As Wisconsin began its Capital One Bowl preparations, speculation over the NFL future of star running back Melvin Gordon began in earnest.
On Friday, Gordon put an end to the speculation by announcing his intentions to return to the Badgers, via Fox Sports.
“After talking it over with my family and my coaches, I have decided to come back next year,” Gordon said in a statement released by the school. “I love the University of Wisconsin and feel that there is still a lot of room for growth. Academically, another year in school will help me get closer to completing my degree and on the field I hope to help my team get back the Big Ten championship.
“With this decision out of the way I can now focus on helping my team prepare for the Capital One Bowl and a great opponent in South Carolina.”
Gordon is right; he needs to focus on the Capital One Bowl.
Despite a season that saw him rush for over 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns, Gordon's name faded from the national spotlight as the season went on.
Gordon ran for over 140 yards in each of the first four games, rushing for 624 of his 1,466-yard total in the first four weeks of the season. That's 42.6 percent of his season total in the first four games of the year.
After suffering an injury in the Ohio State game, things were not the same for the sophomore sensation.
In Big Ten play, Gordon topped the 100-yard mark in just half of his games, and by the end of the season, it was senior James White taking up the headlines.
Gordon also scored only two touchdowns in games against conference teams not named Illinois and Purdue (he had three each against those two schools).
He reached the end zone just one time in the final month of the season, scoring against Indiana.
With those kinds of numbers, Gordon needs to prove he can do it against tougher competition.
He proved it a bit against a tough Arizona State unit, going for 193 yards and two touchdowns in the controversial loss.
Outside of that game, though, the more difficult the defense, the worse the results became for Gordon.
Was there one reason for the drop-off in production? Head coach Gary Andersen didn't seem to think so, citing his ability to do other things well for this football team, per UWBadgers.com:
He doesn't have the numbers. But Melvin is progressively getting better every single week at the other things that is important in football, other than running the ball. And blocking is getting better. He's catching the ball consistently in practice. Doesn't show up a lot on game day right now.
The New Year's Day game is a chance for Gordon to right the ship and show that he can get it done against a good defense.
This is one of the best defenses the Badgers will have faced all season long, and a matchup against the likes of Jadeveon Clowney means a lot more eyeballs watching every play.
South Carolina's run defense is giving up just 142.2 yards a game on average, which is 32nd nationally.
Wisconsin has faced only three other defenses better against the run—Ohio State (seventh), Iowa and Arizona State (31st).
Outside of the ASU game, the numbers haven't been good for Gordon against top-level defenses.
Against OSU and Iowa, Gordon averaged just 68 yards and failed to score in either game.
Sure, all three of those games came on the road, but the way Capital One Bowl ticket sales are going it could feel like a road game in Orlando for the Badgers.
With the opponent Gordon and the Badgers are facing on New Year's Day, a big game will go a long way to making sure people don't forget his name—and more importantly, help his team earn a win in a bowl game for the first time in four years.
*Andy Coppens is Bleacher Report's lead writer for the Big Ten. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.
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