Melvin Gordon might not be a household name just yet, but the Wisconsin running back has a chance to put himself in the spotlight in Week 1.
The junior posted impressive numbers last season, totaling 1,609 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as part of a terrifying rushing attack alongside James White. With his teammate now with the New England Patriots, Gordon has a chance to be even more productive in 2014.
This makes it unsurprising to see him already on a few Heisman watch lists. According to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports, the running back is listed at 12-1 odds to win the prestigious award.
Nicole Auerbach of USA Today quotes a player ready to take over:
Still, there is a big difference between getting early hype and actually winning a Heisman Trophy. Gordon is a running back in a sport that has put quarterbacks in a brighter spotlight than ever before.
In the past 14 years, 12 different quarterbacks have been named the most outstanding player in the nation compared to just two running backs. One of those players was Reggie Bush, who was forced to vacate his award.
For Gordon to be a legitimate contender to win the Heisman, he will need to either be on a legitimate contender or put up stats you cannot ignore. He has a chance to do both of those this season.
The running back already has all the tools to make him one of the best players in the country at his position. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) considers him the No. 2 running back in the 2015 draft class behind only Todd Gurley of Georgia. His speed is constantly on display, while his size even impressed Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer:
After averaging a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry last season, the running back is also expecting a bigger role this season, via ESPN Big Ten:
In a run-heavy system with a great line in front of him as well as elite fullback Derek Watt paving the way, the only thing that can stop him is injury. If he gets enough touches, it would not be surprising to see him run for close to 2,000 yards this season.
Even with these numbers, though, Heisman voters want to see success against elite teams. In reality, the first week against LSU could be the best opponent Wisconsin plays all season. A strong performance in this game would be enough to prove he can do the same against anyone.
Gordon already has bulletin-board material to get him ready for LSU. Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune quoted linebacker Lamar Louis, who had nice things to say about the running back but noted he was not afraid of the competition:
He's a good back, speedy back. He makes good cuts, good decisions. I think he's up for the Heisman Trophy.
But I'm going to say what Chief said, tells us all the time, he's not someone we haven't faced in these past years. He's not someone we don't practice against (like) Terrence Magee, Leonard Fournette, Jeremy Hill.
We'll be ready. We're not taking him lightly. He's a great back.
On Saturday, Gordon will get a chance to show he is better than all of the LSU running backs or anything else the SEC has to offer.
Still, the most important thing for Wisconsin this weekend is to come away with a win. This neutral game at NRG Stadium in Houston could be an opportunity for the Badgers to prove they are a great team. A win over an SEC school to start the season would certainly turn some heads.
Beyond that, Wisconsin only faces one more ranked team all season in Nebraska. A win in this opening game could give the squad a serious shot to run the table and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.
An elite running back on a national title contender would certainly be enough to gain Heisman votes. This all starts with a strong performance in the first game against LSU.
If Gordon can put up over 100 yards and a touchdown or two in a winning effort, you can officially start his bid for the biggest individual award in the sport.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!