Big East : Rutgers’ Rice emerging as legitimate Heisman candidate
Considered the most prestigious individual award in all of college football, the Heisman Trophy was inaugurated in 1935. Since then, only one New Jersey player has taken home the trophy: Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier in 1951. That could change soon.
Rutgers’ sophomore running back Ray Rice is a legitimate candidate for this year’s Heisman race. Rice, the anchor of the Scarlet Knights’ offense all season long, has led Rutgers to a 7-0 record overall and a 2-0 record in the Big East. Rutgers’ passing offense is ranked just 109th in the nation. As a result, their success is dependent on Rice and the running game.
Rice has emerged as a sleeper candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
He’s already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the regular season with 1,124 yards. In Rutgers’ most recent victory against Big East rival Pittsburgh, 20-10, Rice dominated the playing field, running 39 times for 225 yards.
‘He’s the real deal,’ Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt said of Rice’s impressive performance. ‘He got into the secondary so fast we didn’t have time to react.’
Wannstedt is referring to the game-altering play in which Rice broke through for a 63-yard run in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. That set up a short touchdown run for Rice and came just after Pitt had reduced Rutgers’ lead to three points.
It was Rice’s fourth career 200-yard game and second this season. He finished seven yards shy of Terrell Willis’ school-record 232-yard effort versus Temple back in 1994.
No sophomore has ever won the Heisman. Rice is among a group of impressive players who are in the running for the award. Leading the group is Ohio State senior quarterback Troy Smith, but West Virginia’s Pat White and Steve Slaton are also potential Heisman candidates from the Big East conference.
But Rice plays on a team considered by many to be the feel-good story of the year. Not many expected the Scarlet Knights to be undefeated this late in the season. It’s Rutgers’ best start since 1976, when it finished undefeated, 11-0. Yet they’re still just the third-best team in their own conference. The latest Associated Press standings has Rutgers at No. 16, with Big East rivals West Virginia and Louisville rated at No. 4 and No. 6, respectively.
If Rutgers can win next week at home against Connecticut, they’ll host No. 6 Louisville on Nov. 9 on a nationally-televised Thursday-night game. A victory will give Coach Greg Schiano’s team a great shot to move up in the AP poll.
Schiano credits preparation for his team’s success.
‘They’re preparing well during the week, which allows them to go out and perform well on Saturdays,’ Schiano said.
The Louisville game will also give Rice the chance to convince more voters to consider him as their Heisman candidate.
It’s at least conceivable Rutgers could remain undefeated going into their regular season finale against West Virginia. That matchup could potentially decide the Big East title, as well as the Heisman. It’s a bit too early to consider such a scenario, but it would seem be a fitting story-book ending to Rutgers’ already amazing season.
Wannstedt acknowledges Rutgers’ legitimacy as a top program in the nation.
‘They’ve got a good football team,’ Wannstedt said. ‘They’re doing things the right way.’
Quarterback Pat White and West Virginia ran past UConn in a 37-11 victory last week, increasing the Mountaineers’ winning streak to 14 games.
White ran for 109 yards with a touchdown and threw for an additional 156 yards and a touchdown. Running back Steve Slaton had 128 yards on the ground. West Virginia is off this week. They face sixth-ranked Louisville in the highly anticipated showdown of the Big East’s best on Nov. 2.
Game of the Week
Connecticut (3-4, 0-2) at No. 16 Rutgers (7-0, 2-0)
Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPN
With West Virginia and Louisville both off this week, there are no games featuring the conference’s best two squads, but Rutgers faces the Huskies on Sunday night in what could be a ‘trap’ game.
RU head coach Greg Schiano is not overlooking this week’s match-up. Up until last year, UConn defeated Rutgers three years in a row.
‘We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and Sunday,’ Schiano said.
Around the Big East Conference
The Big East remains the only conference in the nation with three undefeated teams. West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers are all 7-0 overall and 2-0 inside the conference. The latest Bowl Championship Standings has West Virginia at No. 4, Louisville at No. 8, and Rutgers at No. 14. …Cincinnati (4-4, 1-2) routed division rival USF (5-3, 1-2) on Sunday night, 23-6. It was the first time either team had played on a Sunday night.
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