While the foundation has been built on stellar performances over the past two season, it's Bennett's numbers from the first game of this season, as well as where they rank nationally, that make him stand out. In case you've forgotten (or didn't see the game against Richmond), here they are again, along with where he stands against others in the country.
Receptions: 13 (3rd best in Div. 1-A)
Receiving Yards: 223 (2nd most in Div. 1-A, team record)
Touchdowns: 3 (Tied for best in Div. 1-A)
Total Yards, including returns: 285 (Most in Div. 1-A among non-quarterbacks)
That's right – Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett is sitting at or near the top of all of those lists, and right now it's one of the best-kept secrets in the country. Most of the nation might blow those numbers off at first glance, citing that it was against a weak opponent; that the season is still early. While I can agree with both points, the exact same things can be said about any other player currently touted as a Heisman frontrunner.
But why even bring it up? Why should I even bother beating this into the ground? Shouldn't the numbers speak for themselves?
They do. The problem is that no one has heard them. Heisman candidacy is all about hype – it's why athletic directors campaign for it, it's why university media relations department hand out signs to be shown in stadiums at nationally-televised games ("Deuce for Heisman") – it's why some desperate souls alter the pronunciation of their own names (Joe Theismann, anyone?). Most of the hype is aimed at big-name programs, which makes sense – the media controls the hype, and guides it mostly to players from school with larger fan bases, bringing them better ratings. That's not to say that talented players from these school don't deserve Heisman credit, just that players that happen to play at other schools rarely get the credit that they deserve.
The Alabama game this week will help folks get to know Bennett, especially if he can steal the national spotlight against a much-ballyhooed Saban defense. If that happens, though, he will still have to overcome the fact that he doesn't have "USC" or "Ohio State" somewhere on his jersey. He can do it with his play, even if he only produces half as well as he did Saturday night. The rest is up to the Nashville media, Vanderbilt media relations and Commodore fans, making sure that everyone knows what we've been seeing for the past two years, that they know just what he can do on the field – that they know that Earl Bennett has played himself into the race for the Heisman.
Earl Bennett drags a Georgia Dog. (VM/Stan Jones)