Was there ever a shred of doubt that Melvin Gordon—if nobody else—would deliver for the Wisconsin Badgers in the Outback Bowl?
With 251 rushing yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 34-31 overtime win over Auburn, Gordon earned his cliched ride into the sunset after, yet again, epitomizing what it means to put a team on his back.
And he'll leave Madison as one of the best running backs to ever do it on Saturdays.
Gordon was the man with a cheat sheet's worth of answers at Wisconsin, which is earning the reputation as Running Back U with guys like Montee Ball, Anthony Davis, James White and Ron Dayne preceding him. It was more evident than ever against the Tigers.
All three touchdowns from Gordon came in the second half. All three came with the Badgers trailing. And all three gave Wisconsin the lead.
None was bigger than Gordon's 53-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-1 late in the third quarter, with the Badgers trailing 17-14:
As Gordon racked up the yards, he began to flirt with Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA rushing record of 2,628 yards. He finished with 2,587 yards, just 41 yards shy of the record and good enough for second on the list, ahead of the likes of Kevin Smith and Marcus Allen, as ESPN Stats & Info illustrated:
But as the Heisman finalist now enters the preparation stage of this spring's NFL draft—where CBS Sports projects him as the best running back available and a late first-round pick—he'll leave with the school record for most rushing yards in a season, second all-time in NCAA history for rushing yards in a game (408) and a Big Ten champion from his 2012 campaign, when he backed up Ball.
One of the biggest knocks on Gordon has been that he's taken advantage of Big Ten defenses, perceived to be inferior to some of the other Power Five conferences as a whole.
Barry Alvarez, the interim head coach for the bowl game on Thursday, said Gordon didn't take kindly to that line of thinking:
Here's what made Gordon so great.
In nearly every game this year, everybody knew he was going to run the ball and run it a lot.
Wisconsin knew it. Its opponents knew it. The fans in the nosebleeds knew it. Even the little kids watching at home who barely understand the game of football knew.
Yet he still averaged nearly eight yards per carry and broke the century mark in all but two games this year—including six games with 200 or more yards.
Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer summed up Gordon's year thusly:
Everybody will remember the Nebraska game, where he broke the FBS record for yards in a single game. Everybody will remember Oklahoma freshman Samaje Perine breaking that record a week later.
But those in Madison will remember Gordon as the guy who always had the answer, no matter how many times the house had it in for him.
His performance on New Year's Day, a day that symbolizes the dawn of new beginnings, is the perfect send-off for the Heisman finalist as he goes into the NFL.