Big man on campus

The Applebee's waitress didn't believe Northern Illinois junior running back Chad Spann led the nation in touchdowns when his teammates told her.

"She laughed," Spann said. "She asked, 'Really?'"

Northern Illinois running backs coach Rob Reeves responded similarly.

"To be honest, I didn't even know he led the nation in scoring," Reeves said.

Whether anyone believes or realizes it, Spann does share the lead for most touchdowns in Division I football with his five scores in two games.

It is unexpected, though.

Spann isn't an emerging running back, like Pittsburgh freshman Dion Lewis, who has five touchdowns. He isn't a future NFL draft pick, like Cincinnati's Marshwan Gilyard, who also has five touchdowns. Up until this year, Spann had scored a total of eight touchdowns through 23 games. He has only 57 rushing yards on 17 carries this season.

In reality, Spann has been in the right place at the right time. He and sophomore Me'co Brown share carries for the Huskies, and it happened to be Spann's turn to carry the ball on four of his five touchdowns. He would be a fantasy owner's dream.

"With what we do, we want to keep both those guys fresh," Reeves said. "It worked out that Me'co started the drives, and Chad finished them."

Spann, the bigger of the two backs, also does have a knack for punching in touchdowns in the red zone. Against Wisconsin, he scored on runs of 1 and 2 yards. Last week, he added two touchdown runs from 3 and 7 yards out. His fifth score came on a 20-yard reception.

"I think he runs hard," Reeves said. "He's got a great burst. When he sees that hole, he can burst into it. He's a little thicker, stronger back."

Spann also has a determination about him in those situations.

"I like to think when we get to the red zone, if they call on me, I'm going to get in there," said Spann, who graduated and was friends with basketball star Eric Gordon at North Central High School in Indianapolis. "The key, I guess, is just run hard. Don't settle for anything. You have to get across that line."

Spann now takes his touchdown mark into Purdue on Saturday. While he isn't against adding to his tally, it isn't going to be his focus.

"I'm going to do whatever the team needs me to do," Spann said. "If it's scoring three touchdowns, I'll do it. I don't come out here to score touchdowns. We're trying to get wins out here. If the accolades come with it, then that's what it is.

"It's definitely fun. It's definitely cool that my name's getting out there a little bit."

As long as people believe him.

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.