Running backs are Heisman long shots

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Since the turn of the 21st century, the Heisman Trophy has become mostly the domain of quarterbacks.

After the 1990s ended with back-to-back wins by running backs (Ricky Williams and Ron Dayne), quarterbacks have taken home the bust of Ed Smith (more on him later) 15 times. Running backs Reggie Bush (2005, since vacated), Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015) are the only non-QBs admitted to the club this millennium.

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And 2019 looks like it will bring more of the same. Quarterbacks occupied six of the top seven slots in USA Today’s weekly survey of 20 Heisman voters.

Former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts (now with Oklahoma) retained the top spot despite not seeing the field this past weekend — it was the Sooners’ bye week. Hurts had 11 first-place votes and five seconds to retain the lead over current Alabama quarterback Tua Taigovailoa (three first-, 11 second-place votes).

Hurts is trying to become the third straight quarterback (following Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the past two No. 1 overall selections in the NFL Draft) to transfer to Oklahoma and win a Heisman Trophy.

Among USA Today’s top seven hopefuls, only Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is not a signal caller.

Taylor on Saturday ran through the Michigan defense on the way to 204 yards and two touchdowns. The junior now has 440 yards and seven touchdowns through three games while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. But he was a distant fourth on USA Today’s list with one first-place vote.

All of this, combined with the excess of strong quarterback contenders in 2019, does not bode well for Taylor’s chances.

While his play thus far has made him a strong candidate to be invited to the ceremony in New York at the end of the season, he needs more national-TV exposure against top-flight opposition.

His best bet to impress Heisman voters will happen Oct. 26 when he and the Badgers play at No. 5 Ohio State.

Would another 200-yard performance leading to a win over a ranked opponent be enough?

Recent history says it won’t. 

Saturday

SMU -7.5 at South Florida: The Mustangs are 4-0 after upsetting TCU last Saturday, thanks to an offense that is generating more than 500 yards a game.

The 1-2 Bulls are a different story.

South Florida is averaging less than 300 yards of offense through three games, including a 450-yard performance in a blowout win over South Carolina State. The Bulls are 1-3 in their past four home games. SMU

Northern Illinois at Vanderbilt -6.5: The Commodores’ schedule has been front-loaded. Early season meetings with SEC powers Georgia and LSU sandwiched around a trip to Purdue have left Vanderbilt with an 0-3 start to the season.

Things should be different against the Huskies, who had been turnover prone and struggled on the ground. Northern Illinois was blown out by Utah and Nebraska after struggling with FCS Illinois State. VANDERBILT

Central Michigan at Western Michigan, Total 59.5: The Broncos once again boast a strong offense. They’re averaging better than 500 yards per game. 

The defense, however, has struggled. Western Michigan gave up a total of 103 points in their two losses — to Michigan State and Syracuse. The Broncos are allowing 300-plus yards passing and more than 200 yards on the ground.

That could be key for a Chippewas offense that has been inconsistent. 

Central Michigan beat conference foe Akron 45-24 but managed just 12 total points in losses to Wisconsin and Miami. OVER

Last week: 3-0

Season: 6-8

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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