James White showed in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game why he has Heisman Trophy potential.
The junior tailback tied a career high with four rushing touchdowns and threw his first collegiate TD pass in the Badgers’ 70-31 rout of Nebraska. He ran 15 times for 109 yards (7.3 yards per carry) and had one catch for 22 yards to help Wisconsin earn a third straight trip to the Rose Bowl.
On a normal fall Saturday, those numbers might be worthy of a game ball from the coach. In the Big Ten title game, however, it was only the third-best rushing performance from a Wisconsin team that seemed unstoppable.
Fellow running backs Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball rushed for 216 and 202 yards, respectively, to help the Badgers shred the Cornhuskers. With Ball off to the Denver Broncos, Gordon, a sophomore from Kenosha, Wis., might be White’s biggest impediment in the quest for 2013 Heisman Trophy consideration.
White enters his senior season on the Doak Walker Award watch list, the third straight year he has been a preseason candidate for the nation's best running back. Ball won the award last year; Gordon is among 62 others on the watch list this year.
So, what will it take for White to be a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2013? Here are three reasons he might be in the discussion.
Heisman Trophy voters take notice of prolific numbers. The earlier White can make headlines, the better.
The first two opponents on Wisconsin’s schedule are not marquee names (UMass and Tennessee Tech), but the Badgers offensive line should be able to open running lanes all day long. If White touches the ball 15 to 20 times per game in the first two outings, he should easily be north of 150 yards. Toss in a few touchdowns and he will figure prominently in television highlights.
After clashes at Arizona State and against Purdue, expect White’s numbers to shrink. A Sept. 28 night game at Ohio State might be White’s do-or-die opportunity. A stellar performance against the Buckeyes could catapult him into serious Heisman consideration.
White has started only two games in his Wisconsin career, but his 6.1 yards-per-carry average is a school-best. If he gets as many handoffs as Ball did last year (356), White will surpass 2,000 yards for the season if that average persists.
He has 2,571 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns in three years of playing largely as a backup. White, who played largely as a reserve in high school in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., might need to come close to those numbers in a single season to be worthy of college football’s most outstanding player.
He will be No. 1 on Wisconsin’s depth chart at tailback when the team opens camp next week.
Wisconsin’s offensive coaches deployed a “barge” formation several times in the latter half of 2012. It features seven offensive linemen, two tight ends and two running backs.
White almost always was the beneficiary of that formation, taking a direct snap and proving elusive at 5’10” behind a mammoth front wall. That alignment was used when White threw his first Wisconsin TD pass in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Will the new coaching staff utilize the “barge” or otherwise use White in some new wrinkles? Head coach Gary Andersen’s teams at Utah State tried to exploit defenses with read-option schemes, so it would not come as a surprise to see White take some direct snaps this season.
The Badgers might call some wheel routes or screen passes with White out of the backfield. He turned a screen pass into a career-long 62-yard touchdown reception against Illinois last year.
If White touches the ball 20-plus times per game and stays healthy—and the team overachieves—he will be in line for some postseason accolades. The Heisman Trophy would be a crowning achievement.