COLUMBIA -- Shonn Greene began the season as the Iowa Hawkeyes' third-team tailback and finished it on the first team an All-America squad.
Fans will read plenty the next three weeks about South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia returning home to Tampa, Fla., where the right-hander spent the summer in exile following a series of off-field problems.
But Garcia's is not the only redemption story of the Outback Bowl; nor is it the best.
Last year, Greene was taking classes at a community college in Iowa City and working in a furniture store for $8 an hour. Now he is ready to cap the most prolific season by an Iowa running back in school history and is eyeing NFL millions.
"He's a great story," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. "He had to sit out last year for academic reasons. I say sit out, not just off the field, but he was actually put out of school and had to earn his way back in. To his credit, he did everything that he had to do, starting with being accountable for dropping the ball a year ago."
Greene has kept his grades up and held on to the ball this year, carrying it 278 times for a school-record 1,729 yards and 17 touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Greene is the nation's second-leading rusher behind Connecticut's Ronald Brown (1,822 yards) and is the only back in the country to rush for more than 100 yards in every game this season.
The 23-year-old Greene, a New Jersey native who spent a year at a Connecticut prep school before arriving at Iowa, joined Georgia's Knowshon Moreno as the tailbacks on the American Football Coaches Association's All-America team.
Greene waited in the wings behind Albert Young during his first two seasons at Iowa, playing mostly special teams. He saw action against Florida in the Outback Bowl following the 2005 season but did not have any carries.
Greene's academic problems cost him his scholarship and prompted him to enroll at the two-year school and accept the job at the furniture store. Ferentz believes the year off gave Greene a better appreciation of college football.
"He always played with a great attitude and loves the game, loves his teammates. We saw all that years ago. He just dropped the ball academically," Ferentz said. "He was accountable. He took blame for it all. I think it's a real credit for the way he worked back, because we couldn't support him. Nobody could. He had to do it on his own."
When Greene returned to the team in August, Iowa coaches monitored his workload while he tried to get back in shape.
"We had to be very guarded with what we did in August and September as far as his volume of work," Ferentz said. "But needless to say, he's really accelerated and done a great job since then."
Greene needed nine carries to top 100 yards in the first quarter of a 42-0 win against Florida International on Sept. 6. The junior had a pair of 200-yard rushing games, including a 217-yard performance in a victory against Wisconsin on Oct. 18.
His four rushing touchdowns against the Badgers tied a school record.
Greene is a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top running back, and he could be a high draft pick if he forgoes his final season of eligibility. Greene has told reporters he would wait until after the Outback before deciding.
USC linebacker Eric Norwood saw Greene a couple of times on ESPN and was reminded of LSU tailback Charles Scott, whom the Gamecocks held to 61 yards on 16 carries. USC also kept Moreno (20 carries for 79 yards) in check, and allowed two backs to run for 100 yards -- N.C. State's Andre Brown (101) and Florida's Percy Harvin (167).
"If (Greene) was in the SEC, he'd be a pretty good back," Norwood said. "We faced Knowshon Moreno. We faced Charles Scott. We faced pretty good backs this year."