Running Backs Have Heisman Hopes, Led By Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III

Since 2000, two running backs are still recognized as Heisman winners. What would it take for one to breakthrough in an era dominated by quarterbacks?

© Provided by Fansided

The sky didn't fall, but Alabama did, rocking the college football landscape, and the Heisman Trophy race wasn't unaffected … to a degree.

New No. 1 Georgia is led by its defense without a legitimate trophy contender. Same for the new No. 2 team in Iowa, and now-third-ranked Cincinnati has a challenger, but one that comes with the built-in stigmas that have in the past hurt players from outside the power conferences.

At the season's midpoint, no one's counting the Crimson Tide out of the national title conversation despite being out of the top three for the first time since 2019, and likewise, no one should be removing quarterback Bryce Young from the very short list of realistic trophy contenders.

Running backs sit atop Heisman Trophy rankings

But Young now has an L on his resume and his previously wide lead has narrowed, there are players poised to take advantage. That includes a trio of running backs in Michigan State's Kenneth Walker III, Texas' Bijan Robinson and Ohio State's TreVeyon Henderson.

They're out to reestablish the award's original power position, one that's been in an unfamiliar place for the better part of two decades.

The award has turned into a quarterback's playground of late but running backs/full backs have still won the trophy more times, with 42 in all. They claimed 21 of the first 27 — led by the first winner, Chicago halfback Jay Berwanger, who technically won the Downtown Athletic Club Award in 1935 before it was renamed after John Heisman's death a year later — and from Penn State's John Cappelletti in 1973 to Nebraska's Mike Rozier in '83, won every ever year.

They won four more in six years between 1994-1999, but it's been a minute since running backs held that kind of sway in the Heisman proceedings.

The position last won via Alabama's Derrick Henry in 2015 — with Mark Ingram in 2009 and Reggie Bush's since vacated 2005 win before that — and have had one top-three finish since, with Stanford's Bryce Love in 2017. If it feels like a generation since runners went back-to-back, we're getting there, with it having been 22 years since Wisconsin's Ron Dayne followed Texas' Ricky Williams into the Heisman fraternity.

Blame the fascination with the quarterback position in the age of explosive offenses, because what we used to deem as sure-fire Heisman years from running backs don't mean what they once did.

Marcus Allen. Mike Rozier. Barry Sanders. Rashaan Salaam. The first four players to run for 2,000 yards as of the voting cutoff all claimed the award, but since Salaam reached that plateau in 1994, there have been 14 players to do so, with only two Heismans in Williams (1998) and Henry.

The last six 2,000-yard seasons at schools within the power conferences have only produced Henry's win, with Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon in 2014 having the only finish of fourth or better, when he was runner-up to Oregon's Marcus Mariota. Texas' D'Onta Foreman, the last to hit 2,000 yards at a major school in 2016, was a distant eighth, as quarterbacks claimed the top three spots in that Lamar Jackson-led vote.

From 1995-2002, there were six 2,000-yard seasons, with all but Texas Tech's Bryan Hanspard, earning a spot as a finalist. But only two of the last six 2,000-yard runners were even invited, with Henry the last in 2015.

Walker, the nation's leading rusher with 913 yards and a 151.1 per game average, has a shot at becoming the latest member of that 2,000-yard club. His chances get even better if the 10th-ranked Spartans can navigate a five-week stretch that includes No. 8 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Penn State to reach the Big Ten Championship Game. Likewise, Robinson at 131.5 per game can make a push should Texas work its way back up the Big 12 standings to play for a conference title (Henderson may not be at that same pace at 612 yards through six games, but he's ripping off 8.74 yards per carry, the best of any one with at least 600 yards, and is tied for second among Power 5 players with 11 total touchdowns).

The yardage may well be there for Walker, and maybe Robinson, but we know what the top line on a Heisman resume is: did they help their team reach the College Football Playoff.

Henry was the key cog for the Crimson Tide in their 2015 national title run and been the only running back to have 2,000 yards on a playoff team. That all but removes Robinson from the conversation, but if Walker can reach that statistical plateau and Michigan State either reaches the playoff or remains in contention, is that trophy-worthy? With three top-10 matchups ahead for Ohio State — Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan — are there enough opportunities for big moments for Henderson to do what no true freshman ever has?

Of course, last winter we saw a wide receiver loosen the passer's vice grip with Alabama's DeVonta Smith winning, but it's all too easy to see this ending with a quarterback holding the trophy come December. Young continues to remain a favorite despite his setback; Ole Miss' Matt Corral, even in losing what was the biggest game on the schedule against Alabama, is a threat as he keeps putting up ridiculous numbers.

The running backs, though, need something more. Numbers aren't enough, and while the position has multiple hopes, it feels like it needs the sky to keep falling to end a six-year drought.

Heisman stock watch: Who is heating up, who is cooling off?

Buy: Matt Corral, Ole Miss

Five games and 146 attempts into the season and we've still yet to see Corral throw an interception. Sixth in the nation in total offense (350.4 yards per game) and sixth in efficiency rating at 182.4, he was had another monster day with 381 total yards and four touchdowns to lead Ole Miss to a thriller of a win over No. 13 Arkansas. He'll get a chance to build on his stat line this week against Tennessee, which is 73rd in passing defense, with LSU (72nd vs. the pass) to follow. Corral may have lost his duel with Young, but he'll get an opportunity to do what the Crimson Tide passer couldn't, as Ole Miss takes on No. 21 Texas A&M on Nov. 13. A big day there could only further elevate one of the few players who's on the short list of legitimate contenders.

Sell: Bryce Young, Alabama

As previously noted, Young's far from out of this thing. His 369 yards in the loss to the Aggies was a season-high, though he had his lowest efficiency rating (139.3) in throwing an interception to go with three touchdowns. No Power 5 player has thrown for more scores than Young's 20, which is third nationally, and he's poised to throw for a lot more with the Crimson Tide facing four straight passing defenses that are ranked 69th or worse, capped by New Mexico State (117th) on Nov. 13. While No. 17 Arkansas lies ahead on Nov. 20, Corral just torched that defense and Auburn has given up 300 or more twice. He still feels like a lock to make it to New York, and should Alabama be back in the CFP, he'll have plenty of support to give the program a second straight trophy.

Buy: Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

What a difference a week makes. After dissecting how Ridder could make a legit run as that player from outside the sport's power structure, that path has opened up for the Cincinnati quarterback with the Bearcats rising to No. 3 in the latest Associated Press Top 25. Ridder and Co. may not be tested for weeks to come, with UCF (3-2), Navy (1-4), Tulsa (2-4) and USF (1-4) over the next month, but pencil Nov. 20 as the next defining game for passer and program. SMU is sitting at No. 23 at 6-0 and has an offense (ranked ninth at 511 yards per game) that could put some stress on the Bearcats defense. Will Ridder be up to the task if it turns into a shootout? His hopes will rise and fall with the Bearcats' run at a playoff spot, and right now things are looking up for both.

Sell: Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma

Already one of the more disappointing preseason favorites since USC's Sam Darnold in 2017, it reached a different level for Rattler when he was benched against Texas in Saturday's Red River Shootout for the second straight year. Rattler threw an interception, then fumbled to lead to a Longhorns score. Caleb Williams stepped in and led the Sooners to the win, and created questions going forward about who should be at the helm of the offense. The situation has led to speculation as to whether Rattler would enter the transfer portal if he's indeed lost the starting job. We've seen summer darlings fall flat in this race, but it's hard to find a more stunning turn than what has unfolded in Norman.

Buy: Kenny Pickett, Pitt

There has been no more efficient passer in the Power 5 conferences than Pickett who is at 194.7 in throwing for 19 touchdowns to one interception. The last three games he's put up 382 yards (Western Michigan), 403 yards (New Hampshire) and 389 yards (Georgia Tech) and thrown for 14 scores in that span. With Pitt suffering the loss to Western Michigan, the numbers are going to have to continue to be extra gaudy for Pickett to keep generating buzz. He'll have his hands full this Saturday vs. Virginia Tech, which threw a wrench into the trophy case of North Carolina's Sam Howell in the opener, picking him off three times.

Sell: Sean Clifford, Penn State

Up 14-3 at Iowa when Clifford had a 4-yard rushing score, it looked like the Penn State passer was going to build his resume in a top-5 clash. Instead, he was knocked out in the second quarter with what appeared to be a rib injury in an eventual 23-20 loss. Chances remain for Clifford, should he not miss any additional time, with the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans still on the schedule, and he could still get a chance at redemption should the Nittany Lions and Hawkeyes meet again in the Big Ten title game. But getting knocked out of the biggest game to date hurt, both for Penn State (figuratively) and Clifford (literally).

For more NCAA football news, analysis, opinion and unique coverage by FanSided, including Heisman Trophy and College Football Playoff rankings, be sure to bookmark these pages.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/sports/ncaafb/running-backs-have-heisman-hopes-led-by-michigan-states-kenneth-walker-iii/ar-AAPqu5s

1947
Filed Under: MSN
Running backs have Heisman hopes, led by Michigan States Kenneth Walker III

Source:MSN

Running backs have Heisman hopes, led by Michigan States Kenneth Walker III

The college football fans guide to Week 9 games

Source:NCAA

The college football fans guide to Week 9 games

College football Week 9 expert predictions, odds: Michigan collides with Michigan State, Georgia battles Florida in Jacksonville

Source:The Athletic

College football Week 9 expert predictions, odds: Michigan collides with Michigan State, Georgia battles Florida in Jacksonville

Heisman rankings after Week 7: Kenny Pickett can’t be ignored, Bryce Young alive and well

Source:FanSided

Heisman rankings after Week 7: Kenny Pickett can’t be ignored, Bryce Young alive and well

AP Top 25 Takeaways: A&Ms upset sends season into full tilt

Source:ABCNews

AP Top 25 Takeaways: A&Ms upset sends season into full tilt

College football midseason takeaways: Surprises, disappointments, Heisman picks and more

Source:ESPN

College football midseason takeaways: Surprises, disappointments, Heisman picks and more

In a Week 7 of raining golf balls and upsets, only Georgia appears immune to 2021 chaos

Source:ESPN

In a Week 7 of raining golf balls and upsets, only Georgia appears immune to 2021 chaos

Running backs have Heisman hopes, led by Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III

Source:FanSided

Running backs have Heisman hopes, led by Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III