Sugar Bowl Could Start 2014 Heisman Campaign for Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterDecember 17, 2013

Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon
Alabama RB T.J. YeldonKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2013 Heisman Trophy ceremony is in the books, with Hueytown, Ala. native and current Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston taking home college football's most prestigious individual honor.

But another Alabama native could kick off his 2014 Heisman campaign in his bowl game—only this one stayed in-state to play his college football: Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon.

Nov 16, 2013; Starkville, MS, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon (4) carries against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

The Daphne native rushed 190 times for 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide during his true sophomore season in 2013, topping the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight season.

Heisman-worthy? Not this year. 

Next year may be a different story.

Yeldon and the Tide will square off against the Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 2014. 

Oklahoma's strength is it pass defense, which gave up 198 yards per game—the best mark in the Big 12 and 16th-best in the country. On run defense, the Sooners were decent, giving up 138.33 yards per game on the ground—good for fourth-best in the conference.

If there is a weak spot on the Sooners, it's the rush defense. Expect Alabama to exploit it.

The Tide will still throw—especially considering the game will serve as the going-away party for quarterback AJ McCarron—but this game is ready-made for old-school, Alabama football.

That means a heavy dose of Yeldon, who will benefit immensely from a stage to position himself in the race for the 2014 Heisman Trophy.

He was already listed as an early candidate by, and if he has a "Heisman moment" against the Sooners, it could set the tone for a true junior season in which Yeldon will be the focal point of the Crimson Tide offense.

Nov 9, 2013; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back T.J. Yeldon (4) carries the ball for a four ear touchdown during the third quarter against the LSU Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

McCarron, who finished second this year in Heisman Trophy voting, will exhaust his eligibility after the Sugar Bowl, as will senior wide receiver Kevin Norwood, who finished second on the team with 538 receiving yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.

The new quarterback—whether that be Blake Sims, Cooper Bateman, Alec Morris, incoming freshman David Cornwell or somebody else—will have the luxury of a proven, every-down back to rely on as he eases into the starting quarterback role.

It's going to be an uphill battle for Yeldon, or any running back, to take home the Heisman in 2014. Only twice since 2000 has a running back hoisted the trophy—Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009 and USC's Reggie Bush in 2005. Bush later forfeited the award after the NCAA ruled Bush's family received improper benefits.

We saw Jadeveon Clowney ride "the hit" all the way through last offseason and into the early season Heisman discussion.

Yeldon can repeat the feat with a big performance in the Sugar Bowl.