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Hunting the Heisman: Big Challenges Await College Football’s Stars

Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire

The LSU Tigers might be entering a bye week, but are anticipating what is likely their biggest challenge of the season once they return to action: facing Alabama in Tuscaloosa. That does not exclude sophomore running back Leonard Fournette, who is the leading candidate to win the Heisman Trophy in December.

Fournette, who is well on his way to a 2,000-yard season, hasn’t seen a defensive front like the one the Crimson Tide will field on Saturday, November 7. Alabama ranks 4th in the country in rushing yards allowed per game (78.5) and has only surrendered four touchdowns on the ground through eight games. If there’s ever been an opportunity for a “defining moment,” this is it.

Trevone Boykin and the TCU offense return from a bye this weekend to square off against West Virginia at home before going on the road to test its might against an undefeated Oklahoma State team, in which the defense leads the Big 12 Conference at 18.9 points allowed per game. Since scoring 23 in the season opener against Minnesota, the Horned Frogs have averaged 54.7 per contest — whereas the Cowboys have held opponents to 14 points or less in four different games in 2015.

Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliot is in good shape heading into the bye week, having rushed for 100 yards or more in 13 straight games. However, the last time he was held to under 100 was against Minnesota (91) last November, and the Buckeyes will be hosting the Golden Gophers — who haven’t fared great against the run, but don’t make life easy for opposing backs — once they return in Week 10.

Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman enters Week 9 with a nation-leading 18 receiving touchdowns, which is already one more than the leading receiver from 2014 (Rashad Higgins) had all year long. Coleman, however, loses starting quarterback Seth Russell to a neck injury for the remainder of the season, and there’s a chance that his ridiculous level of production begins to decline.

And of course, Derrick Henry faces a difficult challenge of his own next week, as Alabama’s offensive line prepares for an LSU defensive front that sits right behind its own at No. 2 in the SEC against the run (93.7 yards allowed per game). Henry has 379 yards and four touchdowns over his last two games and seems to be hitting his stride as the focal point of the Crimson Tide’s offensive game plan.

What do you think of the rankings? Let us know in the comment section below, or follow @TodaysUSports to tell us how you really feel.

*A point system was assigned, giving 5 points for a player with a No. 1 vote, 4 points for a No. 2 vote, and so on.


The Big 3

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
2015 stats: 176 carries, 1,352 yards (7.7 ypc), 15 TD … 7 rec, 58 yards
Last week vs. Western Kentucky: 26 carries, 150 yards (5.8 ypc), TD

Why: You could make the argument that this is the biggest game LSU coach Les Miles has had to prepare for since the Tigers played Alabama in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game; this is undoubtedly Leonard Fournette’s biggest test since joining the college ranks. With a win, LSU would improve to 8-0 and more than likely secure a spot in the SEC title game. It would also all but lock up the Heisman Trophy for Fournette, assuming he were to contribute to the landscape-altering victory. (I’d bet a big “yes” there.)

2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
2015 stats: 166-of-250 (66.4 percent), 2,539 yards, 25 TD, 5 INT … 77 carries, 440 yards (5.7 ypc), 5 TD
Week 7 vs. Iowa State: 27-of-32 (84.4 percent), 436 yards, 4 TD … 13 carries, 74 yards (5.7 ypc), TD


Why: Before TCU can even think about Oklahoma State in Week 10, Boykin and company must keep their focus on avoiding a trap game loss to West Virginia. The Mountaineers started hot at 3-0 but have lost three straight to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, and now have their backs against the wall in what could be a must-win situation. Both teams have middle-of-the-road scoring defenses (TCU ranks 65th and WVU sits at 69th), so we can expect — like many Big 12 conference games — for this one to be offense heavy. Boykin has thrown for four touchdowns or more in five different games this season, and he might have to bump that number up to six in order for the ‘Frogs to advance to 8-0.

3. Ezekiel Elliot, RB, Ohio State
2015 stats: 167 carries, 1,130 yards (6.8 ypc), 13 TD … 23 rec, 160 yards
Last week vs. Rutgers: 19 carries, 142 yards (7.5 ypc), 2 TD … 3 rec, 29 yards

Why: With J.T. Barrett in shotgun rather than Cardale Jones, there’s a decent chance that Elliot’s carries take a hit and his overall production from a numbers standpoint begin to decrease. In 13 games with Barrett starting, he’s averaging 16.6 carries with 101.8 yards and .92 touchdowns. With Jones, however, he’s averaged 22.4 carries for 168.4 yards and 1.9 scores on the ground. Barrett’s emergence adds another dimension to the running game and ultimately makes Ohio State’s offense more versatile; but we’ll see if the trend continues as the Buckeyes finish out the remainder of the regular season.

Still in the Hunt

4. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor: 47 rec, 962 yards (20.5 ypr), 18 TD … 11 carries, 49 yards (4.5 ypc)
5. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama: 180 carries, 1,044 yards (5.8 ypc), 14 TD … 8 rec, 69 yards
6. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State: 127 carries, 1,037 yards (8.2 ypc), 11 TD … 15 rec, 181 yards, TD
7. Josh Doctson, WR, TCU: 60 rec, 1,067 yards (17.8 ypr), 12 TD
8. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State: 146-of-254 (57.5 percent), 2,070 yards, 17 TD, 2 INT


Keep Your Eye on

9. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
10. Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
11. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
12. Greg Ward, Jr., QB, Houston
13. Jeremy Cash, S, Duke


(You can view last week’s edition of Hunting the Heisman here.)

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