College football top 25 overview

Kiper: Top 25 senior prospects (Nov. 7)

Mel Kiper Archive

Tuesday, March 8

Williams leaves Ducks all wet

The "College GameDay on ESPN Radio" crew was in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday for the Washington-Oregon game at Autzen Stadium. And while the rain was pouring, Reggie Williams was pouring it on against a completely overmatched and banged-up Ducks secondary, leading Washington to a 42-14 victory.

Reggie Williams
Reggie Williams has caught 77 passes for 1,221 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2002.
The Huskies' gifted receiver was uncoverable and spectacular, catching 14 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. At 6-foot-3½, 215 pounds, Williams has all the physical skills. A sophomore, Williams should someday be a high first-round draft pick and every bit the player Michigan WR Charles Rogers was perceived to be going into this season.

Although Washington and Oregon had to play in deplorable conditions, the wet ball didn't hinder Williams or Huskies quarterback Cody Pickett, who had a career day: 26-of-37 passing for 316 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions. Their ability to throw and catch during heavy rain was a credit to their skills.

My GameDay co-host, Dave Revsine, told me he heard Penn State running back Larry Johnson talk in a press conference about how I had him rated as a mid-round draft pick and how that motivated him. Against Wisconsin on Saturday, he ran wild, rushing for 327 yards and four scores.

At the beginning of the season, I had Johnson rated as either a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent. But he has been climbing ever since. Now I have him rated as a second-round prospect who is still on the rise.

Among senior running backs, Johnson is pushing Virginia Tech's Lee Suggs as the No. 1 back. But if other draft-eligible players were added to the mix, he would be somewhere behind third-year sophomore Willis McGahee and two juniors, Oregon's Onterrio Smith and Colorado's Chris Brown.

At 6-1 and 223 pounds, Johnson has an Eddie George-like running style. While he lacks elusiveness and is a bit upright, he runs hard, shows quickness and has breakaway ability. On Saturday, he outraced the Indiana defensive backs to paydirt. He can also block and catch the ball out of the backfield.

Last year the Nittany Lions' running game was nonexistent, and Johnson gained only 358 yards. In my preview back in August, I said Johnson needed 1,200 yards or more for Penn State's offense to succeed. Now, Johnson has 1,736 yards. With a huge day against Michigan State in Happy Valley on Saturday, he will be pushing 2,000 yards. That's an amazing turnaround, one that has given QB Zach Mills and the passing offense the kind of balance the Lions' offense has needed.

You have to love Johnson and the fact he's determined to be a high draft choice. If he keeps playing the same way, turns in great all-star game performances and has a strong individual workout, Johnson could be a first- or second-round pick on draft day in April.

Al Groh has done a great job with a young team at Virginia. Although he's starting 10 freshmen and sophomores, the Cavaliers are now 7-4 after their win over N.C. State on Saturday.

Sophomore running back Marquis Weeks had a big game, with 129 yards on 19 carries. Quarterback Matt Schaub, a 6-4, 225-pound junior, was 14-of-26 for 149 yards and two touchdowns. One of the TD passes went to sophomore WR Ottowa Anderson. Freshman Marques Hagans is a bit of a changeup at QB because he can run the option and scramble. He also helps in the return game.

The Cavaliers began the season on Aug. 22, yet they are still playing excellent football. Usually, a young team will wear down. But it's a tribute to Groh and his staff that the Cavs are showing no signs of tiring on offense or defense. To start the season, they battled Colorado State to the whistle and since then have beaten Clemson, South Carolina and now N.C. State along the way.

Virginia will end up playing 13 regular-season games plus a bowl game. The Cavaliers still have to host 9-2 Maryland on Saturday and then play at Virginia Tech on Nov. 30. At worst, they will go to a bowl with a 7-6 record, which would amount to a great season for Groh and his young team.

The Cavaliers feature one of the most gifted freshman defensive players I've seen in a long time, outside linebacker Darryl Blackstock. He has star power written all over him and leads the team in sacks (nine), tackles for loss (11) and quarterback hurries (18).

Blackstock, who played last season at Fork Union Academy in Virginia, flies around the field and has great quickness, speed and athleticism. With his extraordinary potential, the 6-4, 226-pounder has a chance to be as good as it gets as a standup DE/OLB.

I continue to trumpet the cause of Kentucky senior running back Artose Pinner, who has the ability not only to star in the SEC but also to be a solid second-round pick in the 2003 NFL draft.

The Wildcats have successfully transitioned from a finesse, run-and-shoot team under Hal Mumme to a balanced, physical team under Morriss.

Pinner had a huge game Saturday in Kentucky's 41-31 win over Vanderbilt. He rushed for 229 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries and caught four passes for 24 yards. Pinner is the nation's 10th leading rusher (1,363 yards, 13 touchdowns) and the Wildcats' third-leading receiver.

After the win over Vanderbilt, we had Kentucky coach Guy Morriss on GameDay, and he raved about Pinner. He said NFL scouts are drooling over him. With Pinner leading the way, Kentucky bounced back from the heartbreaking loss to LSU (on that 75-yard Hail Mary TD pass) to improve its record to 7-4.

Morriss has done one of the nation's best coaching jobs. The Wildcats have successfully transitioned from a finesse, run-and-shoot team under Hal Mumme to a balanced, physical team under Morriss.

Pinner, not hefty junior quarterback Jared Lorenzen, is stealing the spotlight. In addition, the Wildcats have Derek Abney, who set an NCAA record with his sixth kick return for a touchdown -- two on kickoffs and four on punts. And talented defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson leads the Kentucky defense.

Although the Wildcats would be exciting to watch in a bowl game, they are banned from bowl participation. It's a shame, because college fans would love to see Kentucky play during the holidays.

Like Kentucky, the two other teams banned from the postseason are also bowl-caliber -- Alabama and California. Morriss, Alabama coach Dennis Franchione and Cal coach Jeff Tedford deserve a lot of credit for keeping their teams focused and playing every game like it was a bowl game. Cal has appealed to the NCAA and should know its bowl fate before playing Stanford.

Franchione won when he coached at New Mexico and at TCU and is now doing an outstanding job at Alabama. The Crimson Tide's great season continued Saturday with a 31-0 rout of LSU at night in Baton Rouge, La., one of the toughest settings for a road team in college football.

Alabama ran over LSU in the trenches. Led by Shaud Williams (131 yards) and Santonio Beard (109), the Tide rushed for more than 300 yards, while LSU's leading rusher was quarterback Marcus Randall with 54 yards.

Senior quarterback Tyler Watts is Alabama's main offensive focal point this season, but the Tide also has one of the nation's gifted, young passing quarterbacks in freshman Brodie Croyle. With Croyle under center, Alabama is well-equipped for next season.

This season, only 12 points separate the Tide from an unbeaten season. Alabama lost by 10 to Oklahoma in Norman and by two at home to Georgia. Otherwise, the Tide dominated Ole Miss at home and Arkansas, Tennessee and now LSU on the road. This week they host Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl.

Although the Tide can't go to a bowl game, they will still be rewarded for a great season. Alabama finishes its season at Hawaii on Nov. 30. Without a bowl, The Tide couldn't have asked for a better situation than a trip to Hawaii to play an 8-2 Rainbow Warrior squad.

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