The hype surrounding LSU Tigers’ sophomore running back Leonard Fournette is no longer stuff of Louisiana legend and myth but now a growing gridiron monster on a national scale for all college football fans to enjoy. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back added to his impressive early season resume Saturday against Syracuse, rushing for a career-high 244 yards, putting LSU in the thick of national title contention and himself at the forefront of Heisman Trophy conversation.
Running behind an overpowering offensive line, Fournette is the main draw in the nation’s No. 7 rushing attack, which is averaging 315 yards per contest. The preseason All-SEC back has made up for the lost opening game against McNeese State due to weather by becoming the first LSU player ever to post back-to-back 200-yard games. Perhaps just as impressive, Fournette is third in the nation in rushing yards with 631, 10 behind San Jose State’s Tyler Ervin, and 41 behind Indiana's Jordan Howard (675). Both Howard and Ervin have the benefit of a fourth game to help pad their stats.
Fournette had 159 yards on 28 carries with three scores against Mississippi State, 19 carries for 228 yards against Auburn with another three scores, and 244 yards on 26 carries with two more touchdowns against Syracuse. What will Fournette do in October?
The toughest part of LSU’s early season schedule is over with the Tigers coming out on top with a 3-0 record. Big wins over Mississippi State, Auburn, and ACC conference member Syracuse have the Tigers ranked No. 8 in the Week 5 polls and a relatively easy October slate on tap. LSU hosts Eastern Michigan, travels to South Carolina, and then welcomes Florida and Western Kentucky to end the month before what should be a brutal November schedule that features Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
The Oct. 3 contest against Eastern Michigan very well could be the third consecutive career-high rushing game for Fournette with the Eagles trotting out the nation’s worst run defense, giving up 373 yards per game to teams like Old Dominion, Wyoming, Ball State and Army. Just imagine what Fournette would do in a full four quarters worth of action against the Eagles.
South Carolina has the nation’s No. 74 rush defense and Western Kentucky is at No. 99, adding more stat-compiling games for LSU to highlight its Heisman hopeful. November could slow LSU’s rushing attack down. Alabama has the nation’s No. 4 rush defense and Arkansas is at No. 17. The stingy Ole Miss defense has been exploited early on the ground, allowing 156 yards rushing per game (No. 60) and Texas A&M was splintered against Arkansas in Week 4 dropping to No. 81 (179 ypg).
How Fournette runs against the Gators on Oct. 17 should give an indication of his Heisman campaign. The Gators have been tough so far this season, only allowing 105 yards rushing per game. No one can truly expect Fournette to continue at his nation's best per game average of 210.3 yards, but if he stays above or on par with Indiana’s Howard (169 ypg) and continues to be No. 2 in the nation with a per-game scoring average of 16 points tied with Baylor wide receiver Corey Coleman and just two points behind Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, how could Heisman voters turn him down?
Who is Fournette’s top competition?
The top contenders out of Power 5 Conferences are TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly, and Georgia running back Nick Chubb. Boykin and Kelly will only remain viable if both quarterbacks are able to lead their respective teams to the College Football Playoff. With Chubb, Georgia also is undefeated, like LSU, having played four games, but Chubb actually has two less carries than Fournette and is just 32 total yards behind his SEC foe. Fournette has eight rushing touchdowns to Chubb’s six with Fournette sporting a slightly higher per carry average (8.6) than the Bulldog (8.4).
Ohio State fans are sure to wonder how Ezekiel Elliot could be left off the list. The Buckeyes may have too many Heisman contenders off their team if play under center gets worked out. Should Elliot tear up Michigan State and have an impressive performance in the Big Ten Championship Game, then he could very well be called to New York as a Heisman finalist.
Other dark horse contenders for the Heisman could include UCLA running back Paul Perkins, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen, and the aforementioned Coleman.
Michigan State fans may want a write-in vote for quarterback Connor Cook but the Spartans' offense is not prolific enough for Heisman-type numbers. The Spartans also rotate Madre London and L.J. Scott in-and-out well enough that neither will have a big breakout campaign but both are set up for productive seasons.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.