- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2004

The Washington Times’ Barker Davis takes a look back at the week that was in college football:

Without the first full month of the season in the books, 2004 is looking more and more like the year of the underclassman.

If the Back Judge were an NFL general manager asked to rank those in the college game in terms of potential NFL impact, his current top three would consist of a sophomore and two true freshmen.

The leader of the trio is USC sophomore Reggie Bush, a player who spends every week proving he is the most complete offensive weapon in the college game. Bush, a 6-foot, 200-pound tailback with sprinter’s speed (10.42 in the 100 meters) and a sculptor’s hands, has 851 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns in the Trojans’ first four games. He’s averaging 6.5 yards a carry and 14 yards a reception while he redefines the prototype back for the West Coast offense; think Marshall Faulk meets Roger Craig. Any Heisman voter who tabs quarterback Matt Leinart over Bush obviously hasn’t seen the Trojans play.

No. 2 on the Back Judge’s list would be Tennessee true freshman quarterback Erik Ainge. Sure, Ainge doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of Arizona State’s Andrew Walter or Purdue’s Kyle Orton, both seasoned seniors. But just three games into his career and despite splitting time with fellow freshman Brent Schaeffer, the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Ainge has completed 36 of 56 passes (64.3 percent) for 508 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception for the undefeated Volunteers.

Ainge is the nephew of former NBA star and former BYU standout Danny Ainge. And like his uncle, the Oregon product is a sensational athlete whose performance as a point guard earned him hoops scholarship offers from a number of Pac-10 schools. Peyton Manning, who played in 11 games and started eight as a freshman in 1994, maintains sacred status in Knoxville. But Ainge is taller, faster, quicker, stronger-armed, and he’s likely to obliterate Manning’s freshman output — 89 of 144 (61.8 percent) for 1,141 yards, 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions).

The third most impressive player the Back Judge has seen this season is Oklahoma freshman tailback Adrian Peterson, who stepped right in as the starter for the nation’s second-ranked team and has 400 yards rushing on 65 carries (6.15 avg.) through three games. Once again, there are players with flashier stats. But the 6-2, 215-pound Peterson is a punisher who can tote it for you 30 times a game for the next decade without ever missing a start. Don’t be surprised if the most decorated prep player in the last decade overshadows Heisman hopeful Cedric Benson when Oklahoma meets Texas in Dallas on Oct.9.

Replay RIP

The Big Ten’s replay experiment already has been a debacle in the eyes of the Back Judge. Early in the third quarter of Minnesota’s 43-17 Saturday-night pounding of Northwestern, Wildcats quarterback Brett Basanez was credited with a touchdown after a diving, 15-yard scramble. Replays clearly showed that not only did Basanez not reach the pylon, he lost control of the ball well short of the goal line and fumbled through the end zone. Yet the Big Ten’s press box official didn’t even call for the play to be reviewed. What’s the point of having replay capacity, if you’re not going to use it? And using it arbitrarily is clearly worse than not using it at all.

Sylvester Doom

After all the “it’s about times” that were heaped at the feet of Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom (by us included), it’s only fair to point out that the Bulldogs have been outscored 103-21 in three humiliating losses since opening the season with a 28-7 victory over Tulane. Mississippi State’s loss to Division I-AA Maine (9-7) is still the most damning loss to date by any Division-I team.

Extra Point

Dear kickers, you have disgraced yourselves as a group this season. Once again this weekend, a game was lost because a kicker couldn’t make an extra point when TCU’s Peter LoCoco blew the gimme in the second overtime of the Horned Frogs’ 45-44 loss to South Florida. The Back Judge doesn’t know what’s seeped into the psyche of the nation’s kickers, but he knows exactly how he’d handle it as a coach.

For every missed field goal under 40 yards, the offending kicker would run 25 wind sprints; for every missed extra point, they would run 25 miles. The college game has never seen such a rash of incompetence from the position. Executing extra points hasn’t suddenly become more difficult (the distance, goal posts, etc. are the same). So the cause must be attributable to those attempting the kick. Perhaps the best way to affect improvement is to increase accountability. It’s open season on kickers.

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