Monday, September 27, 2004

One early-season Heisman pick


Kyle Orton of Purdue

By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service

The first Saturday in October nears, which in a sane world, would be the first date each season that the phrase "Heisman race" could legally be used.

And just in time, too, since it'll be the first major test for the new specter on the radar screen. A growing blip named Kyle Orton.

The Purdue quarterback will take his gaudy 13-0 touchdown-interception ratio and his 69.8 percent completion rate to Notre Dame. The place where Boilermaker hopes go to die.

Thirty years. That is Purdue's length of unbroken suffering in South Bend, a 13-game losing streak going back to 1974.

It has not mattered which gunslinger was quarterbacking the Boilermakers - Mark Herrmann or Jim Everett or Drew Brees. It has not mattered who was coaching the Irish - Dan Devine or Gerry Faust or Bob Davie.

But here's Orton, directing an offense averaging 49 points a game. Alas, that was against Syracuse (No. 73 in the nation in defense), Ball State (No. 89) and Illinois (No. 97). Notre Dame's defense will be sterner stuff.

"He's playing well, and I don't expect that to ever change with Kyle," said coach Joe Tiller about Orton, who has thrown 106 passes this season without an interception.

There are other midterms soon for other Heisman wannabes. Jason White's re-election campaign at Oklahoma hits Texas in two weeks. And vice versa for Texas running back Cedric Benson, who has cracked 180 yards rushing in all three games.

USC's brace of hopefuls - quarterback Matt Leinart and do-it-all back Reggie Bush - will face unbeaten Pac-10 troublemakers California and Arizona State back-to-back in October.

But Orton goes on the griddle first. There is no better place to truly launch a candidacy than Notre Dame. If he guns down the 3-1 Irish next Saturday, he becomes a contender on Sunday.

It's OK to say that Oct. 2.

But not before.

-

Should be interesting conversation in the Florida State coaches' meetings this week.

When quarterback Chris Rix - the most maligned entity in the state of Florida this fall not named a hurricane - went down with an ankle sprain Saturday, sophomore Wyatt Sexton took over and led the Seminoles past Clemson, throwing Florida State's first touchdown pass of the season and not having a turnover.

So now there's a debate about who should start. "We'll have to measure everybody next week and go from there," coach Bobby Bowden said.

Which presumably means consultation with his staff. And that presumably includes the assistant head coach who has been with Bowden for 28 years.

Billy Sexton.

Wyatt's father.

QUOTEBOOK

"Deep in our hearts we know we could have beaten this team and should have beaten this team. That hurts more than anything." - Stanford tailback J.R. Lemon after the Cardinal lost an 11-point halftime lead and was edged 31-28 by No. 1 USC.

"I'll probably go home and all my furniture will be in the pool again, like it was last time." - Florida coach Ron Zook, as yet another hurricane blew through the state.

"I apologize to my teams and all the fans. It's something I should have done. It's not that hard to kick a field goal." - BYU kicker Matt Payne, who was 6-for-6 this season and 48-for-54 in his career until he missed from 38 yards Friday night to preserve Boise State's 15-game winning streak, 28-27.

"If they played as good as they talked, they'd be 4-0 for sure." - Arizona State quarterback Andrew Walter about 1-3 Oregon State, after beating the Beavers 27-14. During the week, Oregon State defensive back Brandon Browner was quoted as saying Walter "gets scared" against pressure.

STATISTIC OF THE WEEK

In four second halves this season, the USC defense has allowed only 10 points, forced 14 punts and created six turnovers. So they weren't all that worried when Stanford led 28-17 at halftime Saturday.

THUMBS OF THE WEEK

Up to Michigan defense. How to take the heat off a freshman quarterback: Force 19 takeaways in four games. Of Wolverines' 117 points so far, 79 came after turnovers.

Up to Louisville. Two shutouts in three games. The Cubs starting rotation could use a performance like that this week.

Up to Wisconsin. Four games, one touchdown allowed.

Up to North Carolina State pass rush. Beware the Wolfsacks. Virginia Tech quarterback goes down 10 times. Early in the third period, Virginia Tech had six yards ... for the entire game.

Up to Minnesota. Gophers open Big Ten by ripping Northwestern, and have scored 177 points in four games. Has anyone noticed neither Ohio State nor Purdue are on their schedule? By the way, their last Rose Bowl trip was 1962.

Down to Washington. Pounding at Notre Dame leaves Huskies 0-4 for first time since 1979. "Sooner or later," said coach Keith Gilbertson, "you've got to win a game so you don't forget what that feels like."




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