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Anthony Chiusano | NCAA.com | October 10, 2016

Heisman Watch: FSU's Dalvin Cook races into conversation

College Football: Hand Him The... Florida State's Dalvin Cook

It’s Week 7, which means it’s officially the halfway point of the college football season. And as certain teams have faded from the national conversation, the same can be said about individual stars’ Heisman chances.

The group of running back contenders has been particularly perplexing. LSU’s Leonard Fournette, a popular preseason pick for the award after he made 200-yard performances look easy in 2015, has been limited to just three games due to an ankle injury. Georgia’s Nick Chubb has also had to deal with ankle injury that’s slowed him down.

Add in Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, who hasn’t scored a touchdown in three games for a Cardinal team that’s lost two straight, and the position’s elite players haven’t made the expected splash in Heisman talks this year.

But one star running back that hasn’t disappointed has been Florida State’s Dalvin Cook.

The junior is third in the nation in rushing yards (785) and leads the Seminoles with eight total touchdowns this year. Cook is one of the best home run threats in college football with his quick cutback ability and flat-out speed.

  Deondre Francois (left) and Dalvin Cook (right) make quite the combo on offense.
But he’s also a danger to defenses in the passing game, as he’s currently Florida State’s second-leading receiver with 20 catches, 345 yards and a touchdown.

This versatility has been a major help in the development of redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois. Francois has stood out in his first six games as the Seminoles’ signal caller while showing off his ability to make plays with his arm and his feet and standing tall in the pocket, despite taking some nasty licks.

Having a calming presence in Cook in the backfield, one of the top all-around backs in the country, has a large part to do with Francois’ early success and growing confidence.

Cook is working on three straight games of totaling at least 200 yards from scrimmage, and it appears he is just heating up as the back end of the schedule approaches.

  Dalvin Cook is averaging 187 yards on the ground over his last three weeks.
The major knock on Cook, when it comes to the Heisman discussion, will be his team’s performance thus far. Florida State entered the season as the No. 4 team in the nation and worked itself up to No. 2 after two impressive wins.

But that all came crashing down in Week 3 when Lamar Jackson and Louisville dominated the Seminoles in all facets of the game en route to a 63-20 beatdown. Two weeks later, Florida State dropped its second contest of the season against North Carolina.

In the loss to the Cardinals, Cook was held to just 57 rushing yards and one catch for eight yards in the passing game.

There have been plenty of Heisman winners from two-loss or three-loss teams in recent memory, so it’s unwise to take Cook out of the running. However, most of these winners came from overachieving teams that finished ahead of preseason expectations.

MORE: Week 7 AP Top 25 | Poll reaction

So Florida State’s disappointing start – and Cook’s subpar outing against Louisville – will surely be factored into his consideration. But since that first loss, the explosive running back has done everything in his power to cement himself as a legitimate threat for the award.

Cook immediately followed up the Louisville loss with a career-high 267-yard, two-touchdown performance against South Florida. His first touchdown on the day came on the Seminoles’ first play from scrimmage, as he took the hand-off off-tackle to the left, broke one tackle and then raced past everyone for a 75-yard score.

That was Cook’s first real home run play of the season, and he’s built on that momentum ever since then.

This past weekend, Florida State retook the national stage against not only another top 10 team in the nation but also its longtime rival Miami (Fla.). And this time, Florida State picked up the big statement win to avoid a third conference loss.

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The Seminoles trailed the No. 10 Hurricanes for much of Saturday night. But the game’s momentum shifted in the third quarter, starting with a big-time play from Cook.

Midway through the third frame, Florida State ran a play-action fake on first down and Francois found a wide-open Cook down the left sideline for a 59-yard catch and run into the end zone to trim the deficit to 13-9. Five minutes later, the Seminoles took their first lead of the day on a touchdown catch from Kermit Whitfield.

The Seminoles would go on to win 20-19 after a potential game-tying Miami PAT attempt was blocked by Demarcus Walker with 1:44 remaining to cap the latest interesting finish in the two programs’ historic rivalry.

Cook, a Miami native, torched his hometown team for 150 rushing yards to go along with his one long reception for the crucial touchdown.

Florida State will have two more tough tests over its final six regular season games against Clemson in Week 8 and Florida to close out the year in Week 12. If the Seminoles finish strong and Cook can put together similar performances to the one last week against Miami (Fla.) and not like that against Louisville, Cook’s stock will continue to soar.

It’s been a down year for running backs thus far in 2016 but Cook gives the positional group its best shot at claiming the Heisman for a second consecutive year.

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