Call to glory

Wisconsin's QB Russell Wilson could set a record for season passing efficiency. AP Photo/Andy Manis

This story appears in the Nov. 28, 2011,"One Day, One Game" issue of ESPN The Magazine.


Hawaii's Colt Brennan set this record in 2006 with a 186.0 rating. Three gunslingers were on pace to break it through
Week 11 this season: Wisconsin's Russell Wilson (201.58), Houston's Case Keenum (193.35) and Baylor's Robert Griffin III (188.58). Wilson's line is particularly shocking. In his three years at NC State, his highest season passing efficiency rating was 147.8, in 2009. "One reason he's been so efficient is that the Badgers are also so good at running it," ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer says. (Wisconsin ranks 10th in the FBS with 250 rushing yards per game.) Griffin III benefits from a running attack too -- his own. The QB has five runs of 20-plus yards, which opens up big-play passes, his specialty. "He's been so accurate when throwing it deep down the field," Palmer says. As for Keenum? Well, we'll get to his theatrics in a second.


Through Week 11, Boston College junior Luke Kuechly leads the nation in tackles (168) and tackles per game (16.8). That put the Eagles All-America on pace to snap the single-season record of 193 (Texas Tech's Lawrence Flugence in 2002) at Miami on Nov. 25. And with 509 career tackles, he could also break the FBS career record of 545, set by Northwestern's Tim McGarigle from 2002 to 2005. "I don't really know how close I am," Kuechly says of the records. "After each game, they'll tell me how many tackles I had, but I don't go check."


Brennan holds this record too: 70.4 percent from 2005 to '07. Boise State senior Kellen Moore (69.33 percent through Week 11) and Keenum (69.78 percent) are staring him down. Palmer is blown away by Moore's completion rate, given the complexity of the Broncos' high-octane offense. "He's having to complete a lot of difficult throws," Palmer says. Not that Keenum has it much easier. He's averaging
38 throws a game, a pace that would sink almost any other quarterback's accuracy. But according to Palmer, there's a reason the sixth-year senior has completed more than 80 percent of his passes in four games this season while never dipping below 60 percent in any one: He is such a smart decision maker in the pocket. For Keenum, breaking this record or the one for season passing efficiency would be just another benchmark to call his own. Keenum has already set the FBS standard for career touchdown passes (144 and counting), TD passes in a game (nine, against Rice on Oct. 27), career total offense (more than 18,000 yards) and total career passing yards (17,537). "I try not to pay attention to any of that," Keenum says of his gaudy results. When a reporter tells him he should call these stats "the numbers that shall not be named," he laughs. "Yeah. The numbers that shall not be named. I like that." The statistic he doesn't mind repeating? The wins. The Cougars' 10–0 record through Week 11 was their best start in school history.


South Florida had allowed an astonishing negative-two yards on punt returns through Week 11, four yards ahead of Miami's 1989 single-season record. "Our guys have been doing a superb job at getting downfield as fast as possible," says Bulls special-teams coordinator Vernon Hargreaves. "So the returner really has nothing else to do but fair catch it." That happens nearly every time. Only six of Justin Brockhaus-Kann's 43 punts have been returned, for an average of -0.3 yards. Of course, all it takes is one modest return for the Bulls to fall off the pace. Northern Illinois (zero yards) and Louisville (two yards) also could catch the Canes.

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