Leonard Fournette was the consensus favorite to win the Heisman Trophy through his first seven games. He led the nation with 1,352 yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 193.1 yards per game and 7.7 yards per carry.
Then the Alabama game happened.
Fournette was held to just 31 yards and a touchdown on a season-low 19 attempts. Likewise, LSU’s then-perfect season turned into a three-game losing skid that nearly cost head coach Les Miles his job.
The Tigers finished with a disappointing 8-3 record after spending the first half of the year as a national contender. Fournette — despite still leading the nation in yards per game — didn’t receive an invite to the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
In cruel poetic justice, both Fournette and LSU watched as the Crimson Tide reaped the benefits of the season defining head-to-head matchup. Alabama went on to win the SEC Championship and will face Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl during the first round of the College Football Playoffs. Derrick Henry — who rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns against LSU — continued his season-long dominance and won the Heisman Trophy.
Even though both players earned All-American honors, Fournette’s historic season was overshadowed by his SEC rival. His season became an afterthought to all of Henry’s accolades due in large part to his disappointing performance against the Tide.
“I had a bad game,” Fournette said during ESPN’s College Football Awards in Atlanta. “Maybe if we had won it, I’d still be in the Heisman race.”
But that’s no reason to forget about a year that included 1,741 rushing yards — third in the nation — 18 touchdowns and earned team MVP honors. Fournette is still one of college football’s best players despite falling short of early Heisman expectations and will be the biggest focus during LSU’s Texas Bowl matchup against Texas Tech on Tuesday.
Fournette should end his remarkable sophomore campaign with a strong performance against the Red Raiders. Texas Tech ranks last in the Big 12 in rushing defense and has allowed 271.8 yards per game — 3,262 total yards — and 5.9 yards per carry.
Fournette is 259 yards — which would set a school rushing record — shy of becoming the first SEC back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. It’s a large feat, but it’s possible given that he rushed for more than 200 yards in an SEC-record three consecutive games in 2015.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete, one of those once-in-a-generation-type backs,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Fournette when the bowl matchup was announced earlier this month. “Just the highlights, I haven’t watched any game tape on him…We’ll have our hands full trying to slow him down.”
Fournette should have a historic game against Texas Tech to successfully cap off a memorable season. Between falling short of a once nearly guaranteed Heisman and having his family take part in an NCAA probing in November, the sophomore’s season has seen its share of both highs and lows.
But Fournette should dominate a weak Texas Tech defense in LSU’s bowl game and carry momentum into his junior season which will — once again — include the expectations of being one of the best backs in college football.