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Photo: ECU SID
O'BRIEN'S HARRIS POLL BALLOT
For the second year in a row, Denny O'Brien is a member
for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll,
commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien
was nominated to the panel by Conference USA.
Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings, which
also take into account the USA Today Coaches Poll and an average of six
computer service rankings. The
updated BCS Standings,
as released weekly by the National Football Foundation,
are posted on Bonesville.net each Monday morning.
this week's ballot as submitted by
O'Brien on Sunday to Harris Interactive:
5 West Virginia
9 Arizona State
10 Boston College
13 Southern Cal
17 Virginia Tech
18 Boise State
25 Wake Forest
Complete BCS Standings
OK, ‘fess up. After last
year, you convinced yourself that Chris Johnson was destined for the
slot, a role that on good days might produce a half-dozen catches and 85
If not, you were in the
minority. Because his struggles with consistency at running back had
many — including me — sending C.J. on a deep route to the receiving
corps where East Carolina lost two of its primary playmakers and its
most consistent possession receiver.
It certainly made sense.
Johnson had fallen short of the textbook definition of the position, at
times looking more like a three-year experiment than a true feature
back. He struggled between the tackles, wasn’t the best cutback runner
on the planet, and he had a tendency to run squarely into the defensive
line for no gain.
At no point during his
first three seasons did Johnson indicate his ability to carry a hefty
workload. He even lost his starting job last season to Brandon
Fractious, eventually finding himself lost in the mix at receiver down
So what’s the difference?
How has Johnson suddenly gone from a speedster who plays football to a
true football player who possesses breakaway speed?
Part of that answer rests
squarely on the shoulders of Johnson. His determination during the
spring to reclaim his position started with his commitment to find
comfort between the tackles.
Where he once avoided
contact, Johnson now seems to invite it. That was certainly the case
during a run against Memphis on Saturday in which he broke two tackles
at the line of scrimmage, reversed field and scampered 28 yards.
It was a play that somehow
got lost in the shuffle of runs that included 70, 50, 44, and 16-yard
scores. But during his 301-yard ransacking of the Memphis defense, it
was the most telling moment in Johnson’s metamorphosis as a runner.
The better kept secret to
Johnson’s success lies directly on the broader shoulders of the most
underappreciated group on ECU’s roster. The offensive line has steadily
improved throughout the season, and this former patchwork unit has
developed into a steadying force.
“The running backs and
quarterbacks running the ball did a great job once they got into that
second level of turning and making one miss,” Pirates coach Skip Holtz
said after the Memphis game. “We were the recipient of a bunch of big
plays because our backs did a great job of making that one safety miss.
“I think the real
difference is the job that (Steve) Shankweiler has done with that
offensive line. What that offensive line did today was they got them
through to the second level. Once they got there, they can make some
things happen in space.”
The line certainly created
plenty of that against Memphis. Many of the holes Johnson was awarded
were big enough to juxtapose five ample-sized running backs, perhaps
with room to spare.
And unlike previous seasons, Johnson doesn’t moonwalk when opposing
defenses are parted. He now hits the hole with a fury.
“This is the first year
that we’ve really felt comfortable enough to put the quarterback under
center, put the tailback into the I (formation) where you have a chance
to hand the ball to a guy like Chris Johnson,” Holtz said. “There at the
very end, we turn and cut that one back all the way against the grain.
“That’s one of the
benefits of being way back there in the I (formation). You get a chance
to see everything unfold. He’s really becoming a weapon for us and doing
some great things.”
Doing them often, too.
After Saturday’s touchdown
tour of Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadiums, Johnson has a cool 18 on the
year (13 rushing, 4 receiving, 1 kickoff return). And with each TD, he
keeps climbing ECU’s all-time scoring chart, passing players far-less
scrutinized during their careers.
Sometime next week, he
almost assuredly will reach another milestone, topping the 1,000-yard
mark. Later, he should find himself a spot somewhere on the
All-Conference team and in strong contention for the league’s offensive
If neither occurs, someone
hasn’t been paying attention.
I sure have. And right
now, C.J. has my vote as the league’s top offensive star. Betcha he gets
the nod from Tommy West, too.