Monday, October 8, 2007
A Tale of Two Mendenhalls
My what a difference a year makes. At this time last year the Fighting Illini were 2-4 and fresh off a bad loss to Indiana. A year later the Illini are 5-1 and are ranked #18 by the Associated Press. By now I'm sure any Illini fan has read all the statistics and seen every "the last time the Illini did this was..." they can handle so I'm going to try to go a different route. Obviously Ron Zook has done a great job recruiting and a lot of the credit Zook gets should fall to the Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach Mike Locksley. Locksley is the reason that Vontae Davis and Rejus Benn are at Illinois and I'm sure he's had a lot of influence over other key recruits such as Martez Wilson and Josh Brent.
One key current Illini player that neither Locksley nor Zook recruited is running back Rashard Mendenhall. The junior from Skokie, IL was actually recruited by former Illinois Head Coach Ron Turner. Mendenhall was actually part of a package deal that included his older brother, backup fullback Walter Mendenhall. Walter Mendenhall wasn't a very coveted recruit by any means and Turner actually offered him the scholarship with the real intention of eventually signing Rashard. Well, it worked. Rashard followed his brother to Champaign and what a great job he has done since taking over the starting job this year.
So without further adue I am going to officially declare that I believe that Rashard Mendenhall should be considered for nomination of college football's highest honor: the Heisman Trophy.
The top five candidates for the Heisman Trophy according to most people look like this:
1. Andre Woodson, QB, Kentucky
2. Matt Ryan, QB, Boston College
3. Darren McFadden, RB, Arkansas
4. DeSean Jackson, WR, California
5. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Without comparing Mendenhall to any of the QB's or the lone WR I matched his numbers against the two running backs that are currently being considered for the Heisman - McFadden and Hart. Lets look at the numbers of those two and include Mendenhall's as well. Prepare to start agreeing with me.
Let's take an individual look at rushing attempts, rushing yards, receptions, and reception touchdowns:
Hart 179 ATT 976YDS 10 TDS 6 REC 36 YDS 0 TDS
McFadden 130 ATT 799YDS 7 TDS 7 REC 56 YDS 0 TDS
Mendenhall 114 ATT 772YDS 10 TDS 18 REC 173 YDS 2 TDS
Starting to see the light? Mendenhall also leads both McFadden and Hart in yards-per-carry at 9.6 by over three yards (Hart: 5.5, McFadden: 6.0). Illinois is also the #1 rushing offense in the Big Ten thanks to Mendenahall and quarterback Juice Williams. The evidence is there in the numbers and they point to Mendenhall as a serious candidate for consideration. The key for Mendenhall to keep the hype train going is for him to keep running. As long as the Illini stick to their currrent plan of working the spread offense and running the ball in different ways out of different formations, their record, and Mendenhall's Heisman status, should only continue to improve.