If the Trophy is predicated upon honoring not only the best player for his team but also the one who makes his squad significantly better, then Benson is a bonafide finalist, head coach Mack Brown believes.
"He's been the best offensive player for this team this year in the country," Brown said. "We were not a team that could throw the ball the first half of the season and he still made his yards. With the USC, Cal and Oklahoma teams, the quarterback and the tailback have been able to spread the ball around more than we were early. But the number of touchdowns he's scored and the number of records he's broken and the consistency that he's shown this year without a wide-open attack at least for five or six games I think is phenomenal."
Benson has rushed for 1,599 yards and 18 TDs this season. His 159.9 rushing ypg ranks second nationally while his 11.4 ppg ranks fourth. He has registered at least one TD in an NCAA record 36 games. He currently rnks sixth on the NCAA D-I all-time rushing list with 5,305 career yards.
"Our team is one of the best in the country and I think it's because of him on offense," Brown said. "If we could not have run the ball until we grew up with the passing game, we would not be 9-1. I think all our credit goes back to him."
If Benson duplicates his 2003 output against the Aggies (a career-best 283 yards), he would be just a stone's throw from becoming the No. 4 all-time rusher in NCAA history. Benson needs to average 147 yards per game during his final two contests to move into fourth place.
"When he came here, he was only compared to Earl Campbell and Ricky Wiliams and that was an impossible comparison," Brown said. "I even worried about it for him and, leaving, he;s going to be right in the middle of the group. He'll leave a legacy here very similar to those two guys. And I don't know that any of us thought that the day he got here. He has surpassed my expectations."
Williams has been impressed enough with Benson's performance this season (and has obvioulsy had more time to watch college football this season) that he issued this statement Tuesday: "I spoke with Coach Brown earlier this season and we talked about the good 'ol days, and how things were when I was there. He said he remembered how we won by putting the game on my shoulders. They decided to try it again. They are, in essence, using Cedric in the same way they used me and he's doing great things. A whole lot more is being asked of him this year than the previous three and not only has he stepped up to the challenge and done what Coach Brown has asked of him, he has exceeded it."
After failing to eclipse 100 yards in the 12-0 loss to OU, Benson fell out of the weekly Rocky Mountain News service that ranks the top five Heisman candidates. The service, which has correctly predicted the Heisman winner 11 of 13 years, currently has Benson listed at No. 4.
"There's no question that Ricky (Williams) performance on this day in this game sealed the Heisman if there was any question going into this week, and everybody said it was," Brown said. "Since (Friday's game) is national, and (Benson) is in the group of five that everybody's talking about, everybody will watch the game that's got a Heisman vote. I'm sure he'll be excited about that challenge."
NCAA CAREER RUSHING YARDS
NAME SCHOOL YEARS YARDS
1. Ron Dayne Wisconsin 1996-99 6,397
2. Ricky Williams Texas 1995-98 6,279
3. Tony Doresett Pitt 1973-76 6,082
4. Charles White USC 1976-79 5,598
5. Travis Prentice Miami, Ohio 1996-99 5,596
6. Cedric Benson Texas 2001-04 5,305
7. L. Tomlinson TCU 1997-00 5,263
8. Herschel Walker Georgia 1980-82 5,259
9. Archie Griffin Ohio State 1972-75 5,177
10. Darren Lewis Texas A&M 1987-90 5,012