We’ve seen a good amount of college football 2022 already. Seen a lot of good games. Seen a lot of good players.
Some even great.
So, without further ado, we dip into the Heisman hype – not so much with tentative tippy toes, but a confident walking stride right down the steps into the water … with a few words about the choice of the moment after five weeks of play:
Illinois running back Chase Brown.
Look, we get it. Quarterbacks Hendon Hooker and Jalon Daniels have taken Tennessee from mediocrity to the top 10 and Kansas from the scrap heap to the top 20, respectively, and deserve serious consideration – which they get right here. It’s just having seen all the legit, including them, and, frankly, non-legit, contenders, Brown, to this point, seems to be the best player.
He’s the No. 1 rusher in the country. He’s taken the Fighting Illini from laughingstock to a recognized favorite in the Big Ten West – both by people who hate Illinois and those who went all-in on Minnesota up until this past Saturday, when it lost to Purdue.
Look, reality is, the division is a crapshoot. Six of the seven teams in it have a 1-1 conference record. The Illini being in that non-exclusive group.
Thing is, Brown is the best player in the group, and, from what these eyes have seen, he’s the best player in the country.
Granted, full disclosure, these eyes have the same orange-and-blue tint to them that Brown’s do. Still, it’s hard to ignore how good this guy has been.
At a school that boasts arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport (Red Grange, a running back), the single-game record for TDs (Howard Griffith, a running back), and numerous first-round RBs, Brown is the only one who has ripped off five straight 100-yard rushing games – which he has done to open this season while posting a total of nation-leading 733 yards at 6.1 yards per pop.
He’s a power-packed 5-11, 205 pounds with superb slide-step skills, elite speed and the ability to pack a wallop running inside. Frankly, most of his long runs come on inside pops.
Illinois is a rock-solid 4-1 overall at this point and poised to join the ranked ranks. It could be 5-0, but somehow gifted a game to Indiana In spite of Brown’s season-high 199-yard effort on the ground.
This Saturday night will be a telling point for him and the Illini. Iowa comes to Champaign – the same Iowa that always seems to have the Illini’s number. Especially when things matter.
Right now, they do. Illinois is rising, seriously, under second-year HC Bret Bielema, with Brown leading the way.
A big game by Brown, along with an Illini win, would only serve to boost his Heisman campaign … and his team’s worthiness of the top 25 and Big Ten West favorite.
COACHING KILL SHOTS
It’s been a rough few weeks for HCs across the country. Firings have occurred right and left, some justified (Scott Frost, Nebraska; Karl Dorrell, Colorado; Geoff Collins, Georgia Tech), and at least one probably not (Paul Chryst, Wisconsin). Those who seem likely to join that lot are Auburn’s Bryan Harsin and West Virginia’s Neal Brown.
A couple of big names to keep in mind as possibles – if not this season, but in the near future: Texas A&M’s Jim Fisher and Oklahoma’s Brent Venables.
Not for nothing, but Fisher currently borders on laughingstock after his self-promoting with recruiting success, his name-calling with Nick Saban (remember that silliness?), and his team’s continued lackluster performance – especially on offense, Jimbo’s specialty – once it is game day.
Venables? Focusing on back-to-back losses to Kansas State and Texas Christian in the guy’s first season at helm in Norman, really, is a mistake. Venables’ genius as a defensive mind had been crumbling for a couple years as DC at Clemson despite having NFL talent across the board.
ON THE OTHER HAND
Kudos to UCLA’s Chip Kelly. Arguably the most despised HC in football, regardless of level, the Smug One finally seems to have regained his stride on the sideline. His Bruins are 5-0, and entertaining as hell, led by a killer triumvirate on offense in QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, RB Zach Charbonnet and WR Jake Bobo. DTR seems to be in his ninth season as UCLA’s field general, while Charbonnet (Michigan transfer) and Bobo (Duke transfer) ain’t exactly spring chickens, either.
One thing is for sure, though, they all can play – both at the Power-5 level and the next one.
In Friday’s telling 40-32 upset of fast-rising No. 15 Washington (4-0 entering the game), DTR racked 315 yards passing, 53 running and a total of 5 TDs, Charbonnet posted 122 yards rushing, 56 receiving and a TD, and Bobo had 142 yards and 2 TDs receiving.
They get another test this week when hosting No. 11 Utah.
RUNS IN THE FAMILY
If it seems the name Drake Maye sounds familiar anytime the North Carolina QB is mentioned during the highlights come on any of the multi-lettered sports networks every Saturday, it probably should. The redshirt freshman’s older brother, Luke, achieved folk-hero status while playing a key role in UNC’s run to a national title in basketball back in 2017 before turning into a standout player his final two seasons at Chapel Hill. Drake, frankly, already has far more star power, having tossed for almost 1,600 yards and a nation-leading 19 TDs in his first five games this season.
LEGIT OR NOT
No. 8 Tennessee. Travels to the SEC’s version of Death Valley, No. 25 Louisiana State.
No. 16 Brigham Young. Visits the best 2-2 in the country, Notre Dame.
No. 17 TCU. Visits No. 19 Kansas.
No. 18 UCLA. See above.
No. 19 Kansas. Hosts No. 17 TCU.
Florida State. Visits No. 14 N.C. State.
Illinois. Hosts its Boogie Man in Iowa.
Prolific Mississippi State QB Will Rogers. Goes against a heavy-pressure D from Arkansas, headlined by the nation’s top sack man, LB Drew Sanders, an Alabama transfer who has 6.5 after five games.
PETE ROZELLE DIVISION
The NFL’s Mr. Parity would love what’s going on in the Big Ten West right now. Seven teams … with six of them tied for first place, courtesy of identical 1-1 marks.
The deadbeat? Preseason division favorite Wisconsin, which canned Chryst after he started his eighth season 0-2 in the conference, including Saturday’s 34-10 embarrassment at home to Illinois and former Badgers HC Bielema, who is still despised in Madison for bolting town a decade for pastures he though would be greener – and were not – in Arkansas.