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October 17, 2007

Harrell trying to shed 'system' label

Cast your vote: Is Graham Harrell just a product of the Texas Tech system?

Want to pass muster? Go to West Point or Annapolis.

Want to pass the bar? Go to Stanford or Vanderbilt.

Want to pass out in a bar? Go to noted party schools Florida State or West Virginia.

But if you want to pass the football, go to Texas Tech, where coach Mike Leach's quarterbacks have led the nation in passing in three of the past five seasons and have thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of those five seasons.

This season's starter, junior Graham Harrell, is leading the nation with 3,151 passing yards, a 73.5 completion percentage and 31 touchdown passes for the Red Raiders (6-1), who face similarly offensive-minded Missouri on Saturday.

Harrell has passed for more than 400 yards in six games and has thrown for no less than 338 yards in any contest. He also has had at least three touchdown passes in every game.

"There is no question the main reason I came here is I wanted to throw the ball," said Harrell, the son of a high school football coach in Ennis, Texas. "If you want to throw the ball, there is no better place than Texas Tech. The reason most offensive players come here is because they want to play in this offense."

But there's the rub.

Playing in a high-powered system raises the risk of being labeled a "system" quarterback, a not-so-subtle suggestion that insinuates personal prowess has minimal effect on success. That criticism understandably irks those within the Tech program.

Still, detractors might argue that despite posting staggering statistics, Texas Tech quarterbacks have had little – if any – success at the pro level. Kliff Kingsbury had a brief stay with the New England Patriots, and Sonny Cumbie is a starter in the Arena League. You have to go back to Billy Joe Toliver, who left Tech in 1988, to find a Red Raiders quarterback with any pro success.

Harrell may be different. While most Tech quarterbacks were virtually ignored by other programs, he was a four-star prospect who could have gone just about anywhere. In addition, he's in his second year as a starter. The three Tech quarterbacks before him didn't start until their senior seasons.

He's even starting to get mentioned in Heisman Trophy discussions, though that appears premature because of caliber of competition. Leading the nation in completion percentage, passing yardage and touchdown passes is without question an amazing trifecta – but one that has been accomplished against some of the country's weakest pass defenses.

Six of Texas Tech's seven opponents are ranked 71st or worse nationally against the pass, and five are 100th or lower. Oklahoma State is 113th, while SMU, UTEP and Rice are 117th, 118th and 119th, respectively, out of 120 Division I-A teams.

Graham Harrell in 2007
Opp. Comp. Att. Yards TD INT
SMU 44 59 419 4 0
UTEP 48 64 484 4 1
Rice 28 37 414 6 1
Okla. St. 46 67 646 5 0
N'western St. 26 40 338 5 0
Iowa State 36 43 425 4 1
Texas A&M 30 37 425 3 0
Total 258 347 3151 31 3
The Red Raiders' seventh opponent was Division I-AA Northwestern State.

Even if you throw out what Tech did against the five worst pass defenses it played, the numbers for those schools remain bad. Oklahoma State would improve the most, to 70th. But SMU still would be 107th, UTEP 113th and Rice 117th.

Also, it's rare for one team to have two legitimate Heisman candidates, though Texas Tech soon will launch a Web page to trumpet the candidacies of Harrell and redshirt freshman receiver Michael Crabtree, who leads the nation with 78 receptions for 1,244 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Obviously, no one at Tech will take sides, but Leach, predictably, appears to endorse Harrell.

"He has developed as a quarterback in his skills as far as being a leader and utilizing the team," Leach said. "He is the point guy for the entire team, and I think his play has elevated the play of the other guys, too."

There is nothing unusual about a Texas Tech quarterback with amazing statistics, but at his current pace, Crabtree would break the NCAA records for single-season touchdowns (27) and receiving yards (2,060), which might make him a more deserving candidate in the eyes of some voters.

Neither figure to have much chance in the Heisman race unless they have great performances in games against Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.

Harrell doesn't seem to care either way.

"It's nice to get acknowledged," he said. "For years around here, (Tech players) have been getting overlooked, and now Crabtree is getting a lot of attention and I'm getting some attention.

"But we can't be focused on that. We have to be focused on whatever is best for the team and do whatever is best for the team. We have to prepare every day in practice, stay hungry and win."

Cast your vote: Is Graham Harrell just a product of the Texas Tech system?

Trivia question

Who is the only Texas Tech player to finish in the top five of the Heisman Trophy voting? Hint: The year was 1965. (Answer at the end of the column.)

Bull market

Local newspapers are printing front-page stories about the team. Not the front of the sports section – the front page. Some students seem star-struck. Some professors do, too.

There is so much excitement on USF's campus in Tampa that you'd think the Bulls were playing for the national championship. Oh, that's right – they could.

The Bulls are No. 2 in the BCS standings, which means if they can navigate the rest of their schedule without a loss, there is a good chance they will play for the national title. The on-campus reaction has been predictable.

"It's been kind of crazy," USF senior cornerback Trae Williams said. "People notice you a lot more – and the teachers are more lenient."

That's not too surprising considering the popularity of football in Florida. What is surprising is that a football program in only its 11th year of existence is in this position.

Also surprising – and a little refreshing – is that Williams admits it's not easy to avoid getting caught up in the excitement. "Honestly, I'd have to say sometimes it's hard because you can't be focused all the time," he said. "You could get caught up with being No. 2 because the students are telling you you're this and that. But we know we've got to come down to earth."

That's because the Bulls are just halfway through their schedule and still have to face four teams with winning records, including a game at Rutgers (4-2) on Thursday night. Rutgers defeated USF last season.

Williams said the BCS ranking hasn't interrupted the Bulls' preparation. "Everybody is working hard," he said. "We've had good practices and everybody is focused on the task at hand."

Hey, that's how you reach No. 2 in the first place.

Halloween Hogs

Arkansas tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones are letting fans decide what costumes they wear for Halloween as a way to raise money for charity.

By going to www.Hogwired.com, fans can vote whether McFadden and Jones dress as the Blue Brothers, Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble or Sonny and Cher. The voting continues until noon on Friday.

The costumes will be worn all day Oct. 31, then put up for auction, with the funds going to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Little Rock (McFadden's hometown) and Tulsa (Jones' hometown).

Quick hitters

  • Notre Dame junior quarterback Evan Sharpley gets his first career start Saturday, against USC. He'll be the third starting quarterback for the Irish this season. Demetrius Jones started the season-opener, and true freshman Jimmy Clausen - who has been knocked around like a piρata - has started every other game. Sharpley's first start comes against a defense that ranks eighth in the nation.

  • Virginia Tech starting outside linebacker Cam Martin has been diagnosed with mononucleosis and probably won't play against Boston College on Oct. 25. The Hokies already are without star middle linebacker Vince Hall, who has a broken left wrist. Those injuries are especially worrisome for Hokies coaches, considering BC has the nation's 20th-ranked offense.

  • Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour set the school's career touchdown passes record during last week's 47-23 victory over Army. LeFevour, a sophomore, has thrown 39 touchdown passes in 21 career games. The previous record was 38.

  • The Illinois Board of Trustees on Wednesday is expected to approve a raise and three-year contract extension for coach Ron Zook. Zook reportedly will receive a $250,000 raise plus another $200,000 if Illinois qualifies for a bowl, which would increase his salary to $1,505 million. Illinois needs one more victory to qualify for a bowl.

  • Kansas State coach Ron Prince figures to take on offensive coordinator duties as well this week. The mother of Wildcats offensive coordinator James Franklin died of cancer last week. Prince was Virginia's offensive coordinator for three seasons before moving to Kansas State as coach last year.

  • Penn State sophomore defensive end Jerome Hayes will miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury suffered in last week's victory over Wisconsin. Hayes tore his right ACL and will have surgery.

  • Despite rushing for a season-low 43 yards in last week's 9-7 loss to Auburn, McFadden moved past Ben Cowins to become Arkansas' leading career rusher with 3,582 yards. He also set a school record for career all-purpose yards with 4,576 yards.

  • Texas A&M cornerback Danny Gorrer tore an ACL in last week's loss to Texas Tech and will miss the rest of the season. A&M already ranks 10th in the Big 12 in pass defense.

  • Not long after kicking a game-winning field goal at Vanderbilt last Saturday, Georgia kicker Brandon Coutu learned his home had been burglarized. Among the items stolen was a computer, which had homework stored on the hard drive.

  • Patrick Cowan likely will start at quarterback for UCLA against California on Saturday. Cowan has not played since tearing a knee ligament against Washington on Sept. 22, but has returned to practice.

    Trivia answer

    In 1965, Texas Tech running back Donnie Anderson finished fourth in Heisman voting, behind USC's Mike Garrett, Tulsa's Howard Twilley and Illinois' Jim Grabowski. The highest Red Raider finisher since then was running back Byron Hanspard, who was sixth in 1996.

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



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