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September 5, 2007

Olin's Notebook: Breakthrough day for Choice

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. Click his name to send him a question for his weekly mailbag.
Previous notebooks
Aug. 29: Media guide awards
Aug. 23: Keeping streaks alive
Aug. 15: No. 2 not so bad

Much of last week's national attention focused on Notre Dame's choice at quarterback.

It should have been on Georgia Tech's Choice at running back.

Going into that game, the most-asked question in South Bend was, "Who would start among Jimmy Clausen, Demetrius Jones and Evan Sharpley?"

Perhaps the most-asked question afterward was how can you stop Georgia Tech running back Tashard Choice, a senior who proved even more elusive as he was nationally obscure while rushing for a career-high 196 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-3 victory over the Irish.

Based on that performance alone, Choice henceforth he deserves inclusion on any list of Heisman Trophy contenders.

From Jay Berwanger to Reggie Bush, 40 running backs have won the Heisman. There's a good chance the number will reach 41 in December.

Throughout the offseason, running backs Darren McFadden of Arkansas, Steve Slaton of West Virginia, Mike Hart of Michigan, Ray Rice of Rutgers and even Ian Johnson of Boise State were listed among Heisman contenders.

Well, one week into the actual season, it's clear Choice belongs in the discussion, too.

"That just shows if you play hard what you can do," said Choice, who made it a point to praise every position on the offense for assisting in his latest breakout game. "You want your name among the best. You want to be one of the top backs in college football. When I'm out there running around, I'm having a ball."

His output against Notre Dame was more yardage than McFadden had against Troy, more than Slaton had against Western Michigan, more than Rice had against Buffalo and more than Johnson had against Weber State.

Choice figures to build on that total when the Yellow Jackets face Division I-AA Samford on Saturday, but prove-yourself-again games against Boston College, Clemson, Maryland and Miami loom by mid-October.

Choice actually proved himself long ago. Anyone following closely knows he's not a one-game wonder. Quite the contrary. His effort against Notre Dame was his eighth consecutive 100-yard game, which broke Eddie Lee Ivery's school record.

Yet even though he had 1,473 yards last season, Choice largely was overlooked. Part of that was because McFadden, Slaton, Hart and Rice are on higher-profile teams. In some ways, Johnson was, too.

And though he led the league in rushing, Choice was just a second-team pick on the All-ACC team, which still irks him.

"They didn't have me as a first-team running back even though I was the leading rusher in the ACC. That's the only disrespect I got," he said. "But if I don't get attention, that's OK as long as I have the respect of my teammates in the locker room."

One of those teammates might have been the reason Choice was overlooked last year.

Former Tech receiver Calvin Johnson, a Heisman contender a year ago and the second player taken in the NFL draft, always was in the spotlight.

That wasn't the first time Choice was overshadowed by a Heisman contender. Choice, from the Atlanta suburb of Riverdale, originally signed with Oklahoma in 2003. But in '04 he was trapped on the depth chart behind then-freshman Adrian Peterson, who finished second in the Heisman voting. That prompted the transfer to Georgia Tech.

Choice said his association with Peterson and Johnson helped make him the player he is now.

"Those are two of my closest home boys," he said. "Me and 'AD' (Peterson) chilled together all the time. When I came to Georgia Tech, me and Calvin stayed together.

"I marveled at people like that and how hard they worked even with all that athletic ability. I thought if they work that hard, then I've got to work that hard. That's one thing I got from them. In practice, me and 'AD' used to push each other to the limit. Me and Calvin used to compete to make plays. He wanted the ball. I wanted the ball. We both wanted to win."

He probably won't win the trophy unless Tech is much more successful than many expect. The last Heisman winner from a team with fewer than nine victories was Notre Dame's Tim Brown in 1987.

If Georgia Tech manages at least nine victories, Choice will be the major reason. And he should be a major factor in the Heisman race.

Trivia question

Division I-AA Appalachian State's victory over Michigan was one of the most shocking upsets in college football history. In 1992 Arkansas fired its coach immediately after the Razorbacks lost their season-opener to Division I-AA The Citadel. Who was the Arkansas coach? (Answer at the end of the column.)

Pig can't hog Missouri record

A new NCAA rule cost Pig Brown a place in the Missouri record books.

In Saturday's victory over Illinois, Brown returned a fumble 103 yards for a touchdown, which would have equaled a school record. But NCAA statistics rules only recognize plays of 100 yards or less, so Brown doesn't get credit for the extra 3 yards.

Thus, he doesn't get in the record book.

Still, many SIDs list plays in excess of 100 yards as their school records. That's why Missouri's Vince Turner is credited with a 103-yard fumble return against in 1963.

That means Missouri SID Chad Moller must decide if he will follow the NCAA rules and officially list Brown's return as 100 yards or give him a share of the record.

"I'll have to see how good Pig is to me the rest of the year," Moller said.

Falling Fast
The largest drops in the football poll since the Associated Press expanded to a Top 25 in 1989:
21 spots (No. 5-NR) - Michigan, Sept. 4, 2007, after losing to Appalachian State 34-32.
16 spots (No. 9-25) - Notre Dame, Sept. 3, 1995, after losing to Northwestern 17-15.
15 spots (No. 9-24) - Texas, Sept. 14, 1997, after losing to UCLA 66-3.
15 spots (No. 11-NR) - Louisville, Sept. 25, 2005, after losing to South Florida 45-14.
The highest ranked teams to drop out of The AP football poll in one week:
No. 2 Oklahoma, Sept. 28, 1959
No. 4 Tennessee, Oct. 2, 1950
No. 4 Army, Oct. 5, 1959
No. 4 Illinois, Oct. 10, 1960
No. 5 Notre Dame, Oct. 15, 1951
No. 5 Texas, Oct. 6 1952
No. 5 Alabama, Sept. 23, 1953
No. 5 Georgia Tech, Sept. 27, 1954
No. 5 Oklahoma, Sept. 23, 1968
No. 5 Michigan, Sept. 4, 2007
Note: Michigan dropped out of the Top 25, all others out of the Top 20.
A tough crowd

Even though two-time defending NCAA Division I-AA champ Appalachian State pulled off an historic upset of Michigan, the Mountaineers were not a unanimous No. 1 pick in the Associated Press poll this week. No. 2 Montana got three of the 71 first place votes and No. 6 New Hampshire received one. Appalachian State was a unanimous choice in the coaches' poll.

Meanwhile, Michigan fell from No. 5 out of the Top 25 in both the AP and coaches polls, marking the first time a team has fallen that far in one week.

Before Michigan's swan dive, the largest drop was in 1995, when Notre Dame fell from No. 9 to No. 25 after losing to Northwestern 17-15.

Texas dropped 15 spots, from No. 9 to No. 24, after losing 66-3 to UCLA in 1997. Louisville also dropped 15 spots, from No. 11 to out of the poll, in 2005 after losing 45-14 to USF.

Your vote counts

Fans can begin voting for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award on Sept. 6. Voting for the fan-driven award, which recognizes the nation's top coach, continues through Nov. 27.

Finalists will be named Dec. 5, and voting for a winner in four divisions will continue until Dec. 15. The winners will be announced Dec. 29.

Votes can be cast on the Liberty Mutual Web site at coachoftheyear.com.

Quick hitters

  • North Carolina State coach Tom O'Brien has opted to start sophomore Harrison Beck at quarterback this week against Boston College. Beck is a transfer from Nebraska. Daniel Evans started in last week's home loss to UCF. The Wolfpack lost running back Toney Baker for the season with torn knee cartilage; he'll have reconstructive surgery.

  • Mitch Lavinghouze, from Jackson, Miss., attended his 400th consecutive Ole Miss game last week. During that stretch, he has had two sons serve as kicker for the Rebels.

  • Mississippi wide receiver Dexter McCluster is expected to miss at least six weeks because of an injury. The nature of the injury was not revealed.

  • Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox said a blow he took left him in a haze and clouded his judgment in last week's game against Kansas State. Cox still completed 17 passes for 229 yards in the Tigers' 23-13 win.

  • Heralded Tennessee freshman Eric Berry may be moving from cornerback to safety. He practiced at safety earlier this week. Also, defensive end Xavier Mitchell returned to practice after suffering a concussion in Saturday's loss to California.

  • Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer donated $1 million to the university last week to celebrate a 30-year association with the school.

  • South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he's undecided whether Blake Mitchell or Chris Smelley will start at quarterback this week against Georgia. Mitchell was suspended for last week's season-opening victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

  • Elusive Florida receiver Percy Harvin may get additional duty as a kick- return man. Coach Urban Meyer said he's considering having Harvin return kicks after watching the impact Cal's DeSean Jackson and Arkansas' Felix Jones have made on special teams.

  • Nebraska freshman kicker Adi Kunalic had an impressive debut. Despite the new rule that moves the point of kickoffs back to the 30-yard line, Kunalic kicked deep into the end zone six times in last week's win over Nevada. The astute Cornhuskers fans gave Kunalic a standing ovation after the sixth kick.

  • Nebraska coach Bill Callahan has been given a five-year contract worth $1.75 million annually. Callahan is 23-15 in four seasons in Lincoln.

  • Texas got a bit of good news in that defensive end Brian Orakpo, who sustained a knee injury after getting chop-blocked against Arkansas State, won't be lost for the season. Still, there is no word how long Orakpo will be sidelined.

  • It will be brother against brother when Colorado faces Arizona State. Colorado linebacker Brad Jones and Sun Devils running back Preston Jones left East Lansing, Mich., and headed west to play college football. But they may not get a chance to run into one another. Preston, a backup running back, didn't play in Arizona State's win over Colorado last season.

  • Oregon State star receiver Sammie Stroughter, who took a leave of absence to cope with the deaths of two family members and former Oregon State assistant Jim Gilstrap, may play in Thursday night's game against Cincinnati, coach Mike Riley said.

  • UCLA quarterback Ben Olson will face some former teammates this weekend against BYU. Olson, who threw five touchdown passes last week against Stanford, began his college career at BYU. He redshirted in 2002, then went on a Mormon mission. When he returned in 2005, he decided to enroll at UCLA.

  • Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt declared an open competition between quarterbacks Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick. The Panthers' original starter, Bill Stull, had thumb surgery and is out indefinitely.

  • Utah's Tommy Grady moves into the starting lineup at quarterback in place of Brian Johnson, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Utes' loss to Oregon State and will be out three to five weeks.

    Trivia answer

    Jack Crowe.

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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