There is a player, the second ranked rusher in the NCAA last year, that almost never gets mentioned in eithe rthe top 3 RBs in the nation or the Heisman race. Despite unbelievable numbers last season, he comes into this season again under the radar. I am talking, of course, of the 5'9", 200 lbs., RB out of Rutgers, #27, Ray Rice.
Last season, I can understand. I mean, he wasn't even the leading Heisman candidate on his own team (that would go to RB turned FB Brian Leonard.) Rutgers was a Cinderella, and up-and-comer that came a 3 OT loss to West Virginia away from a BCS bowl. But this year? Unforgivable.
Check out these stats: 1,795 yards, (2nd in the nation, behind Garrett Wolfe, N. Illinois) 20 TDs (also 2nd in the nation, behind Ian Johnson, Boise State) 5.4 ypc.
- Darren McFadden, Arkansas: 1647 yards, 14 TDs
- Steve Slaton, West Virginia: 1444 yards, 16 TDs
- Mike Hart, Michigan: 1562 yards, 14 TDs
Rice has better numbers than all three, but for some reason is always put behind them as far as Heisman race and top running backs. On SI's Top 20 College Running Backs photo gallery, Rice is 4th, behind Hart, Slaton, and McFadden. On espn.com, Rice is ranked 9th on their Heisman watch list, behind all three of those players plus Johnson (the only player in the country with better numbers than Rice).
Why is Rice so lightly regarded? Many people still regard the Big East as a lightweight, and that might be true. For one thing, why, then, is Slaton so often rated ahead of Rice. They played nearly the identical schedule, and Rice came out with better numbers. Yet Slaton is regarded as the better back. As for the other two, I can see and at least partially agree with strength of schedule arguement. However, the disparity is not so much that Rice should be written of so quickly.
Why will Rice be headed to New York this year? A couple reasons. Slaton has another 1000 yard rusher in his own backfield : QB Pat White. That will definetly cut into his numbers, as it did last year. McFadden is in the same boat, with backup Felix Jones. He will lose carries, yards, and touchdowns to the speedy Jones. Hart needs to add another 200 yards and 5 TDs to touch Rice's numbers, which in the difficult Big Ten will be hard. Rice, meanwhile, has an improved passing game at Rutgers, which will prevent defenses from stacking the line against him. Look for him to shoot for 2000 yards and 25 TDs this year.
Perhaps it is as simple as mid-major bias. People simply don't believe Rutgers is the real deal, more of a one-season flameout. With a mastermind as Schiano at the helm, Rutgers will be here for a long time, and Rice will be coming to an NFL backfield near you.