Hand him the ...

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Brendan Bures | NCAA.com | November 25, 2014

Running wild

Hand Him The... Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon

Each week of the college football season NCAA.com will take a look at the most impressive individual performances. Some weeks it may be one player who stands head and shoulders above everyone else. This week, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon can be ignored no longer.

Against a backdrop of snow-gray skies, broken by the Wisconsin red of stout supporters and the blank white of Nebraska’s defense -- a group tradition names the Blackshirts -- Melvin Gordon ran. He ran and he ran and ran. Looking like a banshee possessed, he dismissed history, past and present, his dreadlocks the only entity that could give him chase. After all, how exactly does someone tackle a cyclone in a snowstorm? College football lore…

I’ll stop there and issue something a long time coming in this space: an apology. Not a typical writer self-flattering, ego-stroking type of apology, but an earnest, we-really-messed-up, please-forgive-us sorry. On the days following Gordon running for an FBS-record 408 yards, I seem to be the playing the same role as Nebraska’s defense: the role of catch-up. To begin the year, I left off Gordon from our preseason Heisman watchlist. As he continued to rush 100-yard-plus and 200-yard-plus games all but once this season, I continued to ignore him.

Last week, I threw him a bone, misconstruing him as one-of-three great Big Ten/college football running backs; what a colossal mistake. I know now: Melvin Gordon stands alone. He is college football’s best and premiere running back. Any other argument has been rendered fangless and pointless.

(Georgia’s Todd Gurley could have forced a well-reasoned debate between the two, but missing four games and a season-ending injury sadly denies us of this venture.)

LSU 16 140 8.8 1
Western Ill. 17 38 2.2 0
Bowling Green 13 253 19.5 5
South Florida 32 181 5.7 2
Northwestern 27 259 9.6 1
Illinois 27 175 6.5 4
Maryland 22 122 5.6 3
Rutgers 19 128 6.7 2
Purdue 25 205 8.2 1
Nebraska 25 408 16.3 4
Totals 223 1909 8.6 23
Whereas pro football has devalued a singular running back’s pull, genuine stars can still be found in college football. Gordon’s (slight) problem is that his surrounding hype and persona can seem as quiet as an explosion can be, like a bomb detonating deep, deep underwater. Or, more aptly, like a running back playing stellar, old-school football at a Big Ten school, especially one like Wisconsin. His presence had felt so far removed from daily college football talk that it was too easy not to notice.

Not that it’s an excuse. Guys like Gordon would be deified decades ago with long, overwrought encomiums; now he’s just another ‘competitor.’ Gordon’s a master of physical space, understanding the value of patience before bursting past everybody. No one currently can accelerate 0-to-60 quite like Gordon. If given his one cut, he’s gone as we saw against Nebraska.

Again, kind of appropriately, the cerebral play of a quarterback holds a higher worth in football (pee-wee, pro and college) than a physical savant like Gordon. At this point, a running back’s impact on the game has to be so above what can be rationally expected -- say, running 408 yards in only three quarters against a top 25 team -- to be considered equitable to a guy like Marcus Mariota. Unfortunate, but true.

My (lame) excuse was Gordon had juked his stats versus inferior competition throughout the Big Ten. That’s why his numbers reached so high. However, the opposite seems more true: Gordon’s play had so thoroughly ravaged the Big Ten’s rushing defense that he had lowered team’s rankings near single-handedly (Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman certainly helped). Turns out, yet again, I was wrong.

What’s really lamentable, looking at it, is how easily Wisconsin could be in the College Football Playoff race. Had Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen not inexplicably stopped using Gordon in the second half against LSU, and had quarterbacks Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave not imploded out of nowhere, throwing four interceptions combined in the Badgers’ loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin would be undefeated and in the thick of the CFP. Furthermore, Gordon’s greatness would never have been questioned, it would have existed as fact. But we do not live in this world.

Regardless, Melvin Gordon can no longer be avoided, neglected, discounted, whatever -- he's in the race and it’s him and Mariota at this point. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time when a Heisman race won’t be seriously decided until the last week of the season like this one. It’s anyone’s game now.

Heisman top 3

For the remainder of the race, we’re going to rank the top 3 remaining candidates in descending order with a quick explanation of why a player is ranked where he is. These rankings are fluid and (mostly) made for fun.

1) Marcus Mariota -- Players shouldn’t get penalized for bye weeks and so Mariota’s staying No. 1. Every reason I’ve said previously still holds true, but the margin between him and No. 2 has nearly diminished.
2) Melvin Gordon -- Anyone who doesn’t get it now never will and has invalid opinions. Question: On lazy Sundays, do you earnestly walk more than 400 yards the whole day? Like those cheat days when you watch Netflix all day and eat cheese poofs? That it’s debatable and Gordon accomplished that feat in three quarters of a football game gives him all the credit he’s earned.
3) Dak Prescott -- He played pretty poorly versus Alabama Saturday but Prescott deserves this spot for two reasons: a) I refuse to be a prisoner of hype and dismiss him outright and b) Alabama has sneakily transformed into that imperial death march of inevitability in years past during these past few weeks. Let’s give credit where it’s due to Alabama and Prescott for his work during the whole season.

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