LITTLE ROCK — Interacting with his radio show co-host while tracking down info on his laptop, David Bazzel did not hear the question about the heft of the classy looking trophy unveiled for the Bazzel-created Cliff Harris Award.
Asked again during a commercial break, he glanced at the trophy to his left and estimated 20 pounds. Then, the former Arkansas linebacker who knows a thing or two about weights, lifted the monument and bumped up his guess by five pounds. Whatever the trophy weighs, there will be some irony involved if the first winner is Henderson State University linebacker Keaton Stigger. After all, the Reddies’ have a long-running rivalry with Ouachita Baptist University and the award is named after former OBU defensive back Cliff Harris, a six-time Pro Bowl selection with the Dallas Cowboys, who was ignored by major colleges and passed over in the NFL draft.
Stigger has made 50 solo tackles and helped on 70 others. A few linebackers in Division II have slightly better numbers, but Stigger’s contributions on offense will help his cause. Used exclusively in Henderson’s short-yardage package, Stigger has carried 28 times and scored 14 touchdowns, good enough to lead the Great American Conference in rushing TDs. Nine times, his carries have resulted in a first down. He’ll get another opportunity or two on Saturday when the Reddies play St. Cloud State in the Division II playoffs.
Hopefully, Stigger is immune to the plague of the so-so performance that often seems to accompany a mention in this column. Last Saturday, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron was infected.
In the column, the side-by-side numbers of Heisman Trophy contenders McCarron and Jameis Winston of Florida State were almost identical. Less than 24 hours later, McCarron, who had thrown three interceptions all year, had two passes intercepted by Mississippi State while Winston completed 19-of-21.
When Bazzel’s first brainstorming trophy was presented to Mickey Andrews of Florida State in 1996, I underestimated the shelf life and eventual stature of the Broyles Award. Now, the presentation to the top assistant coach in college football is part of an awards show on ESPN.
With Bazzel’s midas touch, the Cliff Harris Award will result in deserved recognition for small-college players.
The number of possible participants in the BCS title game is down to seven and two of the three from the Southeastern Conference would be one-loss longshots. This season, the SEC is probably the only conference with the reputation necessary to get a team with a blemish into the game in Pasadena. Even then, a 12-1 Alabama or Auburn or Missouri would have to be super-impressive in the league championship game in Atlanta to supplant an unbeaten Florida State, Ohio State, or Baylor.
Alabama is the favorite to win its fourth title in five years despite a season-ending game against Auburn which is 10-1 only because of a lucky bounce against Georgia. With a victory over in its in-state rival, Alabama would move on to Atlanta to face an 11-1 Missouri or a South Carolina that could be 10-2.
Both Florida State and Ohio State have an easier path to the championship. The Seminoles finish against 1-9 Idaho and 4-6 Florida before competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game, most likely opposite overachieving Duke.
The winner of 22 straight, impressive no matter the quality of competition, Ohio State completes its regular season against Indiana and Michigan — a combined 5-7 in the Big Ten. The top-ranked defense of once-beaten Michigan State has attracted national attention and a victory over the Spartans in the league championship game would enhance the Buckeyes’ stature.
There is growing support for unbeaten Baylor, but I will avoid that train because of doubts about defense in a league in which the Bears have scored 342 points in six conference games.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter: @harrykingsports.