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Penn St. offense better than most, but has competition for best ever

PASADENA, CALIF. — PASADENA, Calif. -- The Best Offense in the History of College Football.

After Penn State overwhelmed the Big Ten this season, it was inevitable that someone would slap that label on the Nittany Lions. Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter and Co. have put up some awesome numbers -- nation-best averages of 520.2 yards in total offense and 47.8 points per game -- but does Joe Paterno possess an offense that's better than anything Red Blaik, Bud Wilkinson or John McKay ever rolled out?

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Who knows? Plenty care. Here are 10 worthy candidates, from the World War II era on, in the debate over the best college offenses.

* Army, 1944: The Black Knights set an NCAA record with a scoring average of 56 points, but it should be accompanied by an asterisk; the competition was depleted by World War II. Heisman Trophy winners Doc Blanchard (1945) and Glenn Davis (1946) were only sophomores, and weren't stopped until an epic tie with Notre Dame in 1946 that denied Army a third straight unbeaten/untied season and national championship.

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* Oklahoma, 1956: The Sooners had a 47-game winning streak from 1953 to 1957, and Wilkinson's dynasty peaked in '56. Clendon Thomas and Tommy McDonald combined for 35 touchdowns on a team that averaged 46.6 points and 481 yards -- at the time the second-best total in NCAA history.

* Texas, 1969: Even if they didn't put up gaudy statistics during a season in which the Longhorns clinched the national championship by beating Notre Dame, 21-17, in the Cotton Bowl, they deserve mention for popularizing the wishbone. Quarterback James Street, halfback Jim Bertelsen and split end Cotton Speyrer were the main beneficiaries of Darrell Royal's scheme.

* Nebraska, 1971: The Cornhuskers had Johnny Rodgers and much, much more. Fullback Jeff Kinney was a 1,000-yard rusher, and though Jerry Tagge wasn't the flashiest quarterback, he got the ball enough to Rodgers, whose 53 receptions produced 872 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Cornhuskers didn't have the most productive offense in the Big Eight, but they did beat Oklahoma, 35-31, in one of the most memorable televised college games ever.

* Oklahoma, 1971: Just because Nebraska had the ball last doesn't diminish these Sooners, who scored 44.9 points per game and set NCAA records with averages of 566.5 yards in total offense and 472.4 in rushing offense. Quarterback Jack Mildren, halfback Greg Pruitt and center Tom Brahaney were the featured performers.

* Southern Cal, 1972: The best team ABC announcer Keith Jackson ever has seen, the 12-0 Trojans were the first to be a unanimous No. 1 in the writers' and coaches' polls. Tight end Charles Young was the leading pass catcher over junior Lynn Swann, who flanked opposite world-class sprinter Edesel Garrison. The sophomore class included leading rusher Anthony Davis and Pat Haden, who couldn't wrest the quarterback job from Mike Rae. Fullback Sam "Bam" Cunningham was better known for his blocking until he scored four touchdowns in a 42-17 Rose Bowl romp over Ohio State.

* Arizona State, 1973: Frank Kush put together some explosive teams before he coached the Baltimore Colts. With Danny White at quarterback and first-round draft choice Woody Green at running back, the Sun Devils had superb balance and averaged 43.2 points and 554.4 yards. Like Oklahoma two years earlier, the Sun Devils were never stopped. They scored 31 points in their lone loss, to Utah.

* Nebraska, 1983: The Cornhuskers were another team with a blemish, but the offense wasn't to blame for the 31-30 loss to Miami in the Orange Bowl. Outland Trophy winner Dean Steinkuhler led a huge and mobile offensive line that helped Heisman winner Mike Rozier become the second major-college back, after Southern Cal's Marcus Allen, to gain 2,000 yards. Nebraska averaged 52 points.

* Brigham Young, 1983: Did Nebraska even have the best offense in the nation that year? The Cougars brought the Western Athletic Conference its first and only national title in 1984, but Lavell Edwards' show might have been at its best the year before. With Steve Young passing (3,902 yards) and running opponents crazy, BYU improved the NCAA record for total offense to 584.2 yards and averaged 44 points.

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You'll notice that's only nine teams. To complete a top 10, choose any of the following groups:

For sheer talent, Notre Dame in 1947, Southern California in 1967 and Miami in 1986 were an NFL scout's dream.

The Fighting Irish had Johnny Lujack, Terry Brennan and dozens of others who would play professionally, but Frank Leahy teams "didn't pass much or score big," said ESPN's Beano Cook, "because they didn't have to."

Southern California had O. J. Simpson, tackle Ron Yary and tight end Bob Klein, but they were solved by Oregon State, 3-0.

Vinny Testaverde is the only Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback of the past decade who is starting in the NFL, but he's still scarred by the five passes he had intercepted against Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

At places such as Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Brigham Young and Alabama, they couldn't even decide which year to nominate in a best-ever offense debate.

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The Fighting Irish had Heisman winner Leon Hart and quarterback Bob Williams in 1949, when they averaged 36 points, and considerable talent in the late 1960s. How about Oklahoma in the late 1970s, when it had Billy Sims and J. C. Watts -- maybe the best option quarterback ever? ESPN analyst Lee Corso said BYU under Marc Wilson in 1979 "was the finest offensive football team I ever saw." Would 'Bama fans prefer to relive Joe Namath running the show or Kenny Stabler?

Since Heisman voters got around to considering a I-AA player in Steve McNair this year, how about the Willie Totten-to-Jerry Rice combination Mississippi Valley State sported in 1984?

What about Syracuse with Jim Brown, Ernie Davis or the Floyd Little-Larry Csonka combination? Or Florida's passing attack in the 1960s under Steve Spurrier and John Reaves? Is there room for Ohio State and Archie Griffin in 1973, or Oklahoma State in 1988, when Barry Sanders rushed for an NCAA-record 2,628 yards and the Cowboys averaged 47.5 points? Would older Penn State fans take this year's group over 1971, when Franco Harris and Lydell Mitchell were seniors?

The 1994 Nittany Lions offense can do more than get Paterno his third national title Monday in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Penn State can build further evidence that it has The Best Offense in the History of College Football.

HIGH-POWERED OFFENSES

Second-ranked Penn State has made its case as the best offense in college football history by leading the nation with 47.8 points and 520.2 yards per game. Here are some of the No. 1

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offensive numbers in college football:

TOTAL OFFENSE

* Yards per game: 624.9 -- Houston, 1989 (6,874 yards in 11 games)

* Touchdowns rushing and passing: 84 -- Nebraska, 1983

RUSHING

* Yards per game: 472.4 -- Oklahoma, 1971 (5,196 yards in 11 games)

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PASSING

* Yards per game: 511.3 -- Houston, 1989 (5,624 yards in 11 games)

SCORING

* Points per game: 56 -- Army, 1944 (504 points in nine games)

* Points scored: 624 -- Nebraska, 1983 (12 games)

* Touchdowns: 89 -- Nebraska, 1983 (12 games)

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Source: NCAA Football



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