BY BEN DUNNING – STAFF WRITER
As the second annual College Football Playoff fast approaches and promises to deliver another controversial selection day, the race for the Heisman Trophy is shaping up to be a very clear-cut decision in regards to what the victor’s position will be.
For the first time since Bama’s Mark Ingram in 2009, five Heismans ago, the trophy is all but guaranteed to go home with a running back. The running back has reclaimed the national spotlight from the quarterback position with assertiveness this fall. With last year’s race coming down to 2015 first round picks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, this year it will come down to strong finishes by LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Alabama’s Derrick Henry, and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott.
Although Fournette appeared to be on track for a runaway Heisman win this December, a vanishing act versus Henry’s Crimson Tide and a lackluster performance at home against Arkansas have essentially dashed all hopes for the Tiger to win the trophy. In fact, Fournette’s poor showing against Bama opened the door wide open for Derrick Henry to become the front running candidate. In the head-to-head match up of the year, Henry ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns against Fournette’s pedestrian 31 yards while averaging 1.6 yards per carry.
However, by no means should anyone be sleeping on the Buckeyes’ Zeke Elliot at this point in the season. Zeke has the longest active streak of 100-yard games with 15 and has been the consistent cog that makes Ohio State’s offense go. Although Elliot’s dominant performances may have been overshadowed by the most high profile quarterback controversy in recent memory and the inconsistent play that has resulted, the reigning National Championship MVP matches right up with the SEC running backs statistically and talent wise.
Speaking of statistics, the three All-American tailbacks could not be any closer on the stat sheet. If the Heisman were awarded based solely on statistics, these players would be in a three-way tie.
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Unfortunately for Fournette and Elliot, however, the Heisman is not based on statistical accomplishments alone. When the ballots are tallied and these candidates wait to hear whose name will be called in New York City on December 14, where all three players will assuredly be in attendance, the stats will be too close to even matter. In this case, as is the case with most Heisman winners, that player will have shined the brightest in the biggest games and with consistency throughout, which is why Leonard Fournette is disqualified until next year.
Fournette’s flops in LSU’s two losses this year are just not indicative of a Heisman Trophy winner. Top candidate, absolutely. Luckily for Fournette, he must return to Baton Rouge for his junior year and has already locked up the 2016 preseason Heisman.
Ezekiel Elliot still has a very legitimate shot at the trophy, but in his last two games against rivals #13 Michigan State and #14 Michigan, he will have to be as impressive as ever while leading his Buckeyes to yet another playoff selection.
He will also have to pray that Derrick Henry screws it all up. That’s right, as long as Derrick Henry continues to bulldoze through the SEC until it’s Heisman time, the trophy will be on his mantle. He would accompany Mark Ingram as the second Alabama player to win the Heisman and the only two non-quarterbacks to win it since Reggie Bush in 2005…sort of.
The dark horses of this year’s Heisman Race would be the quarterbacks. The Cam Newton’s and Johnny Manziel’s of college football did not show up this year quite like the talented running back group did, but top-ranked Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and late arrival Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield will probably land some nice, front row seats at the trophy ceremony.