T.J. Yeldon's Heisman Campaign Still Has Long Way to Go Despite Strong Opener

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistAugust 31, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - AUGUST 30:  T.J. Yeldon #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide breaks a tackle by Daryl Worley #7 of the West Virginia Mountaineers at Georgia Dome on August 30, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Martin Rose/Getty Images

T.J. Yeldon has plenty of reasons to be happy about his performance in Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia on Saturday. When it comes to his Heisman Trophy chances, on the other hand, the junior running back should remain cautiously optimistic.

Yeldon rushed for 126 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. On a day when the Crimson Tide were below their best, he was one of the few players to meet expectations. And of course, anything he does is viewed in part through the Heisman spectrum. In that regard, he did nothing to hurt his campaign.

Coming into the season, Yeldon is on the periphery in regard to the Heisman race. He sits eighth in ESPN.com's preseason Heisman Watch, getting a sole fifth-place vote. You could argue that the injury to Braxton Miller bumped him up at least a place or two.

After he ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons in Tuscaloosa, it's reasonable to expect Yeldon to be even better in his third year at the school. With that improvement, maybe he can follow in Mark Ingram's footsteps and win the Heisman.

In order to get there, though, he'll have to overcome both history and his own teammate.

In general, the Heisman Trophy has almost become the "Best Quarterback Award," considering how many have won in recent years.

In order for a running back to win today, he has to fall into one of three categories. There are the history-makers/history-approach-ers (Ricky Williams in 1998 and Ron Dayne in 1999), electrifying playmakers who do more than run the ball (Reggie Bush in 2005) and voters' only recourse (Ingram in 2009).

NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12:  Running back Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide poses with the Heisman Trophy during a press conference after being named the 75th Heisman Trophy winner at the Marriott Marquis on December 12, 2009 in New York City.  (Pho
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Ingram was very good in '09, but his 1,658 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns weren't exactly otherworldly. The yardage doesn't even crack the top 100 single-season rushing leaders of all time

What helped Ingram the most was the dearth of Heisman-caliber quarterbacks. Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow were the only QBs with any shot to win, and there wasn't any chance either of them were gonna lift the trophy.

Yeldon will have to outplay the incumbent Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty and Nick Marshall. Not to mention that Todd Gurley is arguably the most likely running back at this point to win the Heisman.

Another major road block is Derrick Henry. The sophomore went for 113 yards and a touchdown of his own. If anything, he was the more buzzworthy running back from the day.

If Alabama finds itself near the top of the polls by year's end, then you can count on at least one of the Tide's bigger offensive stars being mentioned as a possible Heisman candidate, as Ingram, Trent Richardson and AJ McCarron managed to do.

More than likely, that guy's gonna come out of the backfield. Head coach Nick Saban isn't all of a sudden going to radically alter his offense, especially with unproven quarterbacks like Blake Sims and Jacob Coker.

"We definitely we want to be physical running the ball, pass blocking and being effective as receivers," said Henry after the West Virginia game, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Anything we can help out Blake in any way, we're going to try to do."

Unless Alabama can run a joint Heisman campaign, you could easily see Yeldon and Henry taking away from one another's chances. As long as they're splitting carries, neither has a chance to truly shine.

Yeldon may well be one of the most talented running backs in the country. As things stand now, though, it's hard to see how he'll be able to build the momentum necessary to capture college football's most coveted individual award.