Before the 2016 season, Dalvin Cook was the ACC favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. The junior back led the conference with 1,691 yards and 19 touchdowns on 229 rushing attempts.
Cook had recorded more than 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. He recorded more than 100 yards in four of his last five games in 2015 before being limited in the Seminoles’ Peach Bowl loss against Houston.
The dark-horse candidate from the ACC was Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. As a true freshman, Jackson displayed limitless potential. He recorded 1,840 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions on 135-of-247 passing, as well as 960 yards and 11 touchdowns on 163 rushing attempts.
Though many expected him to be better, few could’ve predicted how his sophomore season would actually turn out. As of now, Jackson is the unanimous favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, and it’s not even close.
The sophomore has already surpassed his totals in both passing and rushing from last season. Jackson has 2,522 yards, 22 touchdowns and five interceptions on 158-of-271 passing, as well as 996 yards and 16 touchdowns on 147 rushing attempts.
He’s also enjoyed signature performances against top ACC teams, including a five-touchdown performance in a 63-20 upset of FSU in Week 3.
Cook, on the other hand, has received less consideration for college football’s top award than he deserves. After a relatively slow start, he’s managed to record more than 100 yards in each of his last five games, including a season-best 267-yard performance against USF to start the trend.
But between Jackson’s emergence and FSU’s lack of meeting expectations, the Seminole star is being overshadowed. Let’s not forget that part of the Heisman criteria is playing for a national contender, or at the very least carrying a smaller program into national relevance — like Robert Griffin III at Baylor.
Florida State is arguably the most disappointing team in college football, even though it remains ranked in the AP top 25. Many picked the ‘Noles to be a College Football Playoff contender.
But with three losses — most notably the blowout against Louisville — FSU is out of the national title picture. So despite still being a very good team and challenging arguably the conference’s best team last Saturday, the Seminoles’ season is still a huge letdown.
That’s not helping Cook’s case. If FSU had upset Clemson last week, his 169 yards, four touchdowns and 8.89 yards per carry average would have been considered a signature Heisman performance. But instead, it will just be part of an impressive individual campaign as the conference’s best back.
It also doesn’t help that Jackson is playing so far ahead of everyone else in the country, let alone in the ACC. At this point, saying anyone else is a Heisman contender sounds sacrilegious. But the fact that Jackson is in the same conference as Cook makes the latter’s chances of receiving attention even worse.
Sure, Jackson is the clear-cut favorite, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be other contenders. There’s always a ceremony with several finalists and right now, Cook is playing like a player who deserves to be in New York this December.
But between FSU’s disappointing season and the emergence of Jackson, he’s receiving far less acclaim than he deserves. Then again, the three running backs with more yards — San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey, Wyoming’s Brian Hill and Texas’ D’Onta Foreman — have even less of a chance of making it to New York.
That’s just the way the criteria is. The award is given to someone with ridiculous statistics, but not necessarily the best player in college football. It also takes winning and contending into consideration. While Jackson has done both, Cook plays for a team that he described after Saturday’s loss as having to “do a better job of executing in the big moments.”
At the end of the day, that’s what’s going to hurt his Heisman campaign more than anything else.