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Lion King

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - "Hakuna Matata" is certainly the mantra in Happy Valley these days. You can probably hear Joe Paterno humming the song aloud on the Penn State campus. What exactly does JoePa have to worry about? The reason for the relaxed atmosphere in Central Pennsylvania, is the amazing season that tailback Larry Johnson is having.

There has been a legion of great backs to wear the Penn State uniform. Names like Franco Harris, John Cappelletti, Curt Warner, Blair Thomas, Curtis Enis and Ki-Jana Carter, all had distinguished careers in the backfield for the Nittany Lions, but none have had the kind of season that Johnson is enjoying in 2002.

A part time player for his first three seasons at PSU, the 6-2, 222-pound senior has certainly made the most of his opportunity this year.

With 279 yards against Michigan State last weekend, Johnson became the ninth player in NCAA history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a single-season. Like the rest of the season, Johnson reached the mark in magnificent fashion, rolling up all 279 yards in the first half against Michigan State.

Larry Johnson
Larry Johnson has rushed for almost 1,400 yards in the last six games.
In 2002, Johnson has rushed for 2,015 yards on 251 attempts, an average of 8.0 yards per carry. He leads the nation in rushing at 167.9 yards per game,as a well as being the nation's all-purpose leader at 214.6 ypg. Johnson's 8.0 per carry is the best among the top 100 rushers in the nation and interestingly enough, better than the eight previous guys that have cracked 2,000 yards in a season.

Speaking of the mythical 2,000 yard mark and the rushers that accomplished the feat. Marcus Allen, Mike Rozier, Barry Sanders, Troy Davis (twice), Rashaan Salaam, Byron Hanspard, LaDainian Tomlinson and Ricky Williams all reached that mark. Of the eight previous players to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (a total of nine times), five have won the Heisman Trophy: Marcus Allen (1981), Mike Rozier (1983), Barry Sanders (1988), Rashaan Salaam (1994) and Ricky Williams (1998).

Will Johnson add his name to that distinguished list and win the Heisman Trophy?

If it were up to me, the answer would be an emphatic -- YES.

The Heisman is supposed to go to the best player in the nation in any given year. That player is clearly Larry Johnson.

However, we live in a world where the most deserving candidate doesn't always get his just desserts.

I liken it to the year Gino Torretta won the award (1992). San Diego State's Marshall Faulk had a far better season than Torretta and was clearly the top player in college football at the time. However, winning football games has something to do with it and Miami's signal-caller won the award.

Ironically, it could be a Miami quarterback that keeps Johnson from accepting the award in New York this season. The Hurricanes' Ken Dorsey does not have the eye-popping stats that a lot of quarterbacks have this season, but the one stat that cannot be overlooked is his record as a starter. Dorsey is 36-1 as a starter and hasn't lost a game in almost three seasons.

Larry Johnson
Johnson rushed for over 200 yards four times this season and averaged over 232 yards in his last six games.
Despite Johnson's mind-boggling performance this year, Penn State finished a distant fourth in the Big Ten. A fact that is not overlooked by the Heisman voters. Was it Johnson's fault that Penn State was not a player in the Big Ten? Certainly not. In fact, Johnson is the primary reason the team finished as high as it did. All he did over the last six games of the season was rush for an astounding 1,396 yards (9.4 ypc), averaging 232.7 yards per game.

Johnson didn't rack up the yards against marginal competition only, as his 8.8 yards per carry in-conference is the highest average since 1939 (the first year the league started keeping conference records).

The Nittany Lions have had some truly great tailbacks in their time and Larry Johnson has made his case to be mentioned with them.

Right now, he is the top-dog, the nation's leading rusher, the king of the hill. No one has been able to knock him from that perch.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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