- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

DALLAS — Heisman Trophy hopeful Cedric Benson of Texas grew up idolizing Ricky Williams. Oklahoma freshman force Adrian Peterson is more of an Emmitt Smith man.

If you want a revealing look at a player’s personality, simply consider his role model.

When No. 2 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) and No. 5 Texas (4-0, 1-0) meet today at the Cotton Bowl in the 99th edition of the Red River Rivalry, college football will get a showcase look at its present and future tailback titans. And although the two share similar backgrounds and extraordinary talent, their contrasting priorities might help explain why Oklahoma has won four straight games in the series by an average of 30 points.

Benson and Peterson certainly have much in common. Benson, a 6-foot, 215-pounder, was a Texas prep legend at Midland Lee High School, rushing for a state-record 8,423 yards and 127 touchdowns as he led the famed football factory to three consecutive 5A state titles (1998-2000) en route to earning recognition as the nation’s top tailback recruit of 2001.

Peterson, a 6-2, 212-pound package of power and speed (4.40 in the 40-yard dash), was a similar Lone Star stud at Palestine High in East Texas, rushing for more than 5,000 yards in his final two seasons and earning consensus recognition as the No.1 prep player in the land last year.

Both have the same coveted set of tailback traits (power, speed, quickness, vision, durability and instinct) at freakishly heightened levels. Both can run around or through defenders, drag linemen and dazzle safeties, dominate with force or finesse.

With a third of his senior season in the books, Benson leads the nation in rushing yardage (186.5 a game), ripping off an astounding 7.61 yards every time he touches the ball.

Despite cracking the starting lineup for the first time only last week, Peterson ranks eighth (136.5), lagging slightly behind Benson in the per-carry category (6.28) but dwarfing the exploits of any other freshman in the country.

“[Benson] is a little more compact, which probably gives him more power at the point of impact, and Peterson might have a little more breakaway speed,” said Texas All-American linebacker Derrick Johnson. “Peterson’s an East Texas guy — corn fed. I mean he’s the type of guy raised in a barn, the type of guy who probably grew up picking up haystacks all the time. … They really do strike you as very similar players.”

Until one of them opens his mouth.

Two weeks ago, Benson did the unthinkable when ESPN Radio’s Doug Gottlieb asked him which one he’d rather win, the Heisman or the Oklahoma game. Without hesitation, Benson chose the stiff-arming statue over a program-righting streak-snapper against the Sooners.

Gottlieb, perhaps stunned by Benson’s bluntness, gave him a chance to soften his stance or retract the decision. But Benson politely declined, explaining that he’d only take the Oklahoma win over the Heisman if he could star on offense, defense and special teams.

Interestingly, most experts believe Benson needs a career-defining performance in a victory over Oklahoma to achieve his Heisman dream, meaning the two are intimately linked rather than hypothetically exclusive. But even Benson’s response to the must-win scenario was tainted with an egocentric perspective.

“I’ve heard a few people say I have to win this game to win the Heisman,” said Benson, whose pronoun usage suggests he plans to play 1-on-11 against the Sooners. “They probably said it to get me going. They might go hand in hand. I have no idea. … This game, with all due respect, is a big game and all. But it’s just another game. We’ve got many more after that.”

Benson certainly appears to have many more games in his future, but claiming today’s tussle with No.2 Oklahoma is just another game is absurd. It’s not just another game for his team, which needs a victory for a chance at a Big 12 South title and any hope of staying in the national championship mix. And it’s certainly not just another game for the ‘Horn horde, coach Mack Brown and those who have suffered through four consecutive humiliations at the hands of Oklahoma.

And it’s not just another game to Peterson, who returns to Texas for a game for the first time since spurning his home state and signing with the Sooners.

“Of course, it’s huge — it’s Oklahoma-Texas,” said Peterson, the first player in Oklahoma’s storied history to rush for 100 yards or more in the first four games of his career. “We’ve been waiting for this game since summer camp started. Everybody wants to come up big in this one. But as long as we win and are successful, that’s all that matters.”

The contrast between the two backs is pretty stark.

Benson wants a Heisman. Peterson wants a win.

Perhaps that’s the reason Benson has a paltry 75 yards in two starts against the Sooners. Perhaps that’s the reason Benson spent the summers after his freshman and sophomore seasons playing rookie ball with the Los Angeles Dodgers (despite being a 12th-round pick with little shot at making the majors) instead of training in Austin with his teammates.

It’s as simple as Ricky Williams vs. Emmitt Smith.

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