March 5, 2008

College football has some scary stars

CAST YOUR VOTE: Which offensive player scares you the most?

There are a few dazzling players who can perform marvelous athletic feats that take your breath away.

There are still fewer that make you hold you breath.

Like the relentless villain in a horror movie, these are fear-inducing players who invoke dread and stress on their opponents and opponents' fans. Sooner or later, they're going to strike. It's just a question of when.

And when they do strike, they can make a stomach as well as a game take dramatic turns.

Scary can be defined or interpreted in different ways in college football. It can be an explosive running back who can take advantage of the slightest crease to break away for a 60-yard touchdown run. Or it can be a big-play receiver who seemingly cannot be stopped. It can be a quarterback who is a threat to run or pass, a kick return specialist who's a terror in the open field, a devastating pass rusher or a jarring tackler who can send a runner in one direction and the football in another.

Here's one man's take who are next season's "elite eight" (but actually nine) scariest offensive players. There isn't much difference between them.

8. USC TB Joe McKnight: He rushed for "only" 540 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman last season, but he never got more than 14 carries and had only 36 rushes through the first seven games. He had touchdown runs of 59 and 51 yards, ripped off a 65-yard run against Illinois in the Rose Bowl and was effective on punt returns and as a receiver. McKnight figures to have a greater role this season.

7. Oklahoma TB DeMarco Murray: The Texas Longhorns can attest to Murray's game-breaking ability. His 65-yard touchdown run turned the tide in last season's 28-21 OU victory. That was one of seven touchdowns Murray scored from at least 20 yards. He also scored on kickoff returns of 91 and 81 yards and had a 92-yard touchdown run. He rushed for 764 yards averaging 6 yards per carry despite playing much of the season in a reserve role and missing the final three games because of injury.

6. Clemson TB C.J. Spiller: A threat on runs, receptions and returns, Spiller scored five touchdowns that covered at least 44 yards last season - including four of at least 68 yards. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns while averaging 28.8 yards per return. Still, he touched the ball on fewer than 14 plays from scrimmage per game. If Clemson makes it a point to get him the ball more, he could be really scary this fall.

5. Ohio State TB Chris Wells: Playing defense against Wells is like trying to suppress a sneeze no, no, no, then he blasts through. If a hard-running 235-pounder plowing ahead isn't scary enough, he's also fast enough to break off long runs. He frequently demonstrated that ability last season his first as a starter. Wells had several runs of more than 40 yards, including touchdowns from 62 yards against Michigan and 65 against LSU.

4. Florida WR Percy Harvin: Although he missed two games, Harvin still rushed for 764 yards and had another 858 yards receiving. He averaged 11.4 yards each time he touched the ball, and each of his six rushing touchdowns covered at least 10 yards. He posted more than 200 all-purpose yards in three games, and that's without returning kicks. Harvin was a big factor in Florida winning the 2006 national title, and he will be a big factor in the Gators contending in 2008.

3. Texas Tech WR Michael Crabtree: If 134 catches, 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns aren't scary enough, consider that Crabtree was just a redshirt freshman last season. He's a big target with the hands of a reliable possession receiver. But he also had 10 touchdown receptions that covered at least 20 yards, which shows he can get deep and/or break tackles and make a short pass a big play.

2. Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin: He was the only player in the nation last season to score touchdowns via receiving, rushing and kickoff and punt returns, and he did it all as a redshirt freshman. In fact, Maclin set an NCAA freshman record for all-purpose yardage with 2,776 yards. Six of his nine touchdown receptions covered at least 24 yards. He returned two punts for touchdowns and also had a 99-yard kickoff return. He averaged almost 14 yards every time he touched the ball.

1. West Virginia QB Pat White/West Virginia TB Noel Devine: One of just three players to rush and pass for 1,000 yards last season, White scored seven touchdowns on rushes of at least 20 yards. That included a game-winning 50-yard burst against Louisville. A better passer than most think, White also threw 14 touchdown passes, including four that covered at least 30 yards. Meanwhile, Devine averaged a whopping 8.6 yards per carry as Steve Slaton's true freshman understudy last season. Devine had five touchdown runs of at least 10 yards, including a clinching 65-yarder against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. His season-long run covered 76 yards, and he did this all on just 73 carries. Slaton won't be around next season, so Devine should be even scarier.

Trivia Question

Name the five Division I-A football teams that have had two quarterbacks taken in the first round in the past 10 NFL Drafts. (Answer at the end of the column.)

Quick Hitters

  • Sophomore Kodi Burns reportedly has an edge in the Auburn quarterback competition after a solid showing in a weekend scrimmage. Junior college transfer Chris Todd, expected to compete for the starting job, will undergo tests to determine the cause of shoulder fatigue.

  • Kentucky defensive end Jamil Paris has left the team because of a medical condition.

  • Kentucky has hired Chris Thurmond as secondary coach. Thurmond was the cornerback coach at Houston the past two seasons and also served as the Cougars' interim coach in the Texas Bowl loss to TCU.

  • Duke trustees last week approved $5 million to upgrade 80-year-old Wallace Wade Stadium.

  • Virginia cornerback Mike Brown has been suspended from the team after being charged with grand larceny. Pending resolution of the charges, he could return to the team. He missed last season with a knee injury, but was expected to vie for a starting job this season.

  • Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson will receive a raise of more than $200,000 if the Board of Regents approves it at a meeting on March 6-7.

    Originally guaranteed $5.1 million from 2008-11, Erickson will get a one-year extension and a salary increase from $1,275,000 to $1.5 million annually.

  • South Carolina freshman offensive lineman Kevin Young was charged with fighting and resisting arrest for his role in an altercation near a nightclub last weekend.

    Trivia Answer

    The five schools are California (Aaron Rodgers and Kyle Boller), Marshall (Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington), Oregon (Joey Harrington and Akili Smith), Tulane (J.P. Losman and Patrick Ramsey) and USC (Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer).

    Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for He can be reached at

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