The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 8th

'Pack's Rivers Floods Defenses With Yardage, TDs

College football analysts and experts love to speculate about postseason individual awards during the season.
They debate who is most deserving of the Heisman Trophy. They rank their candidates for the Butkus Award, with each expert trying to impress the others with a great sleeper pick.
But there's not much talk about this season's ACC Rookie of the Year contest. Because there is none.
Philip Rivers is the man. Get a roll of stamps and mail it in.
"We're talking about a guy who's been freshman of the week in the conference - they might as well retire that thing," UNC coach Carl Torbush said. "He's been freshman of the week five times out of six weeks.
"If y'all want to vote for newcomer of the year, I'd say I know about who to vote for."
Rivers, an 18-year-old from Athens, Ala., has taken the nation by storm in his first season in Raleigh. He leads the country in passing yardage (340.2 yards per game) and ranks second nationally with 16 touchdown passes.
More importantly, however, he has led the Wolfpack to a 4-1 record in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year under first-year coach Chuck Amato.
"We've had one player who's made a big, big, big difference, and that's the quarterback," Amato said. "He's had just a sensational year thus far, and without him the turnaround would not be as quick."
Rivers is listed as a true freshman, but that term is somewhat misleading in his case. He skipped the spring semester of his senior year at Athens (Ala.) High School and graduated early so that he could get to Raleigh and begin learning the N.C. State offense.
Rivers turned out to be a quick study. But that's not too surprising, considering his football background.
Rivers played for his father, Steve, in high school and gained a desire to watch game film more than other teenagers watch movies.
As a result of his preparation, defenses can't do much to surprise him on the field. And his teammates, originally skeptical that a freshman could lead them, have noticed.
"Philip keeps his poise more than (three-year starter) Jamie (Barnette) did, and that's saying a lot for a freshman," N.C. State wide receiver Koren Robinson said.
That poise has paid off in a big way for the Wolfpack.
Rivers has helped the Wolfpack score at least 27 points in every game (35.4 average). His 16 scoring tosses are already an ACC freshman record, and he is on pace to break the overall single-season league mark of 32.
Rivers has also spearheaded three fourth-quarter comeback wins, two of which came in overtime. He nearly turned the trick again in last week's
34-27 loss at No. 5 Clemson.
Rivers stood tall in the pocket with his 6-foot-5, 221-pound frame and was unfazed by the Clemson defense, which entered the game with the best statistics in the nation. When the Tigers rushed him, he threw the ball away instead of forcing passes into tight coverage. When they hit him, he got up.
He completed just 21-of-48 passes, but he amassed 370 yards and tossed three touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly, he threw no interceptions.
"I would like to say he is maturing, but I think he's already mature," Torbush said. "He's making plays right now and getting rid of the ball. He's got a great knack.
"You're talking about a guy who is getting better every week."
And that's something any expert can see.

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.



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