Heisman Darkhorse: Making a Case For Fresno State's Ryan Mathews

Todd KaufmannSenior Writer ISeptember 30, 2009

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Ryan Matthews #21 of the Frenso State Bulldogs runs with the ball during the game against the UCLA Bruins on September 27, 2008 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Not since quarterback David Carr in 2001, now with the NFL's New York Giants, have the Fresno State Bulldogs had a possible Heisman candidate. Now it looks like Fresno State junior running back Ryan Mathews has possibly emerged as the next candidate for the coveted Heisman trophy, yet he's getting no attention at all.

Growing up and watching a team from a small conference, I've gotten used to the media giving little to no respect to teams like Fresno State. I've gotten used to fans of teams from the top BCS conferences like the ACC, SEC and Big Ten giving little to no respect for teams from conferences like the WAC because "they don't play anyone."

Before I get into talking about a candidate that deserves respect and to be in the Heisman conversation, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the conversation about why there's very little respect for teams like Fresno State.

The way the Bowl Championship Series is set up right now is unfortunate for those in conferences outside those that are granted automatic berths. 

It tells teams like Fresno State, Boise State, Utah, BYU and a few others that they will never play for a national championship regardless of the fact that they might have finished their season undefeated.

Even when Boise State went undefeated in 2006, they still finished behind two-loss teams Michigan and USC in the polls. When they were told they didn't belong, Boise State decided to prove everyone wrong when they knocked off eighth ranked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. A game that became an instant classic.

Even after Boise State's win, there were still some that argued that Oklahoma played without Adrian Peterson, the team's top running back. Some said Boise would never have won if Peterson had been able to play. Even after an impressive win, even after knocking off a team that no one expected them to beat, the respect still wasn't there.

The reason I bring all of that up is for one simple question: If the BCS says they don't deserve a national championship shot even after going undefeated, does this mean that players from the WAC or MWC don't deserve consideration for the Heisman Trophy?

Regardless of the fact that there is a running back out of the WAC that currently leads the nation in rushing, does he not deserve any consideration at all for the Heisman Trophy because of the conference he plays in?

Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews would tell you that he'd much rather stay in the shadows and keep to himself. He's not the kind of guy that looks for attention or craves it. He's the kind of guy that shys away from the spotlight, the media cameras and post game questions about his own performance.

Since Mathews isn't going to be the one to campaign for himself, I'll take it upon myself to thrust him into the national spotlight.

Through four games this season, Mathews leads the nation in rushing with 592 total yards, and a 148 yard per game average. Four of his five touchdowns have come on runs of 60 yards or more, with three of those four on a Friday night game on national television against conference rival Boise State. Even after that performance, still, no one talks about him.

Take a look at one of the guys that is getting a lot of Heisman hype and you'll only see one difference between Mathews and Cal running back Jahvid Best.

Through the same amount of games (4), Mathews leads Best in total yards rushing (592/467), yards per game (148.0/116.8), carries (87/69) and they're dead even in yards per carry (6.8). The only difference between Mathews and Best is the touchdown total which Best leads with eight to Mathews' five.

So why is Mathews not getting any hype at all if the only difference between one running back and another is their touchdown total? You can't use the argument "Fresno State hasn't played anyone," when Cal has had the more favorable schedule thus far.

Fresno State has faced UC Davis, Wisconsin, Boise State and Cincinnati to open their season where Cal has played Maryland, Eastern Washington, Minnesota and Oregon. Both teams have played half of their four games at home, both have played a conference rival.

Against Oregon, who was giving up 132.5 yards per game (8th in the PAC-10), Best was held to just 55 yards rushing and did not get into the end zone in Cal's lopsided 42-3 loss.

Against Boise, second in the WAC giving up just 120.5 yards per game, Mathews went for a career high 234 rushing yards and was responsible for 21 of Fresno State's 34 points in their 51-34 loss.

So I ask again, why does one guy get hype when it's the other that has better numbers?

If making a case for Mathews against Jahvid Best didn't get it done, how about comparing him to former Heisman Trophy winners like USC's Reggie Bush and Wisconsin's Ron Dayne.

Through the same number of games (4), Mathews is 101 yards better than Bush (491) and 20 yards fewer than Ron Dayne (612) but in just 14 fewer carries than Dayne's 101.

If Mathews continues at the clip he's on now, averaging 148 yards per game, he'll finish the season with 1,776 rushing yards surpassing Reggie Bush's 1,740 rushing yards during his 2005 Heisman season.

No, I'm not comparing Mathews to the kind of athletes that both Bush and Dayne were during their amazing seasons. I know there will never be another Reggie Bush and no one will ever break the Division I record that Dayne set in his 1999 season for the Wisconsin Badgers.

All I'm saying is, there's a young running back that deserves at least a little respect and a little attention for what he's been able to do this season.

What conference he plays in or who Fresno State plays against should have no bearing on his consideration for being one of the best college football players this season.

Though we don't know where his numbers will go during the remaining eight games on the schedule, he's done enough to at least be in the conversation. 

Or should I tell the Western Athletic and Mountain West Conferences that they'll never ever have a player considered for the most coveted trophy in the land next to the Sears National Championship trophy?