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UCLA's Johnathan Franklin an oversight in Heisman talk?

UCLA's Johnathan Franklin leads the nation in rushing but is barely getting attention in Heisman hype.

September 11, 2012|By Chris Foster

UCLA's Johnathan Franklin has become a stealth running back.

Nebraska defenders certainly had difficulty locating him, as Franklin bobbed and weaved for 217 yards in a 36-30 Bruins victory Saturday. It was the sixth-most yards rushing by a player against the Cornhuskers.

But others have yet to zero in on Franklin.

Heismanpundit.com, which bills itself as the authority on the Heisman Trophy, barely has Franklin on its radar even though Franklin leads the nation in rushing, averaging 215.5 yards, after two weeks.

UCLA athletic department officials have no immediate plans to mount a Heisman campaign, even with a blank billboard available down the street that until recently carried the likeness of USC quarterback Matt Barkley.

And Franklin is far too team-oriented to self-promote. "I'm focused on getting better," he said.

As for winning the Heisman, Franklin said, "If it's God's favor for me, then so be it."

Of course, winning the Heisman is something that is usually left to mortals.

"There is so much that goes into it in terms of hype and marketing, getting on the cover of national magazines, playing on national television," UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. "You set yourself up the year before for what happens in your Heisman Trophy campaign. It's hard to catch up."

It's been done, though. A similar two-game outburst put Michigan's Denard Robinson in the Heisman discussion in 2010. He finished sixth that season, though Michigan officials, per university policy, did not run a Robinson-for-the-Heisman campaign.

Gary Beban is UCLA's only Heisman winner, having earned the award in 1967. Troy Aikman (1988) and Cade McNown (1998) finished third. The last UCLA player to receive a vote was Drew Olson, who finished eighth in 2005.

UCLA spent $200,000 on a campaign for McNown, with 500 billboards in the Los Angeles area. This time, athletic department officials seem unsure whether to jump in.

"Clearly Johnathan Franklin distinguished himself in the first two weeks of the 2012 college football season," UCLA spokesman Nick Ammazzalorso said. "If we as a department determine there's a desire to launch a campaign on his behalf, we will do so at the appropriate time."

The Pac-12 has a history of Heisman lobbying. Former Oregon State sports information director John Eggers is credited — if that's the proper term — with inventing Heisman campaigning. He sent out weekly mailers with quarterback Terry Baker's statistics in 1962, and Baker won the trophy.

Oregon took Heisman promoting to new heights — literally — in 2001 with a skyscraper-size likeness of quarterback Joey Harrington in New York's Times Square. Harrington finished fourth, but the campaign helped the Ducks become a coast-to-coast program, like USC.

Barkley's face looked down from a video board in Times Square last week, just as it did from a billboard near UCLA's campus in Westwood until the board's owner removed it two weeks ago.

The Heisman Trophy discussion in the Los Angeles area has been on the other side of town for a decade. Barkley is considered the early season front-runner this year, with receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods also garnering some attention. USC players have won three of the last 10 Heismans, though it was a statue of limitations for Reggie Bush, who had to return his 2005 award.

"We need to bring that discussion back across town to UCLA," Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley said this season. "Why not Johnathan Franklin?"

Why not indeed?

Franklin scorched Rice for 214 yards in the season opener and people shrugged. It was Rice. Nebraska was supposed to be different, but wasn't.

After delivering a haymaker to the Cornhuskers on Saturday, Franklin picked up some attention. But you could hear crickets, not pundits, chirping on the Heisman front.

Heismanpundit.com tossed a bone Monday, listing Franklin among "others to watch." He was also the Heisman "player of the week," but that was couched with a comment that voters would probably wait until UCLA played Oregon State in two weeks before deciding whether Franklin is a credible candidate.

So torching Nebraska wasn't enough? They're waiting for Oregon State?

"It's still early," Mora said. "He has done some good things the first two weeks. If he keeps it up, I would think people will start to take notice."

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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