The N.C. State blog Riddick & Reynolds posed an interesting question yesterday: If BC's Montel Harris rushes for 1,003 yards or more this season and breaks Ted Brown's ACC career rushing record of 4,602, should Harris be considered the ACC's all-time great rusher?
This normally might sound like sour grapes coming from a proud N.C. State football fan, but R&R actually has a pretty compelling argument for why this question isn't so cut and dry.
Prior to 2002, the NCAA did not count bowl game yardage as part of a player's career rushing totals. This is important as it relates to the ACC's career rushing record because Ted Brown rushed for 399 yards in three bowl games in 1975, 1978 and 1979. If those accumulated yards were added to Brown's record, he would have finished his career with 5,001 yards as opposed to his current career yardage mark of 4,602.
Harris, on the other hand, has rushed for 170 yards in the 2008 Music City Bowl vs. Vanderbilt (15 carries, 68 yards) and the 2009 Emerald Bowl vs. USC (23 carries, 102 yards).
To level the playing field, the NCAA could do one of two things: either disregard bowl game yardage or retroactively reward Brown with an extra 399 yards. If you disregard Harris' bowl game gains, that would leave him 1,172 behind Brown. If you added Brown's 399 yards, Montel would need 1,401 to break Brown's adjusted record. There's no way the NCAA would consider doing the former (even though non-BCS National Championship Game bowl games are glorified exhibitions), but I think a case could be made for the latter.
If Harris breaks Brown's existing record but doesn't get surpass the 1,401 yardage total this year, should he own the record? Or should there be a prevailing "Yeahhhhhhh ... but ..." feeling that accompanies Harris supplanting Brown in the ACC's record books?
If the NCAA could confidently retroactively award bowl game statistics to everyone's career statistics, I wouldn't be opposed to updating the record books. But I also think that this is all part of the evolution of the game.
Changes in the game have affected the record books both for good and for bad. For one thing, teams are playing more games now than they were in the 1970s. In addition to the two bowl games, Harris has benefited from playing in the 2008 ACC Championship Game and a 12th regular season game that typically involves him running roughshod on Division I-AA opponents ... including 143 yards vs. Rhode Island, 113 vs. Northeastern and 115 vs. Weber State.
Conversely, with the rise in popularity of new high octane offenses like the spread, teams are opening up the playbooks and relying less and less on the running game. Further, it's rare to see a back get as many touches as Harris has through three seasons as many programs have a progression of running backs that only get to start and/or see significant PT as upperclassmen. And 756 through three seasons is a ton of carries (in contrast, Brown had just 558 through his junior season). I also think the fact that the ACC record has stood for 33 seasons is a testament to the fundamental shift in the game from the running game to the passing game.
I obviously would want to see Harris rush for more than 1,401 to take sole possession of the record and leave no doubt, but I also think the record should stand should Harris finish in that 1,003 to 1,401 yards gray area this season. But I think it's a very interesting question and leaves a lot up to interpretation and debate. Then again, if N.C. State really wanted to protect Brown's ACC rushing record, they shouldn't have let Harris rush for 264 yards and 5 TDs in 2009.