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Thursday, October 20, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers

To put it quite simply, Bush is the best Pac-10 player ever

Seattle Times colleges reporter

Dear fellow Heisman Trophy voters,

I know it's early. We've hardly even had a chance to bicker over BCS standings. The first coach hasn't been pink-slipped yet.

But it isn't too soon to start thinking about what you're going to do when that Heisman ballot hits the mail in mid-November.

Simply put, fellas, ladies, we've got to get this one right. Our credibility is riding on it. If we don't have Reggie Bush at the top of the list, then the Heisman means about as much as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without Elvis.

Saturday, USC comes to Seattle as part of its 2005 coronation tour. It's like Jordan coming with the Bulls or the Rolling Stones due in town. For the fans suffering the recent doldrums of Washington football, it's an event.

That owes significantly to Bush, who is just the most electrifying player in the land. For sheer goose-bump factor, he's as good as it gets.

So we can't screw this one up.

Bush is one of those guys who can't be measured by numbers, but even the boiler plate on him is arresting. He has produced touchdowns five different ways in his three seasons at USC. He, not quarterback Matt Leinart, was voted team MVP a year ago.

He's had 76 plays at USC that gained 20 yards or more. He's first in the nation in all-purpose running at 206.2 yards a game. He's the first Trojan in 16 years to have five 100-plus yards rushing games consecutively. His average run in 2005 is 8.8 yards, so when you give him the ball, suddenly it's second-and-one.

His career rushing average is 6.9 yards, much better than other Trojans notables: Charles White (5.4), Marcus Allen (5.2) and O.J. Simpson (5.1).

Of course, what Bush does can't be quantified in a calculator. He freezes linebackers, dekes safeties and renders cornerbacks irrelevant. He's a Ferrari on a two-lane mountain road.

Asked recently how he assesses Bush's play this year, Arizona State coach Dirk Koetter said, "It looks like he has two capes instead of one."

At Notre Dame the other day, he dodged a linebacker with position and then left cornerback Ambrose Wooden clutching air as he hurdled him on the way to a long touchdown, first of his three scores. Setting up another touchdown by LenDale White, he took the ball at the 10, turned the other corner, Mike Richardson, into a statue, and burrowed for 7 yards.

At Oregon a few weeks ago, Bush had half a dozen plays that stole your breath away, hip-snapping, field-reversing runs that made defenders into little boys, trying to capture autumn leaves spiraling down from trees.

Still, the Heisman is no slam dunk for Bush, even as he was the best player on the field at Notre Dame. In the Rocky Mountain News' long-standing Heisman straw ballot of 10 voters across the nation, only this week did Bush overtake his quarterback, Leinart. As long as USC stays undefeated, Leinart's telling lunge across the goal line at South Bend will be replayed again and again. He's tied for second in that poll with Vince Young of Texas.

Last year, Bush finished only fifth in the Heisman voting won by Leinart. You get the sense he's still somewhat under-appreciated outside the West, and maybe that's understandable. You almost have to see him in person to believe him.

For what it's worth, I've watched Pac-10 football for three decades-plus — granted, a good bit of it was spent wondering how backs could trip over yard lines — but I haven't seen anything to top Bush.

Napoleon Kaufman of Washington was devilishly fast and deceptively strong, but he wasn't Bush. I saw Washington State's Rueben Mayes put an NCAA-record 357 rushing yards on Oregon, a week after he had five touchdowns at Stanford. As fast and instinctive as he was, he didn't drop jaws like Bush. I never completely bought into USC's Marcus Allen — as an NFL Hall of Famer, he showed me the error of my ways — but he glided, he didn't break ankles.

Probably the best all-purpose player in the history of the Pac-10 was Stanford's Darrin Nelson (1977-81), fourth on the career rushing list and fifth in receptions. For a relatively small guy, he was durable and productive, but he didn't have Bush's lateral quickness.

This is what could happen: Bush leaves for the NFL after this season, and the Heisman will have been won by Andre Ware and Gino Torretta and Danny Wuerffel and Eric Crouch, but not Reggie Bush.

And you think he makes defenders look stupid?

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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