June 12, 2009

Mailbag: Which school is 'Heisman U.'?

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Extraordinary success or enduring traditions have enabled some programs to become immediately identifiable with nicknames.

An alumni list that includes Drew Brees, Bob Griese, Len Dawson, Jim Everett, Mike Phipps and Gary Danielson, among others, earned Purdue recognition as "The Cradle of Quarterbacks."

Similarly, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is known as the "Cradle of Coaches" because Paul Brown, Sid Gillman, Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Weeb Ewbank and Ara Parseghian coached there.

Penn State is "Linebacker U." USC and Auburn joust for the title of "Tailback U." Texas A&M is the "Home of the Twelfth Man." The Downtown Athletic Club in New York City is the home of the Heisman Trophy. But what football program could boast the title of Heisman U.?

Sixteen programs have multiple Heismans, and Notre Dame, USC and Ohio State players each have won seven. So, which should be most associated with the prestigious trophy?

That's a question to be considered in this week's mailbag.

Heisman factory?

From Reece in Las Vegas: Which is Heisman U.? Ohio State, USC and Notre Dame have won seven each, but which is truly Heisman University?

My choice would be USC. Not only do the Trojans tie Notre Dame with the most recipients with seven (Ohio State has seven trophies but six recipients), but all of USC's winners have come since 1965. Notre Dame has had just one winner Tim Brown in '87 since then.

In addition, USC has had a Heisman recipient in four of the past five decades Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson in the 1960s, Charles White in the '70s, Marcus Allen in the '80s and Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush this decade.

USC also has had four Heisman runners-up, which ties Iowa and Tennessee for the second-most, one behind Oklahoma (Adrian Peterson in '04, Josh Heupel in '00, Billy Sims in '79, Greg Pruitt in '72 and Kurt Burris in '54).

Of course, depending on circumstances, the site of "Heisman U." could change from year to year kind of like the home of Bush's parents.

Ohio State has had six Heisman recipients and the only two-time winner Archie Griffin in '74 and '75. And the Buckeyes' recipients span five decades Les Horvath in the '40s, Vic Janowicz and Howard Cassady in the '50s, Griffin in the '70s, Eddie George in the '90s and Troy Smith this decade. Thus, if another Ohio State player wins, "Heisman U." moves to Columbus.

Of the three schools with the most Heismans, Ohio State, in my opinion, has the best chance to add another in the next few years with sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. That's not a prediction that he will win one, but I'd guess he's more likely to than USC quarterback Aaron Corp or Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen.

Time to zap Zook?

From Marc in Memphis: Why does it seem like Illinois coach Ron Zook is not on the hot seat? He's a great recruiter, but he clearly can't win. He was average at Florida and has only had one good season at Illinois, which was capped by a Rose Bowl blowout courtesy of USC. How much longer do you see him at Illinois?

No doubt last season's five-win finish was disappointing, but don't be too quick to oust Zook. In the past two seasons, Illinois has 14 victories, which is the Illini's most wins in a two-year period since they won 14 in 1990-91. In fact, Illinois hasn't posted back-to-back winning seasons since going 10-2 in 1989 and 8-4 in '90 under John Mackovic.

Illinois did enjoy five consecutive winning seasons from 1981-85 under Mike White, but managed just seven wins in the last two seasons of his tenure.

The point is that Illinois largely has underachieved since the 1920s, so why fire a coach who took the Illini to the Rose Bowl just two years ago? Look at it this way: Zook has been at Illinois for four seasons and has one Rose Bowl appearance. No other Illinois coach has had that kind of average.

And don't blast him for getting blown out in the Rose Bowl by USC. The Trojans also have blown out Penn State, Michigan and Oklahoma in recent BCS bowl games.

If the defense is bolstered this season, I think the Illini can bounce back with another winning record. If not, Zook's job could be in jeopardy. Just look at his predecessor, Ron Turner: Illinois won the Big Ten with a 10-2 record in 2001, then followed with three consecutive losing seasons and Turner then was fired.

Corvallis on the map?

From Jess in Coos Bay, Ore.: I'm an Oregon State fan, and I just don't understand why more highly touted players don't go to Oregon State. Coach Mike Riley and his staff are some of the best in the business at player development. Teams such as USC and Tennessee can get pretty much anyone they want. USC continues to land blue-chipper after blue-chipper; you can't play all these kids at once, and the last time I checked, playing time in games is what makes you better.

First, I completely agree that Riley is an exceptional coach. His teams always seem to get better as the season progresses and he has found players few other programs wanted Jacquizz Rodgers, for example and received great production from them.

But don't call a prospect dumb because he opts to go to a team that already has a depth chart teeming with highly touted recruits. Players are attracted to successful programs, and those programs are successful because great players already are there.

Besides, top prospects typically are confident in their abilities and don't mind competing. Competitiveness can't be measured like a 40 time or a bench press, but is every bit as important if not more so in being successful.

A case in point is former Washington All-America defensive tackle Steve Emtman, who was the first player taken in the 1992 NFL draft. He once told a story about receiving a letter from a Washington State alum warning him that signing with Washington would result in Emtman getting buried on the depth chart because the Huskies had so much talent at that time. Concerned, Emtman phoned the coach who was recruiting him to ask if that was true. The coach told him if he was afraid to compete, Washington didn't want him. Emtman committed to Washington the next day.

Faded Orange

From Damon in Little Rock, Ark.: Will the arrival of quarterback Greg Paulus mean improvement for the Syracuse program?

The past four years have been nothing short of a disaster at Syracuse, but if it takes a guy who hasn't played football in four years to spark improvement, the program is in worse shape than we thought.

Nothing against Paulus. He might come in, win the starting job and prove all doubters including me wrong. But only a handful of first-year players make an immediate impact at quarterback, and they haven't spent the past four years playing basketball.

Look at Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. He was the highest-rated player in the nation coming out of high school and had some struggles last season, although overall he had a solid season. But again, he hadn't been playing basketball for four years.

Is Syracuse's quarterback situation so dire that a guy who hasn't played organized football in four years can win the starting job? We'll see. Ryan Nassib was named the starter after spring practice, but first-year coach Doug Marrone has said Paulus will get a fair chance to win the job or at least get playing time.

That makes sense. When trying to revive a dormant program, every option should be used.

Personally, I think Syracuse will show improvement, no matter the quarterback. A new coach often provides a spark. Marrone's background is on offense, and the Orange definitely need to bolster the offense after scoring fewer than 20 points in seven games last season. The return of wide receiver Mike Williams from suspension will help. And highly touted '08 running back recruit Averin Collier has recovered from injuries, so he could provide a boost, too.

Seven starters return on each side of the ball, so there are a few reasons to believe Syracuse can better last year's three-win output. I just wouldn't count on Paulus being one of the reasons.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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