Opening the mailbag: Revisiting James vs. Rodgers

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Addicted to Quack from Eugene, Ore., writes: Mr. Ted Bundy, don't you think it's time to write a (rather lengthy) column on how much better LaMichael James is than Jacquizz "Not a Heisman trophy Candidate" Rodgers. There is no possible way, like you did all last year and preseason, that you could still defend your stance that Jacquizz is a better player. Right?

Ted Miller: If I were ranking the top-25 players in the Pac-10 today, yes, I'd rank James No. 1 in the Pac-10. I'd probably put Rodgers No. 3 behind Andrew Luck.

James is having a statistically spectacular season for the nation's best offense. He's a leading Heisman Trophy candidate for a good reason. And he plays for the nation's No. 1 team.

Last year, however, he was mostly a fast guy who did a good job of running fast through huge holes (that's a paraphrase of an opposing coach, by the way, who liked James but said that when I asked him to compare James and Rodgers). This year, James has shown better instincts, less stutter-step and a more physical style -- he probably broke more tackles against Tennessee, Stanford, UCLA and USC than he did all of last year.

His numbers are better than Rodgers' numbers, no doubt.

But, first, give me an honest answer to a couple of questions: 1. How would you rate Oregon's offensive line compared to Oregon State's? 2. How would you rate James' supporting cast compared to Rodgers'?

Further, name the Oregon running backs who didn't thrive in Chip Kelly's spread-option system? Jeremiah Johnson averaged 7.1 yards per carry in 2008. That's what James is averaging right now.

Then there's the HUGE difference in competition level each has faced thus far: Rodgers, in seven games, has faced six run defenses ranked in the nation's top-53, including No. 2 Boise State, No. 6 Arizona, No. 9 TCU and No. 15 Arizona State.

James had 94 yards at Arizona State, the only team to hold him under 100 yards. Rodgers rushed for 145 yards against the Sun Devils.

The Sun Devils are the only top-25 run defense James has faced. He's played against No. 40 Stanford, No. 59 USC, No. 83 Tennessee, No. 108 UCLA and No. 119 Washington State. And an FCS school, Portland State.

Just saying.

Rodgers had a fairly mediocre game -- numbers-wise -- at Arizona, a game I covered: 83 yards and a TD on 25 carries. I'd estimate about half came after contact. What I remember is thinking: The dude does it all on his own. And he is a really, really good running back -- cutting and twisting and driving for every yard. He also caught three passes for 41 yards and did an outstanding job blocking for QB Ryan Katz, who had a huge day.

In fact, if we sitting in a room with all 10 Pac-10 coaches -- and some NFL scouts -- there would be number who would prefer Rodgers. Not a majority mind you. But some. (Yes, to be honest, I'd tap James for my team. He's. Just. So. Explosive!).

Rodgers is still a better receiver, though that aspect of his game has been curiously underused this year. And he's a better blocker. James, by the way, has improved in both areas, in large part because he's in his second year as a starter and maturing as a player.

You may have read what UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said about Rodgers this week: “He’s the perfect running back from the standpoint that he’s a great weapon out of the backfield as a pass catcher. He’s a great pass protector … He's elusive as a running back, with the great vision in the zone schemes that they run … He's also very powerful and very difficult to bring down. And he's durable. I don’t know that he's even had a fumble this year [he hasn't]. It’s hard to find any flaw with Jacquizz Rodgers.”

So, as great as James has been this year, don't think he's left Rodgers in the dust, as he has most defenses. Educated, neutral observers don't share that take.

Something James and Rodgers do share: Both are superstars who are team-first guys. Both are humble and understated. Both represent their teams well. And both seem to have no interest in this debate.

At the beginning of the year, Rodgers was 1A and James 1B. Their spots, in my mind, are now reversed.

But Rodgers is still a really, really good back.

So there's your rather lengthy column. Hope you liked it.

Josh from Salt Lake City writes: If Oregon wins out and plays in the NC game against a 1 loss SEC team, Utah and Boise also win out, would the rose bowl prefer to take the Utes as their non-AQ school with the obvious PAC-10/PAC-12 tie ins?

Ted Miller: Interesting question. But it has an uninteresting answer.

From the BCS bowl selection procedure page that I, it seems, review once a day: "If two or more teams from those [non-AQ conferences] satisfy the provisions for an automatic berth, then the team with the highest finish in the final BCS Standings will receive the automatic berth, and the remaining team or teams will be considered for at-large selection if it meets the criteria."

So unless Utah jumps Boise State in the BCS standings, then the Rose Bowl would tap Boise State in your national championship game scenario.

Jarrod from Happy Valley, Ore., writes: Do you think LaMichael James really has a chance to win Heisman? I mean I know he is good and all, but since the west coast doesn't get much respect do you think that if Oregon wins the National Championship that James will win the Heisman trophy?

Ted Miller: Yes. And his chances might be better today than they were yesterday, because Auburn QB Can Newton is part of an investigation that isn't about how good he is on the field. (Cue Perry Mason music).

The West Coast, by the way, does fine in the Heisman Trophy -- see Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush, who all won, and Toby Gerhart finished second in 2009.

And the award is given out before the national title game, though voters will know if the James and the Ducks will play in the title game.

Ric from Seattle writes: Ah C'mon Ted, you should've linked the Bud Withers piece in the Times. For those of us long-suffering Duck fans, it tells the real story of the unbreakable bond between the Ducks and their fans. Unless you've sat thru a 0-0 tie in a rivalry game, you really can't appreciate how far this program has come, nor what true fan love really is.

Ted Miller: OK, here you go.

Withers is always a good read, whether you're a Ducks fan or not.

Kevin from Pullman writes: Did you ever make a top restaurant list for WSU? I know that was a long time ago but I swear I never saw one.

Ted Miller: Well, Kevin, you are just not obsessive enough of a Pac-10 blog patron!

Here's the Cougars list -- a good one, I might add.

And here's a handy link for all of the lists.

Wonder where I will end up Friday night?