SEC more likely to claim Doak Walker Award than Heisman Trophy

Gurley

We know about the SEC’s dominance as measured by accruing five-star recruits, producing NFL Draft picks and winning national championships. A stat that’s overlooked: The SEC claims four of the last seven Heisman Trophy winners.

This year, though, the SEC is more likely to claim the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back than the Heisman.

It’s more and more difficult for a non-quarterback to win college football’s most prestigious award.

Last year, Andre Williams of Boston College put up the fifth-highest single-season rushing total in NCAA history. His 2,177 rushing yards were more than college legends like LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne. Williams (Andre) finished a distant fourth in the Heisman voting.

Since 2000, only one non-quarterback has won the Heisman: Alabama’s Mark Ingram, the most productive player from an undefeated national champion from the SEC.

Yes, the SEC has been producing some excellent signal-callers of late, among them Tim Tebow (2007), Cam Newton (2010) and Johnny Manziel (2012), all Heisman winners. But, as you know if you live anywhere near the former Confederacy, the conference lost Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger, Connor Shaw and James Franklin, among others. (Did anyone else notice the crickets at SEC Media Days?)

Auburn’s Nick Marshall (12/1 odds, according to Bovada) represents the SEC’s best chance at a Heisman, according to betting odds. He also shares something in common with Tebow, Newton and Manziel: He can run, and he has a coach with a proven offensive system in Gus Malzhan (see Newton).

But Auburn probably needs to, at the least, win the SEC West for Marshall to merit strong enough consideration to win the Heisman. He’s competing with a group of other quarterbacks who all should put up eye-popping numbers in Jameis Winston (Florida State), Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Bryce Petty (Baylor) and Trevor Knight (Oklahoma). It’s likely at least one of their teams will make the College Football Playoff, and considering three of the last five Heisman winners played for the national championship, it’s an important distinction.

Despite inherently worse odds, the SEC’s next five players, ranked by Heisman odds (again according to Bovada), are as follows:

  1. Todd Gurley, Georgia
  2. Derrick Henry, Alabama
  3. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
  4. Leonard Fournette, LSU
  5. Mike Davis, South Carolina

At 50/1, Jacob Coker (along with Dak Prescott) has the best Heisman odds among SEC quarterbacks not named Marshall, and he may not even start the season-opener against West Virginia.

In other words, don’t waste your money betting on the SEC to win the Heisman this year. On paper, Marshall seems like the only player with a legitimate shot. (Remember, playing quarterback, playing on a Top 5 team and getting media buzz almost are prerequisites.)

But the Doak Walker Award? That’s another story.

Considering I hold a Doak Walker vote, I follow the running backs closely. By my unofficial count, of the 55 players on the watch list, 10 play in the SEC, eight play in the Big Ten, eight play in the Pac-12, four play in the Big 12 and three play in the ACC. (Florida State’s Karlos Williams is not on the watch list.)

But the SEC’s backs are tremendous entering 2014. It’s tough to project health when it comes to running backs, but entering the season, here is my Doak Walker Award Top 10, which I will update weekly:

  1. Todd Gurley, Georgia
  2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
  3. T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
  4. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
  5. Mike Davis, South Carolina
  6. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
  7. Duke Johnson, Miami
  8. Thomas Tyner, Oregon
  9. Malcolm Brown, Texas
  10. Shock Linwood, Baylor

Remember, the Doak Walker Award winner almost always finishes the season in the Top 5 in rushing yards, and often is the NCAA rushing leader (like Williams last season). The winner is supposed to be on track in the classroom and a good citizen, but it’s fairly straightforward.

Gordon, if he’s healthy, probably should rush for more than 1,500 yards. There will be a few strong challengers. But with Gurley, Yeldon and Davis all in my Top 5, the SEC has an excellent chance to claim hardware.

Could 2014 be the year of the running back in the SEC?

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