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November 29, 2006

Creative campaigning not new to Heisman race

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Last month's mail included a postcard that listed Ohio State's Heisman Trophy recipients. Surprisingly, it made no mention of current Buckeyes quarterback Troy Smith, whose name will likely appear on similar parcels in the future.

Not long afterward a postcard arrived from Rutgers noting the accomplishments of running back Ray Rice. A few days later, one arrived from Arkansas featuring the statistics of Razorbacks running back Darren McFadden. A few days after that, a package was delivered with a Boise, Idaho postmark and an Ian Johnson highlight DVD inside.

The mail box is inevitably more crowded this time of year as Sports Information Directors from college football programs around the country hype their players for the Heisman Trophy and other national awards.

Some are more creative than others.

Brigham Young University sent out ties during quarterback Ty Detmer's Heisman campaign in 1990 and Washington State mailed leafs to promote quarterback Ryan Leaf in '97.

Fortunately, perhaps, no SIDs tried that approach this year. Rutgers didn't send bags of rice. Northern Illinois didn't send any wolf figurines to promote running back Garrett Wolfe. One shudders to think what an enterprising marketer in Berkeley might have come up with to push Bears running back Marshawn Lynch.

John Bianco, the Sports Information Director at the University of Texas, said he was approached by a company that had the idea of producing and distributing dreadlocked wigs as a means of hyping Ricky Williams Heisman campaign in 1998.

He declined and opted instead to distribute postcards, which is status quo for the higher-profile universities.

But Bianco said the creative approach is beneficial for the smaller schools, even if they're candidate doesn't win the Heisman.

"If you think about it it's great for a small school because you're not just drawing attention to the player, but it's a golden opportunity for the school to get exposure," Bianco said.

Marshall seized that opportunity in 2002 when it distributed bobblehead dolls of quarterback Byron Leftwich.

"You get maximum exposure for the kid and the school," Bianco said. "The school is getting attention you can't put a price tag on. If a writer thinks the Byron Leftwich bobblehead doll is a cool idea, you might get a snippet in USA Today. That's $500,000 worth of advertising."

Memphis got more than that when SID Jennifer Rodrigues came up with the idea to send out model race cars with running back DeAngelo Williams' name and number 20 on them. She said that promotion was extremely successful even though Williams finished seventh in the 2005 Heisman voting.

The cars were written about in USA Today, other publications and were shown on ESPN. Also, it didn't cost the athletic department anything. About 3,500 were produced with 1,000 going to voters. The other 2,500 were sold to fans for $35 and eventually about $35,000 was raised for the Memphis scholarship fund.

"I feel it was very successful," Rodrigues said. "It was targeted mainly for the Heisman race and we sent it out to as many voters as we could track down. Obviously, my intent was also to get him on any All-American teams and on the Doak Walker award list. He was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, so that in itself was a success.

"We got a lot of publicity and TV time out of it. We had a Web site that showed a car and it was written about in USA Today in April and then a lot of publications wrote about them when the cars came out in July. We had two mentions prior to the football season. People were already talking about DeAngelo."

Williams had already been a two-time Conference USA Player of the Year, but because he was starring at a mid-major he was easily overlooked. The cars helped raise his profile.

Of course, they also raised some objections. Every good idea is usually accompanied by critics that don't like it.

"Some schools don't have to do things like that," Rodrigues said. "But at a school like Memphis we do. We're not on national TV 12 games a year.

"Some say, 'Oklahoma didn't do anything like that for Adrian Peterson.' But the year before they played for the national championship."

And if you can't play for a national championship, perhaps the next best thing is making national news.

Trivia question
Who preceded Joe Paterno as Penn State head coach? (Answer at the end of the column.)

BCS possibilities
A berth in one of the five postseason games that make up Bowl Championship Series is still a possibility for 16 college football teams.

Ohio State and Southern California have clinched berths in the BCS. The Buckeyes are champions of the Big Ten Conference and the Trojans are at least the Pac-10 co-champion and hold the conference tie-breaker should it need to be applied.

The champions from the four other conferences which receive automatic spots in the BCS games have not been determined. The following is a list of teams still contending for their conferences' automatic berths in the BCS:

ACC: Georgia Tech, Wake Forest
Big East: Louisville, Rutgers, West Virginia
Big 12: Nebraska, Oklahoma
SEC: Arkansas, Florida

In addition to those eleven teams previously identified, the pool of teams remaining under consideration includes (in alphabetical order): Auburn, Boise State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame

Quick hits
Although slowed by turf toe and a high ankle sprain, West Virginia quarterback Pat White has vowed to play Saturday against Rutgers. However, coach Rich Rodriguez isn't completely convinced and could start redshirt freshman Jarrett Brown.

USC's Pete Carroll was voted the Pac-10 Conference coach of the year. The Trojans won a record fifth consecutive conference championship this season.

Arizona State Athletic Director Lisa Love said she'd prefer to hire a head coach or assistant coach with experience in BCS games or NFL playoffs to replace fired Dirk Koetter. She will also need to raise almost $3 million to pay Koetter's buyout. USC coach Pete Carroll contacted Love and recommended his assistant head coach, Steve Sarkisian.

UCLA players acknowledged being annoyed by projections that USC will face Ohio State for the national championship. USC still has to beat UCLA to get in the championship game. However, the Bruins have lost seven consecutive games to their rival.

Georgia Tech and Wake Forest will play Saturday for the ACC championship because they were the best teams in their divisions. It also didn't hurt that they played among the weakest conference schedules. Both teams' conference opponents had a combined record of 26-30, which was the third easiest in the ACC.

Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson is doubtful to play in Saturday's Big 12 championship game against Nebraska, but it might not matter. The Sooners have averaged 205.7 yards rushing in the six games in which Peterson has been sidelined with a broken collarbone. OU averaged 171.7 yards in six games with Peterson in the lineup.

Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom has fired strength and conditioning coach Jim Nowell, and Croom has suggested he may make other changes on his coaching staff.

A crowd estimated at 2,500 greeted new Iowa State coach Gene Chizik at Hilton Coliseum. Chizik received a six-year deal worth $6.75 million with incentives that could increase to $10 million.

A group of Tulsa boosters have started a Keep Kragthorpe Campaign with hopes of enticing coach Steve Kragthorpe to remain with the Golden Hurricane. Kragthorpe, who has said he intends to remain at Tulsa, has been named as a candidate for several high-profile coaching positions.

Central Florida coach George O'Leary has fired secondary coach Miles Aldridge and defensive line coach Peter McCarty and plans to reassign defensive coordinator Lance Thompson after the Knights finished the season ranked 106th in total defense.

Trivia answer
Rip Engle, who was 104-48-4 at Penn State from 1950-1965

Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com.




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