Giovani Bernard compares favorably to other recent running backs who have been candidates for the Heisman Trophy. ETHAN HYMAN
CHAPEL HILL — After North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard gained 304 all-purpose yards during the Tar Heels’ 43-35 victory against N.C. State on Saturday, I took to Twitter and wrote something rather bold: That Bernard should have a place in the Heisman Trophy discussion.
After comparing Bernard to others at his position who have been recent Heisman candidates, though, it turned out that statement wasn’t all that bold at all. Instead, believing that Bernard should be in the Heisman discussion is more common sense than some bold, fringe opinion. At least it should be.
Bernard, who leads the nation in all-purpose yards, doesn’t just compare favorably to recent running backs who have been Heisman hopefuls. In some cases, he clearly ranks above them. Since 2007, six running backs, including Alabama’s Mark Ingram, the 2009 winner, have finished among the top five in the Heisman Trophy voting.
In addition to Ingram, the other five running backs who have finished in the top five of the Heisman voting since 2007 are: Arkansas’ Darren McFadden (2007), Stanford’s Toby Gerhart (2009), Oregon’s LaMichael James (2010), Alabama’s Trent Richardson (2011) and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (2011).
I compared Bernard’s first seven games this season – he has only played in seven, after all, after missing two games in September – to the first seven games of those six players during the seasons in which they finished among the top five in the Heisman voting. I also included Iowa’s Shonn Greene, the leading-vote getting among running backs in 2008, and Clemson’s C.J. Spiller, who finished sixth in the voting in 2009, and who played a similar role for the Tigers that season as Bernard plays for UNC.
First, here’s a look at what Bernard has done through seven games this season:
126 carries, 930 yards rushing, 10 TD, 7.4 ypc
32 catches, 319 yards, 3 TD
12 punt returns, 249 yards, 2 TD
Total offense: 1,249 yards, 13 TD
All-purpose: 1,498 yards, 15 TD
Not bad. So let’s begin the comparison, in reverse order …
First up …
TRENT RICHARDSON (No. 3 in 2011 Heisman vote)
132 carries, 936 yards rushing, 15 TD, 7.1 ypc
15 catches, 179 yards, 1 TD
2 kick returns, 43 yards
Total offense: 1,115 yards, 16 TD
All-purpose: 1,158 yards
Through seven games, Richardson had slightly more rushing yards than Bernard does now, but ran for less yards per carry. Bernard has clearly been a more productive receiver, and Richardson didn’t play much of a role in Alabama’s special teams.
MONTEE BALL (No. 4 in 2011 Heisman vote)
125 carries, 773 yards, 17 TD, 6.2 ypc
9 catches, 190 yards, 2 TD
0 returns, 0 yards
Total offense: 923 yards, 19 TD
All-purpose: 923 yards
Impressive touchdown numbers for Ball, but through seven games Bernard is averaging more than one yard more per carry. Ball for Wisconsin also played less of a role in the passing game than Bernard has for UNC. Ball didn’t play a role in Wisconsin’s special teams.
LAMICHAEL JAMES (No. 3 in 2010 Heisman vote)
170 carries, 1,210 yards, 14 TD, 7.1 ypc
5 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD
1 punt return, -2 yards
Total offense: 1,329 yards, 15 TD
All-purpose: 1,327 yards
James’ total rushing yards are attention-grabbing, undoubtedly, but Bernard still has the advantage in yards per carry. James also showed a big-play ability in the passing game, albeit on a smaller scale and with limited touches. He didn’t play much of a role on Oregon’s special teams.
MARK INGRAM (Winner of 2009 Heisman)
135 carries, 905 yards, 8 TD, 6.7 ypc
19 catches, 186 yards, 3 TD
0 kick returns
Total offense: 1,091 yards, 11 TD
All-purpose: 1,091 yards, 11 TD
Not the most eye-popping numbers for Ingram through his first seven games of his Heisman season, but his production couldn’t be questioned.
TOBY GERHART (No. 2 in 2009 Heisman vote)
167 carries, 869 yards, 12 TD, 5.2 ypc
7 catches, 73 yards, 0 TD
Total offense: 942 yards
All-purpose: 942 yards
It’d be interesting to go back and see who through the first eight weeks of the 2009 season had emerged as legitimate Heisman hopefuls. Gerhart’s numbers are impressive, but his 5.2 yards per carry and his lack of involvement in other parts of the game don’t seem to lend themselves to Heisman hype. Stanford, by the way, started the 2009 season 4-3.
C.J. SPILLER (No. 6 in 2009 Heisman vote)
108 carries, 547 yards, 3 TD, 5.1 ypc
18 catches, 267 yards, 2 TD
5 punt returns, 182 yards, 1 TD
12 kick returns, 459 yards, 3 TD
Total offense: 814 yards, 5 TD
All-purpose: 1,455 yards, 9 TD
I wanted to include Spiller because of all the players on this list, his skill set might be the most comparable to Bernard’s But as good as he was – and I remember thinking at times during the 2009 season that he was the best player in college football – his rushing numbers through the first seven games don’t compare to Bernard’s output.
SHONN GREENE (No. 6 in 2008 Heisman vote)
152 carries, 937 yards, 6 TD, 6.2 ypc
6 catches, 20 yards, 0 TD
Total offense: 957 yards, 6 TD
All purpose: 957 yards, 6 TD
No running back cracked the top five of the Heisman voting in 2008. Greene was the best of the bunch, though, and got off to a solid enough start. But, again, his lack of production in other areas is noticeable when compared to Bernard.
DARREN MCFADDEN (No. 2 in 2007 Heisman voting)
169 carries, 932 yards, 7 TD, 5.5 ypc
10 catches, 71 yards, 0 yards
5 kick returns, 122 yards, 0 TD
Total offense: 1,003 yards, 7 TD
All-purpose: 1,125 yards, 7 TD
If not for a sophomore Florida quarterback named Tim Tebow, McFadden likely would have run away with the Heisman in 2007. And don’t forget that he shared carries in the Arkansas backfield that season with Felix Jones. Otherwise, McFadden’s numbers probably would have been more impressive.
So there you have it – a look at how Bernard’s first seven games this season compares to the first seven games of other recent Heisman hopefuls at running back. In case you were wondering, he’s how Bernard ranks, compared to those eight other running backs, in a variety of categories through seven games:
Rushing yards: 5th
Rushing TDs: 5th
Rushing yards-per-carry: 1st
Receiving yards: 1st
Receiving touchdowns: T-1st
Total offense: 2nd
Total offensive TDs: 4th
All-purpose yards: 1st
Total touchdowns: T-3rd
And no, Bernard this season hasn’t played an SEC schedule. But don’t forget that every team in college football plays weaker competition from time to time. Alabama a season ago played against Kent State and North Texas early in the season. Montee Ball a season ago had two touchdowns in consecutive weeks against Northern Illinois and South Dakota. LaMichael James in 2010 boosted his early-season numbers with a 227-yard game against Portland State.
Detractors shouldn’t attempt to minimize Bernard’s accomplishments by criticizing things – like the schedule – out of his control. Instead, how about some appreciation for a season that, through seven games, has been as good or better than those belonging to several running backs who have warranted recent Heisman consideration.