- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 2, 2011

“Russellmania” arrived on a national stage Saturday night. The pinpoint passing. The elusive rushing. The impressive multifaceted skill set in an era of greater offensive production.

Fans in ACC country knew Russell Wilson existed the past three years. Much of the rest of the country didn’t because he played for a middle-of-the-road N.C. State team.

Rare is the ACC football export to the Big Ten. But after helping Wisconsin demolish Nebraska 48-17 Saturday night in the Badgers’ conference opener, Wilson is a full-fledged Heisman Trophy candidate as the season approaches its midpoint.

Why? Wilson has just about everything a serious 21st-century candidate for the stiff-arming statute needs.

Is he on a national title contender? No question. The Badgers were already in the top 10 after a series of nonconference pummelings. Their remaining road schedule isn’t necessarily easy — Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois — but it is manageable.

Is he his team’s MVP? After the Badgers (5-0) slogged through much of the last decade with quarterbacks who were exceptional at making sure the trains ran on time in a power rushing scheme, Wilson provides an impressively dangerous element in the backfield.

Is he a national name? Now he is. A season-opening rout of UNLV helped introduce him to fans who barely knew him for his exploits at N.C. State. Saturday’s destruction of Nebraska cemented that.

And does he have a school-sponsored Heisman campaign? Well, the Twitter feed @RussellManiaXVI debuted early Sunday.

All this for a guy who was given his release in the spring at N.C. State and agreed to play at Wisconsin only in the final days of June.

(Meanwhile, Wilson’s former N.C. State teammates fell to 2-3 with a loss to Georgia Tech. Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien is an easy target for casting Wilson loose, but his team’s problems run far deeper than quarterback. N.C. State’s depth issues — very much O’Brien’s responsibility in his fifth season — warrant more scrutiny than Wilson’s superstardom elsewhere.)

Wilson enters his bye week with 13 touchdowns and one interception, and he ranks second nationally in passing efficiency. If Wilson and Wisconsin make it through the regular season unbeaten, count on seeing him at the Heisman ceremony in New York in December.

Weekend Risers

Alabama. The Crimson Tide dished out a 38-10 woodshedding to Florida at the Swamp. It might not be the best victory of the season, but with 5.3 yards per rush while yielding 0.5 yards a carry to the Gators, it is among the most impressive.

Washington State. The long-beleaguered Cougars beat Colorado in their Pac-12 opener to improve to 3-1. Struggling UCLA and Oregon State loom within the next three weeks; wins in those games would put Paul Wulff’s team on the precipice of its first bowl berth since 2003.

Ron Zook. The Zooker gets a new athletic director, and all he does is start the season 5-0. The Illini barely got there while edging Northwestern and have won three straight by a field goal, but they are still off to their best start since 1951.

Weekend Decliners

Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ offense failed its first serious test in a 23-3 loss to Clemson at Lane Stadium. It was Virginia Tech’s worst offensive output at home since a 16-0 setback to Cincinnati in 1995, and the result effectively pulled the plug on any hopes of a sleeper run to the national title game.

Texas A&M. If only it was a 30-minute game. A week after squandering a 20-3 lead over Oklahoma State that turned into a 30-29 loss, the Aggies one-upped themselves. A 35-17 halftime edge against Arkansas turned into a 42-38 setback, dropping Texas A&M to 0-7 against its future SEC brethren since 1995.

Stephen Garcia. The national leader in interceptions (nine) tossed two more Saturday as South Carolina lost to Auburn. The Gamecocks aren’t done as an SEC contender, but it’s difficult to see them emerging unscathed over the next two months with such erratic quarterback play.

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