At mid-morning Tuesday, the Big 12 still hadn’t sent out its weekly football press release which was disappointing on several levels.
For the media, absolutely, who use the stats and notes to do their stories, but also for the players who deserve better. Specifically for the quarterbacks who – in these uncertain days of realignment – are the best of any conference in the country.
When the nation’s leading quarterback rusher (Kansas State’s Collin Klein) might be fourth-best at the position, there has to be some serious talent. Big 12 qb overload became an issue this week when the Heisman race suddenly became fluid.
There is no clear front-runner in the Big 12 or nationally. Andrew Luck got beat and had a mediocre game against Oregon. Houston’s Case Keenum has astronomical numbers against what some consider sub-par talent in Conference USA. The nation’s leading rusher, Oregon’s LaMichael James, has missed two games.
When informed that the last Heisman Trophy winner to miss a game was Florida State’s Charlie Ward, Ducks coach Chip Kelly quipped, “Does that mean LaMichael is going to play for the Knicks?”
Meanwhile, no one is talking about Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. The nation’s best free agent bears absolutely no responsibility for his team’s two losses – to Michigan State and Ohio State on last-second Hail Marys. Wilson continues to lead the country in pass efficiency. He quietly threw for four touchdowns and missed on one of his 17 attempts against Purdue.
Wisconsin, including coach Bret Bielema, mounted a quiet media blitz this week to make some of those facts known.
As of Tuesday morning, that’s better than the Big 12 had done for its quarterbacks. Start with who gets the conference’s offensive player of the year award. Is it Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden who might win a conference title, and more, as a 28-year-old? Is it Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, a one-man team for the Bears who are No. 110 nationally in total defense? Is it Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, probably the league’s best pro prospect at the position?
Add them up and you’ve got three guys accounting for more than one-fifth of the Big 12 touchdowns scored this season (95 of 441). That doesn’t include Klein who has become somewhat of folk hero at Kansas State. The school sent out emails this week calling him “College Football’s Most Valuable Player”.
The senior from Colorado has accounted for 70 percent of the Wildcats’ offense and is second nationally with 34 total touchdowns (24 rushing, 10 passing). Klein recently passed Michigan’s Denard Robinson as the nation’s leading quarterback runner this season and is the only quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards so far. He is already assured of becoming one of only a handful of quarterbacks to both run and pass for 1,000 yards in a season.
In Saturday’s 53-50 four-overtime win over Texas A&M, Klein was, well, everything – five rushing touchdown, one passing while accounting for all but 27 of the Wildcats’ total yards.
Sound a bit old school? It is. Klein’s numbers compare favorably to Nebraska’s Eric Crouch, the 2001 Heisman winner. Crouch accounted for only 25 touchdowns the entire season (17 rushing, 7 passing, 1 receiving).
Sometimes it seems like the league doesn’t know how good it is. If Klein played at, say, Ohio State his Heisman candidacy would be in full swing. If he was at Nebraska, there would be comparisons to Crouch and Turner Gill.
At Kansas State, reporters aren’t allowed to speak to assistants. While Bill Snyder has his hand in every aspect of the program, co-offensive coordinators Del Miller and Dana Dimel deserve some credit. They have combined 56 years of experience and are doing this with their eyes wide open. Both are in their second go-around with their notorious slave-driving Snyder.
While Klein isn’t channeling Tim Tebow quite yet, he is only three rushing touchdowns away from tying Texas’ Ricky Williams Big 12 season record in that category (27). Klein needs four more rushing touchdowns to pass Navy’s Ricky Dobbs for the single-season quarterback record (also 27).
Still, it will be tough for Klein to make even honorable mention all-Big 12 in the quarterback-laden conference.
One prediction on how the Big 12’s cradle of quarterbacks will shake out:
1. Weeden, Heisman finalist, all-Big 12, Davey O’Brien finalist.
2. Jones, second-team all-Big 12
3. Griffin, honorable mention all-Big 12
4. Klein, a hearty handshake.