Leonard Fournette got the first-place vote on my Heisman Trophy ballot.
I didn’t do this to try to sway the voting. There are 929 voters this year, so the possibility of doing that is one lottery chance in nearly a thousand. I didn’t do this to try to placate anyone at LSU, or give the shaft to another school’s candidate.
I voted for Fournette No. 1 – ahead of Heisman winner Derrick Henry of Alabama and runner-up Christian McCaffrey of Stanford – because he is an outstanding player and has had an outstanding season and deserved to be No. 1 on someone’s ballot.
Actually, he was No. 1 on nine other ballots. He had more first-place votes than Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Michigan State’s Connor Cook and TCU’s Trevone Boykin (Nos. 8-10 in the Heisman voting) combined. But none of those first-place votes moved Fournette’s meter enough to lift him out of sixth place in the final voting with 110 points, a distant 70 points behind Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds.
The Heisman ballot instructions are brief and intentionally vague. You get to vote first, second and third for the most outstanding players of the year. Unlike with most other major college awards, there is no list of finalists from which to choose. I could have voted Fournette first, a backup right guard at Nicholls State second and the kicker from Kent State third if I wanted.
I voted for Fournette for the following reasons:
1. He still leads the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) with 158.3 yards per game rushing. Yards per game, not total yards, is how the NCAA has determined its annual rushing champion since 1970. If Fournette does that, he will do something no SEC running back has done since 1949, something that Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson and Mark Ingram didn’t do.
2. He is still third in total rushing yards behind only Henry (1,986) and McCaffrey (1,847) despite having played two less games than them to this point and having fewer carries (68 fewer than Henry, 48 fewer than McCaffrey). Had Fournette had the game against McNeese State that got washed out, a quality but nonetheless FCS-level team, he would have had at least a chance to have more yards than Henry at this point in one less game.
3. Fournette has been called a generational talent. He’s been compared to Adrian Peterson. He’s the player about which people held heated midseason debates as to whether he should challenge the NFL’s draft rule barring second year players or even sit out 2016 to protect his future earning prospects. If anyone is saying that about sophomores like McCaffrey or Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson of Clemson or Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, the volume level isn’t audible by comparison.
You can make a case for a lot of other candidates, and clearly the struggles LSU and Fournette had in November are easy reasons not to have put him on a ballot. But in the opinion of this writer, those struggles were more about the teams LSU played and the Tigers’ inability to block them than a drop off in play by Fournette.
In the Texas Bowl against Texas Tech’s nearly invisible rush defense – ranked 125th out of 127 FBS teams allowing 271.8 yards per game – Fournette is likely to remind us all of the back he was in September and October. And he’s just as likely to re-establish himself as a top-shelf Heisman contender for 2016.