The Times West Virginian

May 5, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Outstanding performances and players

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Not quite sure what this speaks to, but it is rather strange that the man who holds West Virginia University’s single-game school rushing record is a wide receiver.

You might remember it, for it came just a few months back when coach Dana Holgorsen, looking for something to shake his team up at home against Oklahoma, took Tavon Austin out of the slot and put him on the spot in the backfield.

Proving that his ability to set the career high school rushing record in Maryland was hardly a fluke, Austin simply left the Sooners gasping and grasping at thin air as he wiggled and jiggled through them for 344 rushing yards. It was the most rushing yardage any running back had ever recorded for the Mountaineers and more yards than the entire team had gained in any single game during the season.

Certainly, this is impressive but even more so when one considers he went beyond anything ever compiled by two of the top 25 running backs to play in college football since the BCS was founded, according to Athlon Magazine, which has put together rankings of the top 50 running backs and quarterbacks during that time.

According to Athlon, the greatest running back at West Virginia during the BCS era was Steve Slaton, whom they put at No. 21 despite his leaving a year early.

Was he the greatest runner at the school?

It could be argued that he was only the third best, ranking behind two non-running backs, one of them being Austin, who proved his abilities in his only real chance against a storied program.

The other, of course, proved his worth almost every game, but Pat White did so out of the quarterback position, so much so that mostly on the strength of his running ability he was ranking the No. 13 best quarterback of the era.

But back to Slaton, about whom the magazine wrote:

The mid-level recruit from Pennsylvania showed college coaches around the nation what they missed on by rushing for at least 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in each of his three seasons. His speed and big-play potential fit perfectly in Rich Rodriguez’s zone read scheme, and had he not left early for the NFL, would have rewritten the WVU record books.

As it was, of course, he did not rewrite the record books, because those records are owned by one of the toughest, most durable running backs any school has ever had, Avon Cobourne, who was ranked just behind Slaton at No. 23.

This was Athlon’s summation of Cobourne:

The Big East’s all-time leading rusher burst onto the scene with a 1,138-yard, 10-TD season as a true freshman in 1999. The Camden, N.J., prospect capped his stellar four-year starting career with a 1,710-yard, 17-TD season as a senior. The short but burly back was a true workhorse who still sits atop the Mountaineers all-time rushing list.

While Slaton went on to a NFL career, Cobourne built a career in Canada, one that just came to a close.

The two not only were outstanding players, but you can’t find either of them getting into any kind of trouble, as is true of the other running back who was ranked among the top 100, Noel Devine, who came in at No. 93.

By now, of course, you are wondering just who Athlon anointed as the top running back of the BCS era, and it’s hard to argue with their Top 10 list until you get to No. 10. Reading it down backward it is:

10. DeAngelo Williams, Memphis

9. Montee Ball, Wisconsin

8. Ray Rice, Rutgers

7. Darren Sproles, Kansas State

6. Reggie Busch, USC

5. LaDanian Tomlinson, TCU

4. Darren McFadden, Arkansas

3. Ron Dayne, Wisconsin

2. Ricky Williams, Texas

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma.

As for the quarterback rankings, White drew this analysis from the magazine:

He left school as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher as a quarterback and was a stalwart in Morgantown for four years. He earned Big East Player of the Year honors twice and is the only player in NCAA history to start and win four bowl games. He finished sixth and seventh in the Heisman voting in 2006 and ’07 and has a Big East-record 103 total touchdowns.

And Geno Smith? Despite a record-setting career he did not draw as high a ranking as you may suspect, perhaps riding that 7-6 record and dismal bowl loss to Syracuse to end his collegiate career. He was ranked No. 41.

As for the Top 10? You might have an opinion different than the magazines.

1. Vince Young, Texas

2. Tim Tebow, Florida

3. Matt Leinhart, USC

4. Andrew Luck, Stanford

5. Robert Griffin III, Baylor

6. Michael Vick, Virginia Tech

7. AJ McCarron, Alabama

8. Chris Weinke, Florida State

9. Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

10. Kellen Moore, Boise State

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.