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Hilton, Heismans & Sun Belt Media Days, Part II

Up from a brief tryptophan nap following two platefuls of the wife's turkey marsala, still unsure what I wrote down as the name of the Marcus Valle jam the Sushi-Samba DJ laid out a few Saturdays ago, here's a few things from Day 2 of a videoconference/teleconference virtual tour of Sun Belt football.

Oh, wait, not yet. For now, let's put aside all those optomistic coaches and players declaring he and his teammates just are hunkering down, working hard, not paying attention to anything anybody says, becoming a family, blah, blah, bland. Let's focus on a piece of shamelessly quixotic promotion: FIU's Hilton4Heisman campaign on Twitter and Facebook, surely coming to a t-shirt near you.

Unless T.Y. Hilton has a Barry Sanders 1988 season -- Sanders, who had run for about 800 yards his first two years at Oklahoma State behind Thurman Thomas, exploded for 2,628 rushing yards, 3,249 all-purpose yards and 39 touchdowns -- Hilton has about as much shot at the Heisman as I do at Wednesday's Lotto. Or, as Uncle Junior said when the FBI told him they wanted him to flip against Tony, "I want to (spend time with) Angie Dickinson. Let's see who gets lucky first."

But it's still about "Look at what we can do!" at FIU and in the Sun Belt, so why not start a grass roots online Heisman campaign that quickly drew several Twitter followers among media who don't cover/talk FIU reguarly? Why not show some dreamy recruit, hey, this isn't an automatic bid BCS conference, but the NFL finds guys everywhere and if you tear it up here, we'll put you out there for the college hardware? Besides, the star system left Hollywood in the 1950s, but it's alive and well in professional and college-affiliated sports. All Hilton has to do is live up to some of the hype to feed more hype and it all works for FIU.

(By the way, bringing up Sanders 1988 Heisman makes me recall a moment from ESPN's The Sports Reporters that shows how unheralded he was to some even during that phenomenal season. It was the day after Sanders had been awarded the Heisman. USC quarterbcak Rodney Peete and UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman had been contenders, but Sanders had won in a clear rout. In what's now called "Parting Shots," Jackie MacMullan, then of the Los Angeles Times, ripped the Sanders selection with: "Sally (Jenkins, another scribe), let's see if in 10 years, you're going to be able to tell me who won the Heisman the year Rodney Peete and Troy Aikman didn't." Jackie MacMullan's a truly great reporter and writer, so respected that Bird and Magic chose her to write their joint book a couple of years ago, but she had one of those regional bias moments that happens to everyone.)

As for FIU being unheralded last year, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said they might've been to some people, but not to him.

"I paid attention to them. I knew they were going to be good," Blakeney said. "I might've picked them to win last year. I picked them this year. They put a woodshedding on us up here (52-35) and that doesn't happen very much at our place."

He called it a "solid win, they won't ever forget and we won't ever forget." He also said, though, "we were in a state of disarray on defense. We weren't chemically together, whether it was coaching, playing, personnel, whatever." The following weeks, he said, one player quit, one player was kicked off the team and another player wasn't allowed to practice for a week. In the three-game stretch that saw the FIU game sandwiched between a win against North Texas and a loss to South Carolina, Troy gave up 156 points. They gave up 42 in the final two regular season wins and the bowl game, granted, against lesser competition overall.

Blakeney also opined that once the conference adds South Alabama, they need to figure out a way to get a conference championship game together. He believes that's a step toward the Sun Belt, one of the 11 BCS conferences, being one of the six that gets an automatic qualifier into a BCS bowl. It gives a definitive champion and the money could keep teams from having to be jobbers, taking the paid beatings such as FAU's early schedule of Florida, Michigan State and Auburn on the road.

FAU's Howard Schnellenberger admitted they took those games for the money, but also had hoped at some point to win a couple of those games to give a huge boost to your program and the conference. As he said, that's what the University of Miami had to do (most famously, upsetting Penn State in 1979) and what he had to do at Louisville. It hasn't happened yet at FAU, "because we had to come from a further distance away."

What's not so far away is the a.m. herding of the kittens, otherwise known as getting my daughter out of the house in the morning. Night-night.


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