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The Fastest Players In College Football, 2011

It’s time for Heismanpundit’s annual list of the fastest players in college football.

Now, some of you are going to disagree with parts of this, most likely by quoting a hand-timed 40-yard dash that you read about on some fan site, or a track time that can’t be independently verified.  And I get that some pretty fast players may not make it here.

But I am basing this list upon hard data, meaning verifiable and relatively recent track times.  If a mark is in the distant past and the player’s body composition has changed markedly or an injury has occurred, I take that into account.   I compile the data and combine it with my knowledge of track and field (I am an aficionado of the sport) as well as my own observations of how these players move on the gridiron, plus other factors such as weight gain and abundance of available data.

This list recognizes that most of the 40-yard dash times reported out there are bogus, due not only to inaccurate and scurrilous timing methods (a strength coach’s thumb being the main arbiter most of the time), but also because they are run under widely disparate and unreported conditions that render them unreliable.

The list is not about anecdotal evidence, but quantifiable data that we can verify.  Track marks are generated under mostly uniform conditions (across a narrow range of parameters) with reliable timing instruments.  While it is true that some players without a track time might indeed be very fast on the football field, it is difficult to accurately measure their speed compared to players who do have such times. So those are the players we stick to on this list.

Also, some of you will question the relevance of these marks when it comes to football, as in “Why does it matter if a football player can run a fast 200 meters when a football field is 100 yards?”  The answer is that each track event provides us clues as to the overall speed potential of an athlete.  A certain 100-meter time relates to a certain 40-yard dash mark.  There’s basically no need to time a 10.60 or better sprinter in the 40–-you already know he’s fast, probably in the 4.4 to 4.5 range!  A good 200-meter time indicates an athlete’s ability to maintain his speed (and hence, go ‘downtown’ on the football field). When someone long jumps a certain distance, it is often because he possesses excellent foot speed.  And so on.  Remember: ‘Quick’ and ‘fast’ do not always go hand in hand.

But track marks help give us a more accurate measurement of true speed. We do take a few other factors into account to come up with what we think is an accurate list so it’s not just a matter of ranking players by best marks.  Oh, and most of these guys are pretty darn good football players, too.  Think track and football don’t mix?  Well, at HP they do.  So take another look.  Without further ado (and please, any additions are welcome if we overlook them), here is the list for 2011:

1. Jeff Demps, RB, Florida — The Gator running back leads this list for the fourth year in a row.  With Demps, we are essentially talking about the fastest legitimate player in the history of college football.  There might conceivably be one or two who were slightly faster on the track in college–Trindon Holliday comes to mind–but they didn’t come close to Demps’ production on the football field.  Demps has a career best of 10.01 in the 100 meters, which he ran as a senior in high school.  Since then, despite the rigors of football wearing on his body, he has cranked out a wind-legal best of 10.06 and a wind-aided 9.96, while winning the 2010 NCAA title in the 100m.  It makes you wonder what times he would’ve produced had he just focused on track.  As it is, no other previous NCAA 100m champ has come close to Demps career numbers on the gridiron: 1,901 rushing yards, 2,601 all purpose yards and 18 total touchdowns thus far. He has also run a 6.53 in the indoor 60-meter dash (winning the NCAA indoor crown in the process), a mark that proves his burst is second-to-none (any NFL scout who asks him to run a 40 yard dash next spring should be shot). Demps recently failed to defend his 100m crown, running just 10.40 in the semifinals at the NCAA track meet, but even the best sprinters have a bad race from time to time.  Without a doubt, no other football player–at any level–is faster than Jeff Demps.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.53; 100m — 10.01 (9.96w); 200m — 21.04

2. Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas — It was a tough task to decide who would be No. 2 behind Demps as a few players had a good case to make, but I had to go with Goodwin for the second-straight year.  The Texas receiver is another athletic phenom in the Demps mold who should be a huge name in track and field one day.  He won the NCAA long jump as a freshman and took fourth this year. To illustrate how the long jump can translate to overall speed (and vice versa), he ran just two 100-meter races this season but still cranked out a best of 10.42, implying that if he did more than dabble in the event his time would be much better.  But the most important item to support his elite speed is his best of 26-10 in the long jump.  A mark like that shows that he has the physical ability to crack the 10.1 mark in the 100m if he chose to do so.  Combine that with a 6.69 in the indoor 60m and you have a player with elite speed.   Goodwin caught 31 passes for 324 yards as a sophomore receiver last year.  I think Texas ought to take better advantage of that speed.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.69; 100m — 10.38; Long Jump — 26-10

3. Luther Ambrose, WR, Louisiana-Monroe — Ambrose was a close third to Goodwin and nearly won out due to the preponderance of the data available. The rising senior has career bests of 10.19 in the 100, 20.89 in the 200, 6.79 in the indoor 60 and he has even long jumped 25-2. He also finished third behind Demps in the NCAA 100m final in 2010. However, his most recent track season seemed to reveal a bit of wear and tear on the body due to football, so I gave the nod to Goodwin for second. Ambrose is an NFL prospect and one of the best receivers in the Sunbelt, too, as he caught 65 balls for 752 yards and six touchdowns last year.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.79; 100m — 10.19; 200m — 20.89; Long Jump — 25-2

4. T.J. Graham, WR, NC State — It was really difficult not to put Graham in third, but I went with Ambrose due to his significantly better 100, plus his long jump mark.  But Graham, a true speedster, had a fine track season, notching a season-best 10.37 at the ACC Championships.  He also ran a 6.62 to finish second at the ACC indoor meet, showing he’s really on his game speed-wise this year.  On the field, he caught 24 passes for 293 yards and four touchdowns as a junior for the Wolfpack and looks primed for a big senior season.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.62; 100m — 10.37; 200m — 20.79

5. Randall Carroll, WR, UCLA — Carroll ran a 10.30 as a high school senior and has kept his track skills relatively sharp for the Bruins, with a 100m best of 10.43 this past spring.  He also ran a 21.16 in the 200m into a slight wind, indicating he took his speed training seriously this year and is in very good shape.  He caught 15 passes for 242 yards and two scores for the Bruins as a sophomore.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.82; 100m — 10.30; 200m — 20.91

6. Miles Shuler-Foster, WR, Rutgers — One of the truisms to which I hold dear is that NFL rookies are generally faster than veterans and college freshmen are generally faster than upperclassmen.  It’s simply a matter of there being less wear and tear on the legs.  And so I have Rutgers incoming freshman receiver Miles Shuler-Foster in the number six spot thanks to the 10.39 he ran as a high school junior in Jersey, a cold weather state (something to take into account when determining potential speed).  He also added a 6.85 in the 60 and a 21.31 in the 200m.  He didn’t run much track as a senior, but I don’t dock him any since he is still maturing physically and would probably put up even better marks if he had ran more. Whatever the case, he has a dandy football highlight tape and I think he’ll be a really good player for the Scarlet Knights.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.85; 100m — 10.39; 200m — 21.31

7. Sheroid Evans, CB, Texas  — Evans is an incoming freshman defensive back for the Longhorns who has a best of 10.39 in the 100m as well as a 20.82 in the 200m, both run as juniors.  He also is a standout in the intermediate hurdles.  One of the better overall athletes on this list, which is why he’s slated to play cornerback for Texas.

Career Bests: 100m — 10.39; 200m — 20.82

8. Conroy Black, CB, Utah — Black was a reserve defensive back for the Utes last year, but he came to Utah with a track background at junior college that included a best of 10.30 in the 100m and 20.98 in the 200m.  His long layoff from track and his immersion in football-style training is what lowers him a couple notches on this list.  He had 19 tackles and an interception last season and is on track to start at corner in 2011.

Career Bests: 100m — 10.30; 200m — 20.98

9. Dallas Burroughs, WR, Boise State — Burroughs is one of the fastest players ever to come out of the state of Idaho.  He ran a 10.34 and 21.06 coming out of Rocky Mountain High in Meridian, Idaho.  He might be the fastest player ever to play for Boise State.  He’s an incoming freshman for the Broncos.

Career Bests: 100m — 10.34; 200m — 21.06

10. Damiere Byrd, CB, South Carolina — Another incoming freshman shows up on this list, as South Carolina has snagged a speedy one in Byrd.  He’s got a quick burst, with a best of 6.70 in the indoor 60 along with 10.41 in the 100m. His 21.80 200m does not point to superlative long speed on his part, most likely due to being short legged.  He looks like an excellent cornerback prospect to me.

Career Bests: 60m — 6.70; 100m — 10.41; 200m — 21.80

Honorable Mention: Skye Dawson, TCU; Bradley Sylve, Alabama; Denard Robinson, Michigan; George Farmer, USC; DJ Monroe, Texas; Travis Benjamin, Miami; Andre Debose, Florida; Hunter Furr, North Carolina; Devon Smith, Penn State; Mike Bellamy, Clemson; Sheldon Price, UCLA; LaMichael James, Oregon; Chris Rainey, Florida; Tyron Carrier, Houston; Robert Woods, USC; Quincy Mcduffie, UCF; Lamar Miller, Miami; Sam McGuffie, Rice; Marcus Wheaton, Oregon State

Note: If you feel I made any errors or omissions, please note it in the comments section with supporting evidence and I will take it into account and adjust the list accordingly!

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Barkley and the Heisman

The inclusion of USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley in the latest HeismanPundit.com Heisman Poll has created a bit of a stir among some West Coast media.

While talk of a Barkley boomlet is premature–after all, he’s just a true freshman–it is a harbinger of things to come.  Given his current career trajectory–and hype–he’s sure to be a much-talked-about candidate in 2010.

But it would take a special season for Barkley to crack the top five in 2009.  Thus far, he’s thrown for 1,338 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions.   That puts him on pace to have a respectable 2,940 passing yards by the time of the Heisman vote, but he’d need to go on a touchdown tear to really make an impact in the race.  He keeps getting better every week, so that’s not out of the realm of possibility.

However, I think a top 10 finish–rather than a serious challenge for the top spot–is a more reasonable assumption.  This would set him up as one of the front runners for 2010, depending on the status of some of the draft-eligible juniors.

If the race continues to muddle along and no dominant candidate emerges, he’ll get a healthy smattering of West Coast support, but that’s about it.


No Heisman for freshmen

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Q&A With Norm Chow

ncf_chow2_200UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow is one of the legendary coaches in Heisman history.

Chew on this factoid:  He’s the only coach to have tutored three Heisman-winning quarterbacks. 

His first Heisman winner was BYU’s Ty Detmer in 1990.  He eventually moved on to USC, where he helped Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart win Heismans in 2002 and 2004, respectively. 

Clearly, if anyone knows how to find and develop a Heisman-winning quarterback, it’s Chow.  But the list of his students who didn’t take home the trophy is equally impressive and includes such names as Jim McMahon (3rd in the Heisman vote in 1981), Steve Young (2nd in 1983), Robbie Bosco (3rd in 1985), Philip Rivers (7th in 2003) and Matt Cassel (current starter for the Kansas City Chiefs).  

We went out to UCLA practice on Tuesday to talk with Chow about his Heisman legacy while hoping to shed some light on the secret ingredient he looks for when trying to find a quarterback.

When you were recruiting Ty Detmer, what about his game jumped out at you?

In my mind, the key is always to look for the mental part of the game.  All the good players understand the game and are sharp and know the little nuances of the offense.  All that kind of stuff.  Ty was fabulous at it.    He wasn’t a strong-armed guy, but he was the son of a coach and so gosh-dang bright.  I told LaVell Edwards after Ty left “‘Hey, we have to start coaching again,” because Ty could do so much on his own. 

Was there a time during his development where you thought he could win a Heisman?

(laughing) I don’t know if you ever actually think about about winning a Heisman, but once he started playing we knew he was going to be a special.

Did you recruit Carson Palmer at all when you were at BYU? 

No.  We knew who he was, sure, but we never had a real shot at him.  But I remember the very first day that I met him at USC.   He was just a tremendously gifted player.  I think the common thread for all these guys is that they were great people besides being great players.  So Carson walked in with Matt Cassel and introduced himself and we’ve had a great relationship since then.  He had terrific skills and was so willing to do whatever was asked and it obviously worked out well.

The way he ended up his college career…is that exactly how you envisioned it when you got to USC?

No, there was a time in his junior year when we were just about ready to replace him.  But he kept fighting and kept battling.  He was just a victim of the circumstances.  He started as a freshman and had no idea what he was doing.  But it is what it is, and later on in our second year he understood the style and began to flourish. 

Do you remember the point where you thought that he had finally turned the corner as a quarterback?

Oh yeah.  There were a couple specific plays in Arizona that I remember and then when we came back home and he hit a post route and you could just see his chest come out and he never looked back.

What about Matt Leinart?  Compare his process to the others.

His situation was interesting because when he won the job it was going to be either him or Matt Cassel.  There were a lot of people who felt like Cassel should get the job.  Obviously the choice was not a difficult one because either one would’ve been fine.  But Leinart is another one of those smart guys.  I remember in practice he kind of used to laugh at the defensive guys and say “You’re not fooling me”, because he understood the offense so well. 

He had a great fall camp as a freshman and back then you said he was going to be an All-American one day…

…but then he hit the wall and almost wanted to go home.

So did you ever waver in your original belief that he’d be a great player?

Well, yeah.  It wasn’t easy because in that spring after Carson left, there was Cassel and Brandon Hance, who was also a good player, and then Leinart.   I remember trying to be fair and making the statement that in trying to be fair we weren’t being fair to anybody because we didn’t give anybody a chance to step up. 

Did you feel in your gut, then, that Leinart was the guy?  How did the choice come about?

No.  It was just hours of talking and arguing with Pete (Carroll) and discussing the situation and that’s how we arrived at it. 

What do you think would’ve happened if Cassel had gotten the nod?

I don’t know! (laughing).  I saw him in the Las Vegas Airport sitting down about a couple months ago and who woulda thunk he’d be where he is?  But it’s wonderful because he, too, is a terrific young guy and he never had the opportunity.  When I was at Tennessee, I had already worked out a deal with him.  He wasn’t going to get drafted–he didn’t have any film to show anybody, so we had already worked out a deal where he would come in as a free agent.  We were sitting there and someone walked in during the seventh round and said “Hey, the Patriots just took your guy”.  I said “What do you mean they took my guy?'” And he said the Patriots had seen something, obviously, and decided to go with him and the rest is history.  What a nice story.

So now you are back in college.  Do any of the guys you see now remind you of your past guys?

I think Kevin Prince has a terrific opportunity to be a good player.  He’s going to play four years, or three years, whatever it is.  But he’s only a freshman and will have to go through the growing pains as well. 

Does he have the building blocks you require to be a great quarterback?

Yes.  Yes.  He’s bright.  He’s a good guy.  He’s willing to work. 

How many times did you go to the Heisman ceremony?

All three times.  Oh yeah.  I told Kevin Prince that I’ll go once more (with him) and then I’ll retire. 

What was that first time with Detmer like?

Oh, it was exciting.  I didn’t even know how to put on the tuxedo they gave us.  It was great to see everybody.  The pomp that it’s all held with is fun.  After all the ceremonies, they have a pretty good time.  They block off the bar downstairs and everyone has a great time.  I liked seeing all the old Heisman winners.  I remember taking my program and walking around and getting them all to sign it.

Was there any guy you coached who you wished would’ve won the Heisman?

Probably Philip Rivers.  Again, because he’s such a great young man.

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