Since 2000 only two running backs have won the Heisman Trophy, with Reggie Bush taking home the trophy in 2005 and Mark Ingram in 2009. The five year current stretch of quarterbacks winning the honor ties the longest stretch of consecutive quarterbacks winning the trophy with the stretch from 2000 to 2004.
Among top Heisman running back vote getters being a top rusher nationally has not been a priority for voters. Neither Bush nor Ingram placed above third among national leaders in rushing yards, and other top five vote getters in recent years have been similar. Since Bush's win in 2005, only Toby Gerhart in 2009, LaMichael James in 2010 and Melvin Gordon in 2014 have led the country in rushing and finished in the top three in the Heisman voting (Jordan Lynch finished second in the country in rushing as well, but was a quarterback).
So why, given a historic drought for running back Heisman winners, does Leonard Fournette deserve to be in consideration for the 2015 award and what can he do to progress to that point?
Yesterday, David argued that Nick Chubb stood a better chance than Fournette among potential SEC running backs because he plays in the presumed easier division, but that is precisely what could give Fournette an advantage in Heisman consideration: more chances for "Heisman Moments" in bigger games.
LSU should enter the season in the top 25 and nearly every SEC game for the Tigers will be one with potential SEC West consequences. And as Houston Nutt (gag) emphasized while coaching at Arkansas and Ole Miss that, "they remember November," Fournette will have the opportunity to solidify his candidacy in front of tons of eyeballs with games against Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. With three of those teams boasting some of the more highly projected defenses in the SEC, strong games from Fournette really will setup a November to be remembered for both the player and LSU.
LSU returns three offensive line starters, along with 300 pound tight end Dillion Gordon, from 2014. The losses of Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee from the running back corps puts the onus square on Fournette's shoulders to eclipse his 1034 yards and ten touchdowns from his freshman campaign. After only averaging 50 ypg through the first four games of his college career, Fournette broke out with over 92 ypg in the season's remaining nine games including three games of 140 yards or more against power five competition in the back half of the season.
|2014 Game Log||Rushing||Receiving|
|2||09/06/14||Sam Houston State||W||13||92||7.1||1||2||32||16||0|
|5||09/27/14||New Mexico State||W||18||122||6.8||2||1||33||33||0|
That emergence in the second half of 2014, particularly in the wins over Florida, Ole Miss and Texas A&M, along with the Music City Bowl loss to Notre Dame firmly establishes Fournette as the alpha dog of the LSU offense and offers a glimpse into what 2015 can be for LSU and Fournette. With early talk about Les Miles potentially being on the hotseat if the season ends below expectations, a season above expectations that returns LSU to double digit wins and propels LSU into the playoff discussion will place simultaneously place Fournette in serious conversation for the Heisman.
As evidenced above, Fournette does not need to be a national leader in rushing, but needs to be a leading rusher on a winning team. The shop window will be wide open for a run to put Fournette on the podium in December.