Wisconsin Football: Is Melvin Gordon Still a Threat in Heisman Race?

Jeff Bell@@JrayBellCorrespondent ISeptember 20, 2014

USA Today

Melvin Gordon is everything you could want in a running back. The Wisconsin junior has breakaway speed to go along with the power to shed tacklers and gain yards after contact.

But a solid outing against LSU in Week 1 was marred by the Badgers losing the game, and Gordon followed it up with a 38-yard dud against Western Illinois. ESPN's Heisman Watch following Week 3 did not include Gordon among the top 10 candidates.

The designation of top running back in the country is a special one, and with Georgia's Todd Gurley and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah in the mix, there may not be a clear-cut answer. But Gordon belongs in the discussion, especially after his 13-carry, 253-yard effort in the Badgers' 68-17 win over Bowling Green on Saturday.

That's nearly 20 yards per carry if quick math isn't your strong suit. If football isn't either, let's just say that's a mind-boggling statistic, even against a mid-major team like the Falcons.

Gordon hit paydirt five times in the victory, giving him six rushing touchdowns on the year. It was an incredible performance the likes of which hasn't been seen in quite some time.

The shifty back must have seen his name disparaged or ignored over the past two weeks, given the way he came out and played on Saturday. After the game, Gordon told reporters that he used such doubts as fuel.

"I was motivated," the junior ball-carrier said. "I heard a lot of people doubting me, saying 'I can't do this, I can't do that.' That definitely motivated me to get out there and do what I needed to do."

Like several other top Heisman candidates at this point in the season, Gordon is the focal point for opposing defenses. In other words, he's one of those players you have to create an entire game plan around.

If that alone doesn't put him in the discussion, well, what does?

As Josh Norris of NBC Sports noted, Gordon hasn't exactly been seeing wide-open grass to run on:

To become the first rusher to win the Heisman since Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009, Gordon will have to bull his way past Oregon's Marcus Mariota, perhaps the top quarterback in the country. Texas A&M's Kenny Hill and Notre Dame's Everett Golson are two other signal-callers who could prove formidable in the Heisman race, but the toughest tests lie ahead on each team's respective schedule.

Another absolute certainty when it comes to the Heisman Trophy is the winner having a highlight reel worthy of the history books. Mariota did his part against Michigan State with several miraculous third-down escapes, and his touchdown dive against Wyoming was yet another play that left you shaking your head.

Those "wow" plays don't generally come against mid-majors, but Gordon also bucked the trend with several of his runs against Bowling Green. Of note was this 50-yard scamper in which he burst through the line, outran all but one player and then shoved off the last defender with a stiff-arm.

The most impressive aspect of the run wasn't necessarily the stiff-arm or the speed, but the fact that Gordon made the move in rhythm and without slowing down.

One final unwritten rule of the Heisman Trophy in its current form is that the winner plays for a great team and generally one in the hunt for a major bowl at the end of the season, if not a national title. The Badgers' schedule sets up perfectly for just that.

Nebraska is the only ranked team remaining on the slate, and the Cornhuskers must travel to Madison. If Wisconsin can stay focused throughout the remainder of the season, there's a good chance it will reach Indianapolis and square off against Michigan State with a chance to potentially make the four-team playoff. Shredding the Spartans defense would also be an impressive statement from Gordon in his final bid for the Heisman.

Is Melvin Gordon still a threat to win the Heisman? By putting up monster numbers each week, dazzling us with highlight-reel plays and leading the Badgers to a strong finish, he will remain at the forefront of trophy talks.

So far, so good.

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