Since 2007, the Heisman Trophy has tended to go to a player who was not listed among the preseason favorites.
Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel were all rather unlikely winners, as each came from the back of the pack to capture the trophy.
As usual, we’ve identified the favorites for this season, but now that we’re four weeks in, it’s time to keep an eye out for any possible late-breaking dark horses.
The player who might best fit that bill? How about Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin?
In the last 20 years, few positions in college football have been more dominant than the Badger tailback.
Nineteen Wisconsin backs have topped the 1,000-yard mark during that time. In 1999, the most celebrated of the bunch, Ron Dayne, won the Heisman Trophy after finishing his career as the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher.
A grand legacy, to be sure, but it’s possible that Gordon is the best out of all of them.
Through four games in 2013, the 6-foot-1, 207-pound sophomore is leading the nation in rushing at 156 yards per game. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until your realize that Gordon is doing so while carrying the ball just 13 times per game.
Yes, that means he is averaging nearly 12 yards per carry.
Surely, this is a statistical anomaly that can be best explained by the run-friendly system in which Gordon plays, right?
Well, Wisconsin’s other backs, James White and Corey Clement, are averaging about 7.3 yards per carry. Still outstanding, but not 12 yards per carry.
Then it’s just a four-game stat quirk, right?
Well, Gordon averaged 10 yards per carry last season, too, and gained 216 yards on nine carries against Nebraska in the Big Ten title game.
In other words, Gordon’s production just may be the result of that rare combination in college football — an elite talent plying his wares in an offense that optimizes his production.
Then there is his speed. Check out this video of his 80-yard run against Arizona State:
While Gordon’s speed isn’t truly elite, he is a legitimate breakaway back in college football. But he’s not one-dimensional as a runner. Because of his strength, he has the ability to power through the first level of the defense and break into the clear. His overall combination of size and speed might make him the most talented running back ever to suit up in Madison.
Of course, this also means he has the potential to lead the nation in rushing and develop into a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. He’s currently on pace to have 1,872 yards and 21 touchdowns when the regular season ends. Those numbers would certainly impress Heisman voters, especially if his yards per carry average continues to reside in the stratosphere.
We’ll probably find out for sure how good Gordon is this coming Saturday when Wisconsin plays at Ohio State. The Buckeyes held Gordon to -1 yards on one carry last year, as the Badgers fed the ball mostly to Montee Ball.
But if Gordon goes off against OSU this year, look for his name to start being bandied about in Heisman circles.
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