Early 2016 rankings place LSU as high as No. 4; Leonard Fournette, Dave Aranda cited as difference-makers _lowres

Associated Press photo by JONATHAN BACHMAN -- LSU coach Les Miles hands running back Leonard Fournette a game ball after breaking the single-season rushing record during the home finale against Texas A&M on Nov. 28.

Leonard Fournette came away empty-handed Thursday night.

LSU’s sophomore running back did not win the Doak Walker Award, which was presented Thursday night on ESPN. Alabama junior Derrick Henry, who in November replaced Fournette as Heisman Trophy front-runner, took home the award presented each year to the nation’s best running back.

Fournette and Henry, along with Stanford sophomore Christian McCaffrey, were the three finalists for the award. Henry, McCaffrey and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson are finalists for the Heisman Trophy, for which Fournette was heavily favored until the Tigers’ three-game losing streak.

Before LSU’s loss at Alabama on Nov. 7, the New Orleans native led the nation in rushing yards per game by a wide margin, averaging 193.1 at the time. He ran for only 31 yards on 19 carries in that game and gained 199 combined yards in the subsequent losses to Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Henry and McCaffrey are the only two players with more rushing yards than Fournette, and their teams played two more games than LSU. The Tigers’ running back still leads the nation in rushing yards per game (158.3) and is tied for the third-most rushing touchdowns (18).

Fournette cemented his place in the program record books against Texas A&M by breaking Charles Alexander’s single-season rushing record of 1,686 yards in 1977. Fournette finished the regular season with 1,741 yards.

The sophomore also flirted with Alley Broussard’s single-game rushing record of 250 yards three times early in the year.

Fournette may have a chance to break it when LSU meets Texas Tech, which has the third-worst rushing defense nationally in allowing 271.83 yards per game, in the Texas Bowl at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 in Houston.

Walter Camp All-Americans

Fournette did make an All-America team Thursday, along with tackle Vadal Alexander.

Fournette was named a first-team All-American while Alexander earned second-team recognition, the Walter Camp Foundation announced Thursday. Both players also received first-team All-SEC recognition this week.

Alexander started all 11 games this season, making 10 starts at right tackle and one on the left side. He has made 45 career starts during his four years in Baton Rouge.

Coaches and sports information directors from all 129 FBS schools select the Walter Camp All-America squads.

Three on SEC All-Freshman team

LSU often plays a host of freshmen each season, and three players this year’s class were voted onto the Southeastern Conference coaches’ All-Freshman Team, the league announced Thursday.

Guard Will Clapp, running back Derrius Guice and defensive end Arden Key made the team. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. The Tigers had the third-most players on the squad behind Alabama and Texas A&M (four apiece).

Clapp, a redshirt freshman, was a primary lead blocker and pulling guard for a rushing attack that ranks 10th in the nation at 245.91 yards per game.

Guice was the Tigers’ primary kick returner and No. 2 back behind Fournette. The Catholic High graduate amassed 806 all-purpose yards and flashed his blend of power and athleticism.

Key began as LSU’s No. 3 defensive end but took junior Tashawn Bower’s starting role four games into the season. The lanky true freshman piled up 6 1/2 tackles for loss and five sacks, good for second on the team.