

An injury to Carpenter's left (non-throwing) hand may explain his struggles, but the Sun Devils have to stick with him. The departure of Sam Keller has left Arizona State with no experienced backup quarterbacks.

Arizona State might not be in this situation if Sun Devils coach Dirk Koetter hadn't mishandled this quarterback competition. Koetter named Keller the starter before changing his mind two days later, which caused Keller to transfer to Nebraska.

13. WALKER RETURNS TO FORM: Notre Dame tailback Darius Walker finally recaptured his 2005 form Saturday by gaining 218 total yards 144 rushing and 74 receiving in a 35-21 victory over Purdue.

The former 1,000-yard rusher had rushed for only 130 yards in the three weeks beforehand. Walker's resurgence should continue next weekend against Stanford, which has the nation's lowest-ranked rushing defense.

14. COKER'S GAMBLES: Miami's closer-than-expected 14-13 victory won't reduce any of the pressure on Larry Coker, but the Hurricanes coach deserves credit for two gambles that paid off this weekend.

Coker decided to start true freshman running back Javarris James, who responded by setting a school single-game freshman record with 148 rushing yards.

And with the Hurricanes facing fourth-and-inches from their 38-yard line in the final minutes, Coker went for the first down instead of punting. Kyle Wright's quarterback sneak produced a first down that allowed Miami to run out the clock.

15. SECOND RECEIVERS SHINE: Notre Dame's Jeff Samardzija, South Carolina's Sidney Rice, Michigan's Mario Manningham and other top receivers had huge games last week.

One week later, many lesser-known receivers entered the spotlight.

Penn State's Deon Butler, often overshadowed by Derrick Williams, caught 11 passes for a school-record 217 yards in a 33-7 triumph over Northwestern. Purdue's Selwyn Lymon, who isn't as well-known as teammate Dorien Bryant, collected eight receptions for 238 yards in a loss to Notre Dame.

And Southern California's Steve Smith solidified his status as the nation's top No. 2 receiver. With a shoulder injury sidelining All-America receiver Dwayne Jarrett, Smith picked up the slack by catching 11 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-22 triumph over Washington State.

16. BOISE STATE TO BCS?: This week's losses by Texas Christian and Houston leave Boise State as the last non-BCS team remaining with a realistic chance of earning a BCS bid.

And the Broncos certainly made a statement Saturday by whipping Utah 36-3 on the road. Boise State even proved it could beat a quality team without getting a huge performance from star running back Ian Johnson, who gained 88 yards and didn't score a touchdown.

Boise State will be favored in every game it plays the rest of the season. The question is whether an undefeated Boise State team can end up in the top 12 of the final BCS poll, which would result in an automatic BCS invitation.

17. URBAN MYTH: Utah entered the year as a trendy pick to earn a BCS bid because its schedule allowed for the possibility of a 12-0 season. The Utes opened on the road against a graduation-depleted UCLA team before playing home games with Boise State and Texas Christian.

Now it looks more and more like Utah became nothing more than a decent Mountain West program once Urban Meyer left for Florida.

Utah went 7-5 last year and already has suffered one-sided defeats to UCLA and Brigham Young this season. The Utes' offense demands outstanding quarterback play, but Brett Ratliff has gone 18-of-52 with four interceptions and only one touchdown pass in Utah's two losses.

18. ORANGE ADD JUICE: Syracuse offensive coordinator Brian White deserves plenty of credit for the Orange's surprising 3-2 start.

Syracuse has scored at least 30 points each week during its three-game losing streak. The Orange exceeded the 17-point mark just twice throughout the 2005 season, when White was coordinating Wisconsin's offense.

The next three weeks should determine whether Syracuse is for real. That's when the Orange must face Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Louisville.

19. STREAKS SNAPPED: It was a bad week for teams with long winning streaks.

Texas Christian had won 13 consecutive games the longest streak of any Division I-A team before losing 31-17 at home to Brigham Young on Thursday. The loss caused the Horned Frogs to drop out of the national rankings.

But that wasn't the biggest streak to fall.

Division III school Trinity (Conn.) had won 31 games in a row before losing 41-16 to Williams on Saturday. Williams also handed Trinity its last loss a 30-13 decision on Sept. 28, 2002.

TCU's defeat leaves Ohio State as the owner of the longest winning streak in Division I-A. The Buckeyes have won 12 games in a row.

20. TERRIFIC TWOSOME: What team has the best tight end in the country? Tough question.

Who has the best tight-end tandem? That's a no-brainer.

Missouri has raced to its best start in a quarter-century with a pair of tight ends ranking among its top three receivers.

Martin Rucker has 24 catches for 212 yards and two touchdowns, while Chase Coffman has added 20 receptions for 187 yards and three scores. Coffman and Rucker combined for three touchdown catches Saturday in a 28-13 victory over Colorado.

21. ROCKY START: Colorado's free fall may have hit bottom Saturday when the Buffaloes dropped their ninth consecutive game. That marks the Buffaloes' longest skid since they lost a school-record 10 in a row in 1963-64.

The Buffaloes' best chance for a win could come next week, when they have a homecoming date with a Baylor team due for a letdown after beating Kansas State this weekend.

22. UNFAMILIAR POSITION: File this in the category of things you don't see very often.

Traditional Southeastern Conference cellar dweller Vanderbilt won by 29 points and still failed to cover the spread.

The Commodores entered Saturday as a stunning 34-point favorite over Temple. Vanderbilt settled for a 43-13 victory while handing the Owls their 17th consecutive loss.

23. FLAG-RELATED FIASCOS: Maybe it's not a good idea to put your school flag on an opposing team's field after a road victory. Sooner or later, you eventually pay for it.

Michigan State's spirited postgame celebration last year helped motivate Notre Dame to beat the Spartans a week ago. This weekend, Michigan used Minnesota's flag-flying festivities from 2005 as a rallying point before defeating the Golden Gophers 28-14.

In both instances, the team that earned revenge didn't bother planting its flag at midfield afterward.

24. LOWERY'S LARCENY: San Jose State students should stay away from Dwight Lowery unless they want their pockets picked. Lowery has picked off five passes in the last two weeks to take over the NCAA lead in interceptions.

Lowery has helped San Jose State win three of its first four games for its best start since 1987. The Spartans' lone defeat is a 35-29 setback against Washington, a loss that doesn't look so bad now that the Huskies are putting together their own Cinderella season.

25. HONORING LLOYD: Rice paid the ultimate tribute to its fallen teammate.

Five days after the death of Rice defensive back Dale Lloyd, the Owls trounced Army 48-14 for only their second victory in their last 22 games. The Owls brought Lloyd's jersey with them on the road trip and plan to continue that tradition all season before giving the shirt to his parents.

Lloyd became sick during a light workout Sept. 24 and died the following day.

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