Bowling Green's Josh Harris is his conference's biggest star—and a quarterback to be reckoned with
It's safe to say that Bowling Green, set in a blip of a burgh in northwest Ohio, was a little bowled over by the attention paid to its showdown last Saturday with No. 12 Northern Illinois. By Tuesday of game week, the school, which hadn't had a home sellout since 1983, was out of tickets. And despite a downpour on Saturday morning, more than 3,000 fans showed up to watch a live broadcast of ESPN College GameDay. The national attention would have cowed many small-school quarterbacks, but not senior Josh Harris. When asked in the postgame press conference whether he could have foreseen throwing for 438 yards in a 34-18 win over the Huskies, Harris didn't hesitate. "Yes, I did," he said. "That's why I came to Bowling Green."
The 6'3", 238-pound Harris is the brightest star in a burgeoning Mid-American Conference. But watching the multithreat quarterback tear up defenses—the Falcons upset Purdue earlier this season and narrowly lost to Ohio State—one wonders why Harris isn't on a Top 10 team himself. Harris was in fact recruited by several major-conference schools as an option quarterback at Westerville ( Ohio) North High, in a suburb of Columbus, in 1999. Problem was, Ohio State, Penn State and others wanted to use his speed and athleticism at cornerback, running back, anywhere, it seemed, but quarterback. Harris, who had a passion for passing, stood firm. "When the bigger schools didn't offer me a scholarship to play quarterback," he says, "I told myself, Fine, I'll go to the MAC and become the best quarterback ever to play at Bowling Green."
Harris is on his way to doing just that. After throwing for 2,425 yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior, he has 2,285 yards and 13 touchdowns in eight games this fall. Before Saturday's game Harris forced himself to view (and then review five times) the tape of last year's 26-17 loss to Northern Illinois. "With a year's experience, I knew what to look for," says Harris, who answered almost every blitz with a soaring toss over the top. By the end of the game, the quarterback whose arm was once not considered Big Ten-worthy had thrown scoring passes of 17, 31 and 55 yards. His 527 total yards were the highest single-game output in school history and the second-highest ever in the MAC. Said Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak, "What a great performance. He's not running as much as he did last year, but he's got the ball on crucial downs."
Harris might not be able to lead his team to a BCS bowl (the 17th-ranked Falcons are 7-1, but their strength of schedule is 89th) or earn a spot on the Heisman ballot. But he will graduate having made many coaches regret they overlooked both him and Bowling Green. "The effort by this team is unbelievable," said Harris after Saturday's victory. "I've been saying for a long time that this team was special, and we showed that today."
West Virginia's Quincy Wilson
A Bear Like His Father, Otis
West Virginia senior running back Quincy Wilson nearly cried when the home fans chanted his name in celebration of the Mountaineers' 28-7 win over No. 3 Virginia Tech on Oct. 22. But that roar of approval didn't compare with the praise Wilson received later that night in the quiet of his apartment, where he watched a tape of the game with his father, Otis, the former Chicago Bears linebacker (1980-87) who had cheered himself hoarse in Mountaineer Field hours before. "Boy," said Otis, "I don't know how I'd try to tackle you."
Future opponents are wondering the same thing. After serving as a backup behind Avon Cobourne, the Big East's alltime leading rusher, for two seasons and getting off to a disappointing start this year as West Virginia dropped four of its first five games, Wilson has established himself as one of the most dangerous ballcarriers in the nation. In a 22-20 loss to Miami on Oct. 2, he ran over one Hurricanes defender and vaulted over another to put West Virginia up 20-19 with 2:00 left in the game. Against Virginia Tech, Wilson carried 33 times for 178 yards and a touchdown. "When the linebackers came at him high, I remembered going against Earl Campbell as a rookie," says Otis. "It was like a Ford running over a rooster."
When describing the 5'10", 215-pound Wilson, opponents invariably point to his strength. Quincy is smaller than his father, who played at 6'3" and 227, but long ago Quincy absorbed the virtues of weight training that Otis preaches in the football camps that he runs. During winter workouts Quincy lifted with interior linemen, and he was awarded the strength staff's Iron Mountaineer Award. His compact body enhances his ability to break tackles, but Wilson also points to the advantages of running in coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. "We force the defense out to the edges, so players are hitting me from an angle," he says.
Now that he has gained some confidence, Wilson hopes to carry West Virginia to a bowl. The Mountaineers will need to win three of their final five to be bowl-eligible. "So, we've blown a few," says Wilson. "The Virginia Tech game showed what we've learned."