Washington tailback Napoleon Kaufman's chance to win the Heisman Trophy almost certainly ended with the Huskies' 31-20 loss at unranked Oregon last Saturday, their second loss of the season. Though the splendid senior remains second in the nation in rushing and all-purpose yards (behind Colorado tailback Rashaan Salaam in both categories), Kaufman's most convincing argument for the Heisman—that he made his team a winner—has been deflated.
Every person who has won the Heisman in the last 20 years had at least one of three qualifications: He led the nation in a major statistical category; he was the best player on the top-ranked team; or he was the hero of an early-season game involving Notre Dame. Kaufman does not qualify on any count, but these candidates do.
•Salaam. He leads the nation in scoring, as well as in rushing and all-purpose yards, but he has to solidify his spot as his team's top Heisman candidate before he can be the country's.
•Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart. Stewart doesn't have Salaam's numbers, but a national television audience has seen him pass (at Michigan) and run (against Kansas State) for dramatic game-winning touchdowns. Indeed, Stewart may be even more valuable to the Buffaloes than Salaam. Ask coach Bill McCartney the one player he can't afford to lose, and he'll name Stewart.
•Nebraska tailback Lawrence Phillips. If the Huskers defeat Colorado on national TV this Saturday and Phillips, who is already averaging 6.7 yards per carry, puts up bigger numbers for the day than Salaam, then Phillips could become the first sophomore ever to win the Heisman.
•Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair. Indisputably the best player in Division I-AA, Air McNair's performance in Saturday's win over Southern on ESPN2 did wonders for his chances to be called the best player in all of college football. Not only docs he lead the country in total offense, averaging 503.13 yards per game, but he also broke Ty Detmer's NCAA career yardage mark on Saturday. All he needs now is more Air time.
•Penn State tailback Ki-Jana Carter. Although he's not in the top 10 among rushers, he's a great player on the No. 1 team. But is he the Nittany Lions' best player? His candidacy is hampered because he must split ink (and future votes) with his quarterback, Kerry Collins, who leads the country in passing efficiency.
•Georgia quarterback Erie Zeier. Although he is first in Division I-A in total offense, he will have a chance at the Heisman only if he leads the Bulldogs past Auburn on Nov. 12.
And then there's Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus. He's only a sophomore, he and his team have struggled, and preseason suggestions that he would win the Heisman this year have proved way off base. But lie does have one credential that all the aforementioned players lack: All of his games do involve Notre Dame.
A Tale of Devotion
It was a blind date. Bowling Green coach Gary Blackney recalls, a favor for a friend. Just a few sodas on a Saturday night in 1964, his sophomore year at Connecticut. "God, we didn't hit it off at all," he says of that evening spent with the former Lauretta Cross. "Neither of us was very impressed with the other."
They have been married 28 years now, and last Friday afternoon Blackney kept another date with his bride. This one came at the Wood County Nursing Home, where Lauretta lives, just three miles from his office at Doyt Perry Stadium. In March 1986 Lauretta suffered a brain aneurysm, which paralyzed her and limited her speech.
Leaning over to kiss his wife on Friday, Blackney told her she looked great, then asked. "Who's the best coach?" Lauretta smiled and pointed awkwardly at him with her left hand. Three decades after that first date, it's clear that they are now very much impressed with each other.
Blackney was an assistant at Ohio State when he was hired to take over at Bowling Green in December 1990. The Falcons were coming off five consecutive losing seasons. The squat, muscular Blackney, then 46, strode into his first team meeting and, more sensitive than most to the caprices of life, vowed, "We're going to win the MAC championship right now because I can't guarantee where Tin going to be next year."
"From the minute he walked through that door," says senior defensive end Curtis Collins, "it was automatic respect."
Blackney made good on his oath. In his first season Bowling Green went 11-1 and beat Fresno State in the California Raisin Bowl. The success has continued. On Saturday the Falcons defeated Ball State 59-36 to run their '94 record to 7-1 and their home mark under Blackney to 17-0-1. Most important, they put themselves in position to win their third MAC title in Blackney's four seasons.
"I'm no hero, no extraordinary person," Blackney insists, referring to his record, his marriage and the fact that for the most part, he has raised two of his four children by himself. "Lin just doing what I had to do, what anyone would."
Strength in Numbers
Going the route of prison inmates and select agents from Get Smart, the Syracuse Orangemen have taken to being identified by numbers instead of names this season. "We didn't want this to be a group of individuals. We wanted it to be a team." says number 55 (center Dave Wohlabaugh), explaining why the seniors voted to have names removed from the team's jerseys before this season.
"It's an effort to show team unity," says coach Paul Pasqualoni. "Plus, we're not overly blessed with big-name stars this year, anyway."
Unlike last year. The '93 Orangemen, with wideout Shelby Hill and quarterback Marvin Graves, were coming off consecutive 10-2 seasons. But they seemed self-absorbed and finished a disappointing 6-4-1. This year's team set out to create a new attitude. Says number 70 (defensive tackle Wilky Bazile), "Who needs to have their name on their jersey? You make a name for yourself on the field."
And the Orangemen are doing just that. With last Saturday's 49-42 win at Temple, Syracuse has won six straight and is ranked 14th in the country. Had Oklahoma not kicked a field goal with 11 seconds left in the season opener, the Orangemen would be 7-0.
If there is one flaw in the no-name scheme, it's that the wonderfully redundant surname of tailback Kirby Dar Dar hasn't been seen on the field this season. "I miss seeing it too," says Kirby's mom, Gerry, who lives in Tampa. "It's a Cherokee name, and as far as I know, we're the only family in Florida that has it. But they do hang a sign in the upper deck of the Carrier Dome that says KIRBY KIRBY DAR DAR FAN FAN CLUB CLUB, so his name hasn't entirely disappeared."
Neither have the Orangemen. And if they keep winning, their days of anonymity will be numbered too.
Keeping the Faith
If you need confirmation that Auburn, a team that has won a goodly number of its 18 straight victories by the skin of its teeth, has a guardian angel, talk to Tiger long snapper Brian Brinsfield.
"My family has had as many close calls with disaster off the field this season as my team has had on the field," says Brinsfield, a senior from Fairhope, Ala.
On Aug. 30 Brinsfield's 15-year-old brother, Kevin, was driving with their father, Paul, on U.S. Highway 98 in Alabama when a drunk driver rammed their BMW from behind. "Their car slid down an embankment, and a telephone pole sheared off the side-view mirror," says Brian. "The car, which was totaled, missed a billboard support by a foot." Kevin and Paul escaped serious injury.
Four weeks later, on the eve of the Auburn-Kentucky game, Brian's mother, Rhonda, phoned Brian.
"Well, the house burned down," she said.
A fire that had started in a neighbor's yard had spread to the Brinsfields' house, consuming it in minutes. "Nobody was home at the time," Brian says, "but had it happened when my parents were asleep, they wouldn't have survived."
The following evening Brinsfield's parents were two of the people lining Tiger Walk, the path from the athletic dorm to Jordan-Hare Stadium that Brian and his teammates march along in an Auburn ritual before home games. "I'll never forget my dad's face," says Brian, who broke down in tears upon spotting his family. "One day after he'd lost almost everything he'd worked his whole life for, he's cheering me on. He even joked that he wished our old boat, which we want to replace, had been closer to the house."
Small wonder that such harrowing experiences as the Tigers' 30-26 win over Louisiana State, in which Auburn came back from a 23-9 fourth-quarter deficit, haven't fazed Brinsfield, who has not misfired a snap in three seasons. "There's a Biblical verse that reads, 'Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance,' " says Brinsfield. "I might as well change my name to perseverance."
Oregon tailback Ricky Whittle's touchdown lunge contributed to Kaufman's Heisman plunge.
A TD grab by Rameir Martin (8) and the rushing of Courtney Davis (36) helped make Blackney's day.
Players of the Week
Ozzie Young, a junior tailback at Valparaiso, rushed for 226 yards on 29 carries, caught five passes for 103 yards and scored three TDs as the Crusaders beat Evansville 34-21.
Virginia's Ronde Barber, a freshman cornerback, made seven tackles, including two for losses, and intercepted two passes in a 34-10 victory over No. 15 North Carolina.
Wideout Josh Nelsen of Mankato (Minn.) State caught six passes for 220 yards and three TDs, and returned a kickoff for another TD, in a 41-28 defeat of Northern Colorado in Division II.