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Sam Richmond | NCAA.com | September 29, 2015

Heisman Watch: UCLA's Paul Perkins emerges as dark-horse contender

Hand Him The... UCLA's Paul Perkins

After a 56-30 thrashing of then-No. 16 Arizona on Saturday, No. 7 UCLA is 4-0 and looking like a potential College Football Playoff contender.

Much of the credit for the Bruins’ rise has been bestowed upon quarterback Josh Rosen. It’s understandable. He’s the quarterback, he’s playing at a very high level and is college football’s latest freshman phenom.

However, the real lifeblood of the UCLA offense is the guy that often lines up next to Rosen, Paul Perkins, who might just be the most underrated running back in the country.

Overshadowed by the likes of Nick Chubb and Leonard Fournette, Perkins is having a monster season. The junior tailback played a pivotal role in the Bruins’ crucial win over Arizona, wearing down the Wildcats’ defense to the tune of three touchdowns and 102 total yards.

MORE: Week 4's Top Performers

Perkins’ previous two games were equally as impressive. He posted 151 yards rushing and two touchdowns against UNLV in Week 2 and followed that up with a whopping 219 yards rushing and a touchdown against then-No. 19 BYU in Week 3.

Perkins is now up to 514 yards rushing on the season with a 6.3 yards-per-carry average and a conference-best six rushing touchdowns.  There’s little reason to believe he’ll slow down, either. This is the same guy that led the Pac-12 with 1,575 yards rushing last season, after all.

Perkins might not make the weekly highlight reel as often as other Heisman contenders, but the guy sure is fun to watch. He’s an explosive, physical runner that can go the distance from anywhere on the field while also being someone capable of getting the tough yardage.  

Although Perkins’ candidacy is certainly on the rise, he’s still very much a dark horse at the moment. That’s partially due to the fact that college football’s running back crop is so great this season. It’s going to be difficult for Perkins to standout when fellow top tailbacks such as Fournette, Chubb, Derrick Henry and Ezekiel Elliott are also crushing the souls of their opponents.

Given Perkins’ relative anonymity, it’s going to take UCLA finishing the season undefeated and truly becoming one of the more talked about teams in the country for him to have a chance at the hardware.

But don’t be stunned if the Bruins do just that. Rosen is the real deal, and with Perkins leading the way, UCLA is going to be a tough team to knock out.

Best of the best

There’s no getting around it: At this point, the Heisman Trophy is Leonard Fournette’s to lose.

Playmakers such as Chubb, Perkins and TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin are having great seasons, but Fournette is starting to distance himself from the pack. He gashed the Syracuse defense for 244 yards rushing and two touchdowns on Saturday, pushing his season totals to 631 yards rushing and eight touchdowns through three games. That is… insane.

Now, it’s important to remember at times like this that we’re only four weeks into the season and college football is wildly unpredictable. Let’s not crown Fournette just yet –Chubb, Perkins, Boykin, and many others, are obviously still very much alive in this race.

But Fournette looks absolutely unstoppable right now. If he’s able to continue playing at this level, he’ll become the first LSU player to win the Heisman since Billy Cannon in 1959, regardless of how well his top competitors perform.  

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