For Argument's Sake

Originally Published: September 23, 2004

From nagging questions to the latest rumors to soapbox moments, Ivan Maisel and Gene Wojciechowski continue their weekly arguments and go head-to-head to talk about the hottest topics in college football.

If you don't judge solely by stats or reputation, who's the best player in the country?
You can count stats or not count stats. You can count sheep, Count Chocula, count whatever you want. The one player I can't take my eyes off of from the moment he steps over the sideline is USC sophomore Reggie Bush. He can play tailback. He can bust up between the tackles. He loves to run wide. He can line up in the slot. He can line up as a wide receiver. He can return kicks.

Bush is 59th in the nation in rushing (78.3 yards per game), 42nd in punt returns (9.33 per return) and 22nd in kickoff returns (24.2 yards per return). Ho-hum. More important, as far as getting a handle on his skills, he is fourth in all-purpose running (203.7 yards per game) and second in touchdowns scored with six. There isn't much he can't do, and as long as Norm Chow doesn't wear him out, Bush is going to continue to electrify any stadium he plays in at least once every Saturday.

The NFL and its Players Association erred in not allowing Mike Williams to turn pro after two seasons with the Trojans. But the notion that college football gets to see Bush play for 22 more games, including bowls, is worth relishing.

Right now, I've got the candidate pool to a workable, well, seven: Virginia running back Wali Lundy, Kansas State running back Darren Sproles, Miami defensive back Antrel Rolle, Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson, USC running back Reggie Bush, and the Auburn running back tag team of Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams.

Lundy is as old-fashioned as Ivan's wingtips. He leads the nation in scoring and is second in the ACC in rushing, but watch him do the other things too. Lundy would block an onrushing Hummer if he had to. He catches anything thrown within a city block. And just try tackling the guy. You want reasons why Virginia is beating the Wahoos off everybody? Lundy is a nice place to start.

Sproles, running behind a line that won't make anyone forget the Seven Horsemen, gained a school-record 292 yards last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. I know, it's Louisiana-Lafayette. But he also did the same kind of thing against Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship last season. The 5-7 Sproles leads the nation in all-purpose yardage and resolve.

Antrel Rolle is listed at cornerback, but he's somehow turned the position into cornerback-linebacker-strong safety-hell raiser. If you're an offensive coordinator you scheme away from Rolle. Far, far away.

I don't care if Adrian Peterson is a true freshman. I wouldn't care if he were straight from elementary school. When Peterson gets the ball there's this sense of anticipation. He already has 400 yards in three games.

It's simple: With all due respect to Matt Leinart, right now Reggie Bush is the best player on one of the best teams in the country.

Ronniebrowncadillacwilliams are almost inseparable. If you combined their per game yardage (189.7), they'd rank second in Division I-A. And only Sproles has as many carries (91) as the firm of Brown & Williams. I'm partial to Williams, but only because I'm a sucker for cool nicknames.

If I have to pick one name with of the season done, I'm picking Cadillac.

What is the best winless team in D-IA?
Marshall is the easy pick here, with two losses to top 10 teams. But the Thundering Herd is not as good as Oregon, the team that lost to...Indiana! Bear with me.

The Ducks gained about 500 yards against the Hoosiers. Oregon lost because it turned the ball over seven times. The Ducks lost to Oklahoma, 31-7, because, well, the Sooners are the best team on God's green earth.

Oregon has a talented quarterback in Kellen Clemons, a veteran offensive line and a proven Pac-10 staff led by coach Mike Bellotti. Last year's midseason swoon notwithstanding, this is not a team that stays down for the long haul. Plus, any Pac-10 team that lands a schedule with no USC on it will be smart enough to capitalize on its good fortune.

You don't have to have a cerebellum to get this one right (which immediately qualifies Ivan). It's Marshall.

The 0-3 Thundering Herd (more herd than thunder these days), lost to a Troy team that also beat Missouri. It lost at Ohio State on a last-second, 180-yard field goal by kicking god Mike Nugent. It lost at Georgia, 13-3.

And despite the O-fer start, Marshall might be the East Division favorite in the MAC, or perhaps the favorite to win the league championship. Miami, Toledo, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, UCF and Kent State haven't exactly distinguished themselves in early season play.

What is the most overrated unbeaten team?
So many undefeated teams, so little quality. Being undefeated at the end of your non-conference schedule is less of an accomplishment by the team than the schedule maker at many schools -- right this way, Virginia and Alabama. There are 28 schools with unblemished records, so it doesn't take a statistics maven to figure out that not all of them are worthy.

The two leading candidates are the 3-0 Crimson Tide, which has beaten one I-AA team (Western Carolina) and one I-A nomad (Utah State), and Stanford, which has routs of San Jose State (43-3) and BYU (37-10).

It's tempting to take Alabama, because the team that played so well for the first two-and-a-half games of this streak no longer exists. When quarterback Brodie Croyle blew out his right ACL in the third quarter of the 52-0 defeat of Western Carolina, the whole complexion of this team blanched, as did the crimson-and-white half of the state.

Alabama has less depth than Jessica Simpson, and has lost the one player the team could least afford to lose. The Tide's schedule includes road games at Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU. This is a team whose foundation is freshmen and sophomores, and it's hard to build anything sturdy on backs so young.

Still, it's possible that Alabama will get to 6-5, a record that is a speck in the distance from where Stanford sits. The Cardinal can tell the Tide all it needs to know about playing with freshmen and sophomores. Stanford did it last season, beat the same two schools (San Jose State and BYU) that it has this season, then finished 4-7.

Sophomore quarterback Trent Edwards has taken care of the ball well in the first two games. Stanford has thrown 75 passes without a pick. The special teams have played well, too. But No. 1 USC arrives Saturday, and road trips to Notre Dame, Washington State, Arizona State and Cal await. This is not a team built for the long haul. Stanford wins this dubious distinction, and should celebrate by getting pummeled Saturday night by the Trojans.

Ohio State. . .but with an asterisk.

I've got the Buckeyes ranked seventh, but I worry about these guys. They've had one true blowout game (35-6 over Indiana) in the last 16 games. Coach Jim Tressel must have a clause in his contract that pays him bonuses for nail biting.

Honorable mention: Arizona State.

Did you see the way the Sun Devils dissected Iowa last Saturday? The game had Mercy Rule written all over it.

And still I'm not sure about ASU. Let's chat after a more-telling four-game stretch against Oregon State, at Oregon, at USC, against UCLA.