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November 7, 2007
McFadden makes statement with huge day
There were no premonitions. No signs. No omens.
He didn't dream it, didn't predict it and didn't expect it.
In fact, the only reason to believe Arkansas tailback Darren McFadden would have a record-tying rushing performance last week was that … well, he's Darren McFadden.
"I told myself before the game that I feel good, but there was nothing that would make me feel like I'd have 300 yards," McFadden said.
McFadden actually rushed for 321 yards to tie an SEC single-game mark in a 48-36 victory over South Carolina. He and teammate Felix Jones, who rushed for 166 yards, combined for 487 rushing yards to set an NCAA tandem record. In the process, McFadden re-emerged to join Oregon's Dennis Dixon and Florida's Tim Tebow as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, a status that maybe he never should have lost in the first place.
South Carolina seemed defenseless against McFadden, who had nine carries of at least 12 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown run.
"I couldn't believe it," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said of McFadden's performance. "It just blew my mind. I knew he had a lot (of yards), especially after the 80-yard run. I thought maybe he was over 200.
"If I was a fan and sitting in the stands, I might have been willing to buy another ticket on the way out. That's how good (McFadden's performance) was. When you go back and watch the film, it was unbelievable."
That effort further established McFadden as the Southeastern Conference's most dazzling runner since Auburn's Bo Jackson in the mid-'80s.
Coincidentally, Jackson was the last SEC running back to win the Heisman Trophy. McFadden, last year's runner-up to Ohio State's Troy Smith, was projected to be the next. But when he was held to 43 yards by Auburn, then limited to 61 yards (albeit with four touchdowns) against winless Florida International, his Heisman campaign seemingly was derailed - which puzzled Nutt.
"I was bewildered when I hear experts talking about the Heisman Trophy top three or top four and he wasn't mentioned," Nutt said. "I've been around Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas (at Oklahoma State), and Barry was a Heisman winner.
"Darren McFadden is the best player in the country if you take what he does for our team: blocking, throwing, running, catching, kick returning. No one does all those things. There was a reason he got flown to New York last year when he finished second. There's no way (he shouldn't be a leading contender). Something is wrong. I don't understand that."
Though Nutt is incredulous, McFadden seems unconcerned.
"For me, that's something I'm not concerned with," he said of the Heisman race. "My focus is on trying to get my team to come together."
The Razorbacks (6-3) may be coming together. A 9-7 setback to Auburn on Oct. 13 is their only loss in their past six games, although the overall competition wasn't too difficult. But Arkansas closes the regular season with games against Tennessee, Mississippi State and LSU.
McFadden, who has 1,314 yards, will have an excellent shot at becoming Arkansas' first Heisman recipient if the can close with three strong performance and raise his rushing total to 1,800 or so yards.
Last week's performance may be a sign that he will.
McFadden equaled the SEC single-game rushing record with 321 yards against South Carolina. Who shares that record? (Answer at the end of the column.)
Connor-ing the market
Penn State All-Americans Jack Ham, Greg Buttle, Andre Collins, Shane Conlan, LeVar Arrington and Paul Posluszny head the Lions' legendary list of linebackers.
So taking that alumni into consideration, Dan Connor's accomplishment of setting Penn State's career tackles mark is even more impressive.
Connor had 11 tackles in last week's victory over Purdue to boost his career total to 379. He passed Posluszny, who had 372 career stops.
"Setting it on 'Senior Day' was big," Connor said after the game. "It's the last (home) game, and it's a great way to go out."
Last week against Baylor, Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell set several passing records and milestones.
Harrell was 37 of 46 for 433 yards and three touchdowns in the Red Raiders' 38-7 victory. In doing, so he set a school record for most career 400-yard passing games with 10. Kliff Kingsbury and B.J. Symons each had nine.
Harrell also surpassed 4,000 yards for the second consecutive season to join BYU's Ty Detmer, Marshall's Byron Leftwich and Hawaii's Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan as the only players in Division I-A history to do that.
Vanderbilt's Frank Mordica rushed for 321 yards in a 41-27 victory over Air Force in 1978.
Olin Buchanan is a Heisman trophy voter and the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.