Prolific players shine outside of public spotlight

David Crenshaw, The Assoicated Press

AP

David Crenshaw, The Assoicated Press

By Ralph D. Russo

By RALPH D. RUSSO

The Associated Press

A fifth-year senior in his first season as a starter. A back-up quarterback moonlighting as wide receiver. A running back who spent last season splitting carries.

The players leading the country in passing, receptions and yards rushing and receiving after the first month of the season aren’t the most hyped names in college football. But you should get to know them:

The Veteran

Like a teen hoping for a chance to get behind of the wheel of Dad’s souped-up sports car, David Johnson has been patiently waiting for his turn to run Tulsa’s supercharged offense.

Paul Smith was the Golden Hurricane’s starter the past three seasons and he did such a good job (10,936 yards and 83 TD passes for his career) that Johnson was relegated to mostly holding a clipboard and mop-up snaps. Johnson threw 63 passes in his first three seasons, only eight last year.

The fifth-year senior finally has the keys to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn’s scoring machine and has shown he’s well-prepared for the job. His nation-leading efficiency rating is 227.2, nearly 20 points higher than second-ranked Colt McCoy of Texas. Johnson’s 1,505 passing yards have him tied for second in the nation and his 19 touchdown passes are tied for first.

Tulsa, which went 10-4 and played in the Conference USA title game last year under coach Todd Graham, is 4-0 heading into Saturday’s game against Rice. With Johnson leading the way, the Golden Hurricane could be a dark horse to give C-USA its first BCS appearance.

The Switch

Before the 2007 season, Kerry Meier and Todd Reesing competed to be the starting quarterback for Kansas.

Reesing won that competition, went on to become a Heisman Trophy contender and led the Jayhawks to 12-1 record and Orange Bowl victory.

As for Meier, he went from passer to pass catcher. Along with working as the back-up to Reesing, Meier made 26 catches for 274 yards and two scores last season.

This season, with the No. 16 Jayhawks (3-1) looking to replace NFL draft-pick Marcus Henry at receiver, Meier has become Reesing’s go-to-guy through four games. He’s caught 37 passes for 389 yards, an average of 9.3 catches per game that leads the nation.

And Meier, who started at quarterback as a redshirt freshman in ’06, is still Reesing’s main back-up.

“It’s really unbelievable what he does on the field, because of the amount of time he spends working with the wideouts isn’t much at all,” Reesing told The Hutchinson News. “His work at wideout is limited, so for him to go out there and make the plays he does, game after game, is unbelievable.”

The Workhorse

Donald Brown had a breakout season for Connecticut in 2006, coming on strong as a redshirt freshman to run for 673 yards in the final five games.

A strange thing happened to Brown in 2007. Instead of becoming a big star in the Big East, he was left splitting carries with Andre Dixon as the Huskies went 9-4 and grabbed a share of the conference title. Brown finished with 821 yards rushing and eight touchdowns – numbers he’s already surpassed in ’08.

While helping No. 24 UConn start 5-0, Brown has run for 906 yards, tops in the nation along with his 181-yard average per game and 11 touchdowns.

“His vision is very good and he’s done a good job of understanding things in front of him better than he has in other years,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “He’s done a good job of setting things up for the offensive linemen as well.”

The 5-foot-10, 210-pound back isn’t sharing the ball these days. With 146 carries, second in the nation, he’s accounted for 61 percent of UConn’s rushes. Quarterback Tyler Lorenzen is second with 40.

And with Lorenzen out for at least six weeks with a broken foot, the Huskies are likely to keep Brown just as busy the rest of the way.