Wisconsin senior running back Ron Dayne is still smarting from his meeting last February with 1998 Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams. Last year Williams set the NCAA Division I-A career rushing record with 6,279 yards, a milestone Dayne needs 1,716 yards to match. When they met at the Walter Camp awards banquet, Dayne asked Williams if he'd be in attendance if Dayne broke his mark. "He told me something like, 'I'm in the pros now, so I don't really care about the record,' " says Dayne. "Ricky is a great guy, but I didn't like his style."
It seems everybody likes Dayne's style. As NFL scouts look ahead to the 2000 draft, the 5'10", 258-pound Dayne, who rushed for 170 yards in the first quarter against San Jose State as a sophomore, is projected to be the top running back available. His MVP performance in this year's Rose Bowl, in which he plowed, deked and streaked his way to four touchdowns and 246 yards rushing, blew away UCLA and football observers. "That was one of the most dominating, multidimensional performances you may ever see by a back," says Badgers offensive coordinator and running backs coach Brian White. "The most logical comparison for Ron is Jerome Bettis, but I think Ron can do more things."
The one criticism of Dayne is that he's a north-south runner, and that's it. "He's not magical," says one NFL personnel man. Scouts also worry about his susceptibility to injury (he has missed three games at Wisconsin because of various physical woes), his weight (which has ballooned to as much as 275 pounds) and his relatively slow 4.65 in the 40. But they drool at his ability to hold on to the ball and his willingness to block linebackers. When discussing Dayne, scouts also mention his 5.7-yard rushing average. Nearly half his 4,563 yards were gained after he made initial contact with the defense.