July 3, 2006

Cannon pulls biggest upset in first semifinals

Almost 50 years have passed since Billy Cannon delivered the Halloween punt return that defined his career.

But the moment apparently remains fresh in the memories of Louisiana State fans.

Cannon delivered arguably the biggest upset last week in the first round of voting to determine the greatest football player ever at each of the BCS conference schools.

The 1959 Heisman Trophy winner for LSU received 54 percent of the vote. The No. 4 seed knocked off top-seeded Kevin Faulk, the leading rusher in Tigers history.

A fourth-seeded player defeated a top seed on 11 of the 66 ballots, but Cannon's victory stood out the most.

Eight of the 11 winning No. 4 seeds played more recently than their top-seeded counterparts. The three exceptions were Alabama's Joe Namath, Washington's Warren Moon and Cannon.

Click here for the complete results from the first round of semifinals.

Namath and Moon undoubtedly benefited from their Hall of Fame careers in the NFL. Cannon had a stellar career in the AFL, but he isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and hasn't played professionally since 1970.

Cannon's victory still didn't surprise Mike Scarborough, the publisher and recruiting analyst for TigerBait.com.

Scarborough noted that Cannon continues to have a special place in LSU football history as the Tigers' lone Heisman winner. He pointed out that footage of Cannon's 89-yard punt return against Ole Miss on Halloween of 1959 continues to air on televisions across the bayou every October.

"There's a lot of folklore that goes along with Billy Cannon," Scarborough said, "and LSU hasn't had a Herschel Walker, a Peyton Manning or a Bo Jackson. They've had some very good players, some All-Americans and all-Southeastern Conference players, but just never really that premier national player who also went on to the NFL and was an eight-time Pro Bowler.

"Alan Faneca would fall into that category, but he's an offensive guard who left LSU early."

Walker, Manning and Jackson all rolled to lopsided victories in their semifinal competitions, but the first round of balloting also featured several nailbiters.

The closest one of all was at Clemson, where All-America linebacker Levon Kirkland edged top seed and College Football Hall of Famer Banks McFadden by a 40-vote margin.

Kirkland probably benefited from having played at Clemson a half-century after McFadden, who earned All-America honors and had his jersey retired in both football and basketball.

"I don't know if it's a surprise, but I don't think it's the right pick," said Cris Ard, the publisher and recruiting analyst of TigerIllustrated.com. "I think the hardcore Clemson fanatic voted for Banks McFadden. People in their 30s or 40s who haven't followed Clemson as closely as others might have voted for the person who was more familiar to them from their childhood - Levon Kirkland. Because he's the more recent player, he probably has more visibility."

Perhaps the most surprising landslide came at Virginia, where No. 4 seed Tiki Barber received 73 percent of the vote to beat Shawn Moore, who quarterbacked the 1990 team that was ranked first in the nation midway through the season.

Barber's NFL success as a Pro Bowl running back with the New York Giants clearly had an impact on the voting.

"My assumption is a lot of people are taking into account what Tiki's done in the NFL, in order for that margin to be what it is," said Chris Wallace, the publisher of CavsCorner.com. "Clearly from what they were as college players, it should probably be the complete opposite. Shawn More was a sensational college quarterback."

Voters also rewarded a former NFL player who made his biggest contribution off the field.

Pat Tillman defeated College and Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Haynes by a 2-to-1 margin in the Arizona State semifinal. Tillman, who left the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to join the U.S. Army, received a Purple Heart and Silver Star after being killed in Afghanistan two years ago.

Chris Karpman, the publisher of ASUDevils.com, acknowledged that Tillman probably wasn't one of the four greatest players in school history. Karpman considered putting former Arizona State quarterback Jake Plummer on the ballot instead before deciding that Tillman's combination of off-field heroics and on-field exploits as a former Pac-10 defensive player of the year made him a more worthy candidate.

"I was actually a little hesitant to put Pat Tillman in there originally, but after talking about it with some people, we decided we wanted to allow the readers to determine the true meaning of greatness," Karpman said. "The fact he's beating a Hall of Famer isn't surprising in the respect that his legacy off the field is going to last for perhaps longer than any Sun Devil who's ever played the game."

Here is a synopsis of some results that stood out:

Five Surprises
1. Indiana: Antwaan Randle El over Pete Pihos:
Randle El is an active NFL receiver who played at Indiana more than a half-century after Pihos finished his career, so Randle El's victory isn't too shocking. Then again, anytime a No. 4 seed earns 82 percent of the vote, it has to grab your attention.
2. LSU: Billy Cannon over Kevin Faulk:
This was the rare example of No. 4 seed beating a more contemporary No. 1 seed without the benefit of a Hall of Fame NFL career.
3. Rutgers: Paul Robeson over Brian Leonard:
Considering the fact that most stars from yesteryear struggled in the balloting, we have to give credit to Robeson - who played from 1915-18 and managed to beat a guy who's still in college.
4. Virginia: Tiki Barber over Shawn Moore:
We're not surprised that Barber won, but we never expected this to end up as such a runaway.
5. Washington: Warren Moon over Steve Emtman:
Emtman was a Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy winner who led Washington to a share of the 1991 national title. Moon completed less than half his passes and had a 20-19 touchdown-interception ratio in college. Moon's pro success apparently outweighed all that, because the former quarterback received 64 percent of the votes.
Five Landslides
1. Oklahoma State: Barry Sanders over Leslie O'Neal:
Chasing Sanders on the practice field was tough enough. O'Neal learned this week how it felt to trail his former teammate in the ballot box. The 1988 Heisman Trophy winner received more than 97 percent of the votes. O'Neal earned only 87 of the 3,393 votes cast.
2. Baylor: Mike Singletary over Thomas Everett:
How much does it mean to lead Baylor to its last Cotton Bowl appearance? In this case, it means earning 94 percent of the vote.
3. Syracuse: Jim Brown over Tim Green:
Brown's 93-percent vote total means that apparently a movie actor gets more recognition than a best-selling author. Or else it means that one of the greatest athletes of all time shouldn't have much trouble being selected the greatest player in Syracuse history.
4. Georgia: Herschel Walker over Frank Sinkwich:
Poor Sinkwich. The 1942 Heisman Trophy winner had the misfortune of facing Georgia's "other" Heisman winner. Walker, generally regarded as one of the greatest college players of the last 30 years, earned 93 percent of the vote.
5. Boston College: Doug Flutie over Mike Ruth:
Although Ruth studied the priesthood while at Boston College, the former star defensive end never had a prayer of wining this contest. Flutie, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner, received more than 92 percent of the votes.
Five Close Calls
1. Clemson: Levon Kirkland vs. Banks McFadden:
Only 40 votes (out of 3,130 cast) separated the former All-America linebacker from the College Football Hall of Famer.
2. Purdue: Bob Griese over Rod Woodson:
Griese came from behind in the final days to edge Woodson by 51 votes (out of 3,017 cast).
3. Notre Dame: George Gipp over Johnny Lujack:
The 1947 Heisman Trophy winner nearly won one from the Gipper. Gipp held a slim lead all week and finally won by 75 votes (out of 5,823 cast).
4. Michigan: Anthony Carter over Tom Harmon:
This was another case of a No. 1 seed losing to a more contemporary player. Carter earned 51 percent of the vote to eke out a victory over the 1940 Heisman Trophy winner.
5. Colorado: Rashaan Salaam over Byron "Whizzer" White:
The 1994 Heisman Trophy-winning running back earned 52 percent of the vote to edge White, a star halfback and Rhodes Scholar who later became a Supreme Court justice.
Five to Watch This Week
1. Texas: Earl Campbell vs. Ricky Williams:
This one could lead to a lot of father-son arguments at dinner tables across the Lone Star State. The dads remember watching Campbell, but their sons love Williams.
2. Miami: Ray Lewis vs. Ed Reed:
This contest could become a major topic for debate in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room.
3. Nebraska: Mike Rozier vs. Johnny Rodgers:
An intriguing battle between Heisman Trophy-winning runners.
4. North Carolina: Julius Peppers vs. Lawrence Taylor:
The top pass rushers of their respective generations square off in this one.
5. Pittsburgh: Hugh Green vs. Dan Marino:
One of the top quarterbacks in the game's history faces one of college football's most feared pass rushers. The fact they were teammates only adds to the intrigue.

Click here for the complete results from the first round of semifinals.


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