Benson's Heisman hopes hit by a flashy red model

By Lorne Chan
Special to the Star-Telegram

AUSTIN - The Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back, could be waiting in Dallas for Cedric Benson.

He's leading the nation in rushing yards with 1,297 yards and just became the 10th player in NCAA history to gain 5,000 career rushing yards.

The biggest factor might be that this award isn't open to freshmen.

Benson is on pace for one of the best seasons in Big 12 history, but all the hype is heading Oklahoma freshman Adrian Peterson's way. Because of Peterson, Benson might be overlooked for the biggest individual award, the Heisman Trophy.

Peterson is the biggest star in college football at the moment, and Benson, the only player with more rushing yards this season, knows.

"I'm not on the cover of Sports Illustrated," Benson said.

The lack of Heisman hype around Benson may be for a lack of flash. There are no runs worthy of ESPN's SportsCenter, like Peterson's 80-yard touchdown last week. In fact, Benson's longest run in conference play this season is for 23 yards. With a power-running game, Benson's yards come in increments of 4 and 6.

"Cedric's not real flashy, he doesn't break a ton of really long runs," Texas tight end David Thomas said. "He breaks defenses down, just pounds and pounds for 4 yards and 6 yards, then he ends up with 160 yards."

Benson has outgained Peterson by 25 yards and outgained Peterson all but two weeks this season. Last week Peterson rushed for 249 yards against Oklahoma State and Benson ran for 141 against Colorado. In Oklahoma's 12-0 win over Texas, Peterson outrushed Benson 225-92.

On five other Saturdays when Texas and Oklahoma both played, it was Benson who had more rushing yards. He averages 162 yards per game to Peterson's 159.

"I don't think you can say enough about the way Cedric has played this year; he's really carried the team," Thomas said.

With Texas' passing offense ranked 110th of 117 Division I-A schools, there is little to divert defenses from Benson.

Unlike Peterson, Benson does not have a former Heisman winner taking the snaps (Jason White) or an All-America receiver (Mark Clayton) lining up in the slot position. But he is gaining yards the hard way. More than half of his yards (56 percent) have come after contact.

Benson's play also benefits the Longhorns in other areas. He was the lead blocker on a Vince Young touchdown run against Colorado, and his running helps keep opposing offenses off the field.

"[Benson's] been a great defense for us this year," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "We've been averaging over 32 minutes of possession, and if our offense continues to stay on the field, it really helps us."

But for Heisman voters to take notice, Benson needs a big game against Oklahoma State on Saturday. It will be nationally televised on TBS, and the Cowboys are fresh off being run over by Peterson.

In three career games against Oklahoma State, Benson is averaging 142.7 yards per game with one touchdown.

"We're going to try to tackle better," Oklahoma State coach Les Miles said. "We bounced off Adrian at times, and certainly he's a very talented back, very much like Cedric."

The Dec. 11 Heisman ceremony is creeping closer, and the Benson campaign might pick up more steam as he moves up all-time rushing lists.

Benson ranks 10th on the career rushing list with 5,003 yards, and will likely pass Herschel Walker and Archie Griffin, among others, as he needs 595 yards in the next four games to end his career in fourth place.

Six of the previous nine players who reached the 5,000-yard mark won the Heisman.

"When you look up and his name is next to Tony Dorsett, Archie Griffin and Herschel Walker," Brown said. "He's starting to surpass some of those names and a lot of those guys won the Heisman, so he deserves to be in New York in December."

Cedric Benson

Opponent Rush. Yds. Avg. TD

North Texas 15 181 12.1 2
Arkansas 29 188 6.5 1
Rice 20 189 9.5 1
Baylor 34 188 5.5 3
Oklahoma 23 92 4.0 0
Missouri 28 150 5.4 2
Texas Tech 38 168 4.4 1
Colorado 32 141 4.4 2
Totals 219 1,297 5.9 12

Adrian Peterson

Opponent Rush. Yds. Avg. TD

Bowling Green 16 100 6.3 1
Houston 25 117 4.7 2
Oregon 24 183 7.6 2
Texas Tech 22 146 6.6 1
Texas 32 225 7.0 0
Kansas State 36 130 3.6 0
Kansas 22 122 5.6 1
Oklahoma St. 33 249 7.6 1
Totals 210 1,272 6.1 8