Asmussen: J Leman, Zooker and the Heisman Trophy

Asmussen: J Leman, Zooker and the Heisman Trophy

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Each week, college football beat writer Bob Asmussen breaks down the game he loves:


– Dear Florida State, let it go. Earlier in the week, the school foolishly continued its appeal of a penalty that really isn't one. The NCAA wants to strip Florida State sports of past victories, including 14 football victories for BOBBY BOWDEN. Given the alternatives – postseason/television bans – it sounds like a good deal to B.B. (that doesn't stand for Bobby Bowden).

Is Bowden's ego so huge that he cares about finishing first among all-time Division I coaches in wins? Hope not. And shouldn't this all be kind of moot given that St. John's (Minn.) coach JOHN GAGLIARDI has 461 wins and is still going strong? We're talking about fighting the NCAA for a record and isn't a record.

JOE PATERNO and Bowden aren't even competing for No. 2, which belongs to the late, great EDDIE ROBINSON.

So, Seminoles, call off the lawyers and get on with your football lives. The future is what matters, not the past. Unless, of course, you fail to learn from it.

– Good to hear Texas linebacker SERGIO KINDLE is on the road to recovery. Last week, he crashed his car into a building and suffered a concussion. Damages were almost $9,000.

What caused the accident? Apparently, Kindle was reading a text message. That's not what college coaches want to hear. Already, they fear players getting into fights, flunking out and being pulled over for drinking while driving. Now, they fear cell phones.

Don't think a college coach or 100 are against taking all gadgets and gizmos away from players during their careers. Kindle's accident gives them another reason to enact stricter rules.

– Here's hoping former Illinois linebacker BRIT MILLER gets another shot at the NFL. The Decatur native was released by Carolina on Tuesday, leaving the Panthers with one former Illini (linebacker J LEMAN) on the roster.

Miller got himself prepared for the draft, then found the right fit when his name wasn't called. Leman said Miller was adapting well to the pro game. But the numbers caught up to him when the Panthers needed the roster space for drafted players.

Miller's story shows you how difficult it can be for an undrafted player to make it in the NFL. There are plenty of Illinois examples of guys who stuck with it and made it on the second or third try. Miller seems like the type of guy who won't give up easily.

When his playing days end, Miller will have an easy time moving into his next career. He is a natural for television work and did a yearlong Big Ten Network audition last season as the star of "Illinois Football: The Journey."


When in doubt, blame it on the Zooker.

"I guess they have to blame it on somebody," Ron Zook says and laughs. "So why not me? As Coach [Steve] Spurrier used to tell me, 'I'm cheap and available.' "

Zook, now the head football coach at the University of Illinois, was fired at UF five years ago. Imagine his surprise the other day when he turned on ESPN and a reporter was partly blaming Zook for the multiple player arrests at UF under Coach Urban Meyer.

Zook's name indirectly got dragged into the conversation when state newspapers began adding up the number of arrests at UF and came up with an eye-opening 24 legal incidents involving Gator players in the last four seasons. When UF began getting peppered with questions by reporters, the school responded by dispersing information pointing out that more than half of the legal issues (14 of 24) came from players Meyer "did not recruit or were in his first recruiting class)."

"The same guys that won the national title (in 2006)," says Zook, who recruited 21 of the 22 starters on UF's 2006 national title team.

How fitting, right? Meyer gets credit for winning a national title with Zook's players and Zook gets blamed for clogging the criminal justice system with Meyer's players.

The fact is nobody should be held responsible for Meyer's players getting arrested except for Meyer himself. And, frankly, I don't really even blame him. I blame you, I blame me, I blame UF President Bernie Machen. I blame everybody who reveres winning and reviles losing.

Machen said recently Meyer should be paid more money than any coach in college football. Why? Because he's the best coach in the sport and has won two national titles in the last three years, that's why. Does anybody really believe Machen would actually dock Meyer's pay for recruiting a few miscreants?

And does anybody believe fans at Florida State and Miami wouldn't trade a few arrests for Meyer's national titles? Coach Bobby Bowden at FSU has only had 13 arrests in four years. Coach Randy Shannon at Miami has only had 2. Both of those coaches are on the hot seat because they don't win like Meyer wins.

And one reason Meyer wins is because – like the other top programs in college football – UF takes chances on kids with questionable character. One of Florida's main rivals, Tennessee, just signed a player who was once convicted in juvenile court of rape. The team UF beat for the national title last season, Oklahoma, just signed a player who allegedly held an ex-girlfriend against her will, put a screwdriver to her neck, threatened to kill her and pleaded guilty to multiple crimes involving the incident.

Football coaches like to talk about winning with good character, but they know, too, they have to recruit some bad characters. And we're not just talking about kids with legal issues; we're talking about kids with issues – period.

The Gators won the 2006 national title mainly with defense, and perhaps the most dominant player on that team was defensive tackle Marcus Thomas, who broke multiple team rules before finally being booted off the team late in the season. The Gators won the 2009 national title mainly with offense and perhaps the most talented offensive player was Percy Harvin, who was suspended from competition during his senior season in high school because of anger issues.

Harvin managed to somehow stay out trouble and remain eligible at Florida, but when he recently decided to turn pro he immediately failed an NFL drug test. Presumably, those tests were easier to pass at UF (or did he have a tutor take them for him?)

Are all of Florida's arrests over the last four years serious crimes? Not at all. There is the usual array of alcohol-related collegiate antics. But there are also nine felonies. That's unfathomable, especially for a coach who came to Florida and bragged that UF would recruit "only the top 1 percent of the top 1 percent." Who knew Meyer was talking about the top 1 percent of America's Most Wanted.

And now we know why Tim Tebow is so skillful when he goes to prisons and preaches to inmates during the offseason. He gets plenty of practice – in UF's own huddle.

Sorry, but these are the types of jokes and jabs UF's program will start to endure if Meyer's players keep getting in trouble with the law.

The statute of limitations has run out on Ron Zook.

– Mike Bianchi, Orlando Sentinel


– ANDY GALLIK and his family had already bought the plane tickets. So, they weren't going to skip all of the trip to Minneapolis. Just the part that included a visit to the Minnesota campus.

The Chicago Brother Rice offensive lineman gave a commitment to Illinois earlier in the week, picking the Illini over Minnesota and Boston College. He had planned a trip to check out TIM BREWSTER's program, but called it off.

So, instead of touring TCF Bank Stadium with Brewster, Gallik and his family went fishing and to the Mall of America. He told the Minnesota coaches he wouldn't be visiting and making his commitment call to RON ZOOK.

"I didn't want to waste their time," Gallik said. "They understood."

Gallik grew up rooting for Illinois. His favorite former Illini is current New York Giants lineman DAVID DIEHL, a former Brother Rice player who has become a millionaire in the NFL.

Brother Rice coach STEVE NYE said Gallik has the same work ethic that helped Diehl become a star.

The reaction to his college choice has been positive, Gallik said. He was flooded with messages and phone calls.

"It's been unbelievable," Gallik said. "I'm really glad I'm going to Illinois."

– One guy (NATHAN SCHEELHAASE) is already on campus. Another (DEXTER McDONALD) has made a commitment. And there could be a whole bunch more Kansas City (Mo.) Rockhurst players on the way.

"The best is yet to come, to be honest with you," Rockhurst coach TONY SEVERINO said. "I've probably got six or seven D-I players in my sophomore and junior classes. Nathan will be Illinois' best recruiter if everything goes right for him, especially around here. These young kids just idolized him."

Defensive back McDonald picked Illinois over Missouri and Kansas. In 2010, he will join quarterback Scheelhaase, who is entering his freshman season with the Illini.

McDonald said he would have considered Illinois with or without Scheelhaase on campus. Having his friend already in place is a bonus.

"We're real close friends," McDonald said.

McDonald is new to football, waiting until his junior year to join Severino's team.

"His best football is still way ahead of him," Severino said. "He's getting better by the day."

An early, "no pressure" offer from Illinois appealed to McDonald. A visit with his family helped seal the deal.

"Six hours, to my mom, that was a little far to her," McDonald said. "She really wanted to go down there and see it and see if it was as good as I said it was. Same for my father. Once they saw it, they were both pretty happy about it. They liked it as much as I did."

Playing at Rockhurst will be good preparation for Illinois, McDonald said.

"Coach Sev took me from where I was and he was patient with me," McDonald said. "He took the time to help me and show me the ropes."

– Former Illini J LEMAN thinks the Illini might have found the perfect spot for MARTEZ WILSON. And he's plenty familiar with middle linebacker responsibilities in RON ZOOK's defense.

"I think it's going to be a good move for the team," said Leman, who is competing for a spot with the Carolina Panthers. "He's probably the physically most gifted linebacker we've had in a while. I don't think you're going to get any argument to that. But physically gifted doesn't always translate immediately on the field. These first two years, he's grown up a lot on the weak side. And this year, he's going to be ready."

– Former Illini defensive lineman D'ANGELO MCCRAY is academic ineligible at Eastern Illinois and won't likely be with the team in 2009. McCray transferred to the Charleston school before the 2008 season and played against the Illini at Memorial Stadium.

– Former Iowa quarterback and New-Gazette All-State Player of the Year JAKE CHRISTENSEN could end up at Eastern Illinois. Christensen is completing his course work at Iowa and will need a waiver to play with the Panthers in 2009. Christensen was ousted as the starter at Iowa by RICKY STANZI and decided to complete his eligibility elsewhere.

– Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin, a football power during the KEN LEONARD era, is sending another player off to college. Offensive lineman MARLANDEZ HARRIS has given a commitment to Indiana. He picked the Hoosiers over Louisville, Purdue and others.


It's never too early to start pushing players for the Heisman. Here is our list going into the 2009 season:

1. Sam Bradford Oklahoma The quarterback can become the second player to win consecutive awards. Which means he probably won't.

2. Tim Tebow Florida Don't know about his pro career, but he is one of the best college quarterbacks in history and can match Archie Griffin's trophy haul.

3. Colt McCoy Texas He was first on the B.B. ballot in 2008 and would have won the award had the Longhorns taken their rightful place in the Big 12 and BCS title games.

4. Jahvid Best California Check out all the star running backs the Bears have produced in the Jeff Tedford era. Best is the best.

5. Dez Bryant Oklahoma State Last year, he led the Big 12 in receiving and punt returns. Somewhere, Boone Pickens is smiling.

6. Zac Robinson Oklahoma State His biggest problem is that he has two teammates (Bryant, Kendall Hunter) who are also candidates.

7. Todd Reesing Kansas No quarterback has done more at his school and received less attention. His non-NFL size (5-foot-11) doesn't help.

8. Juice Williams Illinois He will become the Illini career total offense leader early in the season. If he gets the 4,000+ needed to take over the Big Ten lead, he's in the trophy hunt.

9. Terrelle Pryor Ohio State Realistically, he's a contender in 2010 as a junior. Unless he puts up 500 yards on Southern Cal.

10. Arrelious Benn Illinois It will take a 100-catch, 14-touchdown season to be in the discussion. And a few yards on returns won't hurt either.


45 ...

the margin of victory for 1985 Heisman winner BO JACKSON over runner-up CHUCK LONG, the closest in history ... until this year. With so many strong contenders, there is great potential for split ballots and an extremely tight finish. The second smallest margin was the 55-point edge 1935 winner Jay Berwanger had over Notre Dame's Monk Meyer. The winning margin has been under 100 points 11 times.

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