There will be no bright lights for the kid they call BUGA.
LSU running back Leonard Fournette, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner for six weeks starting in mid-September, did not make the list of three finalists for the top individual honor in college football. Alabama running back Derrick Henry, Stanford running back and return man Christian McCaffrey and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson were named finalists on Monday night on ESPN2.
Fournette, the Tigers’ sophomore sensation and the current NCAA rushing leader, slipped in Heisman projections over the last few weeks. He hit a November snag, starting with a 31-yard rushing outing against Alabama on Nov. 7 – a 30-16 loss that began the program’s first three-game losing skid since 1999. Fournette ran for 91 and 108 yards in losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss.
The three-game streak sent him spiraling from Heisman favorite – at 4 to 9 odds – to an outsider who didn’t even make the cut to New York City.
The number of finalists is based on the voting. There are more than 800 Heisman voters. Each voter lists their top three candidates with their No. 1 receiving 3 points, No. 2 receiving two points and No. 3 getting one point.
The top point-getter is presented the Heisman Trophy at 7 p.m. Saturday in a ceremony in New York televised on ESPN.
It won’t be Fournette, the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder who’s averaging a nation-leading 158 yards a game. Fournette’s lists of accomplishments this season are lengthy.
He went on an early-season tear that had his face and name sweeping throughout the nation.
He became the first Southeastern Conference player to run for at least 200 yards in three straight games. He was the fastest LSU player to reach the 1,000-yard mark, accomplishing it in five games – one of just 10 players in NCAA history to do that.
He rushed for at least 150 yards in LSU’s first seven games, becoming the first FBS player to achieve such a feat since 2007.
Those wild first two months had draft experts like Mel Kiper Jr. saying Fournette would be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft if he were eligible.
Everything changed in the game at Alabama.
Fournette entered that game averaging 193.1 rushing yards a game and having totaled 1,352 yards through seven games. The Tigers were 7-0 and No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Against the Tide on national television, Fournette carried the ball 19 times and ran for 31 yards – a 1.6-yard average. LSU’s offensive line didn’t create much space for the former No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation. On 13 of his 19 runs, Alabama first contacted Fournette at or behind the line of scrimmage. Henry, meanwhile, ran for 210 yards against LSU’s defense for an average of more than five yards a carry.
Fournette’s absence in New York wasn’t much of a surprise.
Fournette and others saw this coming. He wasn’t one of five finalists for the Walter Camp player of the year award announced last week. He was left off many national Heisman projections over the last few weeks, too.
On Sunday after the win over A&M, Fournette tweeted, “The crazy thing is my team told me I am the Heisman winner in their eyes.”
LSU players expressed their feelings about the situation after Monday’s announcement, taking to Twitter to vent.
“(Fournette) should have been a finalist!” wrote quarterback Anthony Jennings.
“SNUBBED!!!!!!!!” tweeted snapper Reid Ferguson.
“Didn’t even send Leonard. Wow,” said a post from quarterback Justin McMillan.
They rallied behind their star.
“Don’t trip brother.... next year is our year,” safety Jamal Adams wrote.
“You still the best bro,” wrote defensive back Donte Jackson.
Fournette’s reponse? He tweeted a sad face about 20 minutes after the finalists were revealed. LSU coach Les Miles followed with a tweet: “Feeling is mutual Leonard. Still extremely proud to be your coach.”
Fournette broke the school’s single-season rushing record – something that stood for 37 years – in the regular season finale against Texas A&M. His 159 yards against the Aggies wasn’t enough to swing enough voter support – not with other candidates impressing during championship victories Saturday.
Henry carried the ball 44 times for 189 yards in Alabama’s 29-15 win over Florida in the SEC championship game. McCaffrey, the Cardinal’s versatile sophomore, rolled up 461 all-purpose yards in Stanford’s win in the Pac-12 championship game. Watson had 289 yards passing, 131 rushing and scored five touchdowns in Clemson’s ACC title game win.
Meanwhile, LSU sat home with an 8-3 record.
“You win the Heisman in November, got to win 10 games,” Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com’s national college football reporter, said earlier this year. “That’s usually the winner. That goes back to my point – the best player doesn’t always win the Heisman. It’s a function on wins.”
All three of those players played two more games than Fournette – something LSU coach Les Miles made note of on Sunday night during a news conference regarding the Tigers’ Texas Bowl matchup against Texas Tech.
LSU’s season opener against McNeese State was canceled because of lightning. The Tigers played just 11 games.
“I’m not here to tell you that I know who the best Heisman candidate is. I’m not. But I would have to say that one of the candidates didn’t get an opportunity to play in that game that was in the middle of the night,” Miles said. “Lightning robbed him. I would have to say he would have had a good night that night. It would certainly have been more noteworthy and put himself in position to have an invitation.”
Henry currently has 1,986 yards rushing to Fournette’s 1,741 and has scored five more touchdowns than Fournette’s 18. Both players, including McCaffrey are finalists for the Doak Walker Award, presented to the nation’s best running at a ceremony Thursday night on ESPN.