The Heisman Trophy has become more of a quarterback award over the past decade, but it looks as though we are on track to see running backs dominate the field this season. The year of the running back in college football is living up to the hype and running backs are leading the way all across the country, and it is not all Leonard Fournette at LSU. Fournette, however, is leading the way with a monster season still playing out.
As we reach the midway point of the college football season, here are some of the top names to keep a close eye on in the Heisman Trophy chase.
1. RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
1,202 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns
LSU's powerful running back is averaging 200 rushing yards per game through six games, and he has helped fuel LSU to a 6-0 start to put the Tigers in the hunt for a College Football Playoff spot. Fournette has proven capable of providing big, game-breaking plays at any time and is coming off a 180-yard performance against Florida. Take a pick from any of Fournette's long touchdown runs for a potential Heisman moment, but with some big games still to come we should see another opportunity for the sophomore to provide a signature play with a championship goal on the line.
2. RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
988 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns
With so much buzz surrounding Ohio State's quarterback situation leading into the season and watching it unfold through the first seven games, Elliott has been the most dependable player on Ohio State's offense. Like Fournette, Elliott has shown the ability to break a long touchdown run at any moment this season and is coming off a 153-yard performance against Penn State. Look for Ohio State to continue feeding Elliott as Ohio State works for another Big Ten title and return trip to the Playoff.
3. RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
955 rushing yards, 10 TDs
If it was not for Cook, Florida State could be struggling a bit this season. Cook has come up huge when the Seminoles have needed him the most, and his electrifying moves and speed have provided more than enough sparks as Florida State has opened the year 6-0. Cook ripped through Miami for 222 yards. With Clemson still on the schedule, as well as Florida, Cook will have some big games to come up with a true signature Heisman moment in the second half of the year.
4. QB Trevone Boykin, TCU
2,539 passing yards, 25 TDs, 440 rushing yards, 5 TDs
One of the preseason favorites for the Heisman Trophy, Boykin has lived up to his billing as TCU has stormed out to a 7-0 start. Boykin has had to come to the rescue of the Horned Frogs at times already this season as the defense has not been up to par. Boykin may have already had a quality Heisman moment with his game-winning touchdown pass against Texas Tech giving the Horned Frogs a 55-52 victory. Boykin's Heisman campaign will likely have to continue overcoming a rough defense in Fort Worth and will need to get by Baylor the way this season is rolling. Regardless, Boykin appears to have the best shot among quarterbacks in the running back-heavy Heisman hunt.
5. RB Derrick Henry, Alabama
901 rushing yards, 12 TDs
While Alabama played through its quarterback questions, Henry was a solid rock for the Crimson Tide offense. This past Saturday against Texas A&M, Henry was dominant in rushing for 236 yards and two touchdowns against an Aggies defense that had been lauded for its improved play. Henry also rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns against Wisconsin and 148 yards against Georgia. Henry has been held to fewer than 100 yards in three games, although those games were never truly in much doubt and he was just four or five yards shy in two. Henry will get a chance to prove his value on the field in the second half of the season with a showdown game with LSU and Fournette. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin should start trusting Henry to carry the offense more.
6. RB Devontae Booker, Utah
901 rushing yards, 12 TDs
It's time for some Pac-12 love. The conference that gave us last year's Heisman Trophy winner (Marcus Mariota) has some talented running backs generating some buzz lately, including Booker. He rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns in Utah's big win against Cal two weeks ago and helped power the Utes by Arizona State last week with 118 on the ground. Booker has also added 208 receiving yards and gets a chance to help improve his Heisman standing this week against USC. The Trojans may be unranked, but playing USC still opens the eyes for some who have not taken notice just yet.
7. QB Seth Russell, Baylor
1,907 passing yards, 27 TDs, 338 rushing yards, 5 TDs
Russell has provided a seamless transition for Baylor's offense after losing Bryce Petty from last season. The junior signal-caller has kept Baylor's offense high-flying with 27 touchdown passes to just five interceptions, and he has shown the ability to make big plays with his feet. Last Saturday against West Virginia, Russell rushed for 160 yards and a touchdown as Baylor once again put over 60 points on the scoreboard. The biggest hurdle for Russell may be the perception of Baylor's offense racking up big numbers against inferior opponents from the start of the season. Russell will get some opportunities to change that narrative in the second half of the season, including games against Oklahoma and TCU.
8. RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
844 yards, 5 TDs
McCaffrey may be lacking in the stats with just five touchdowns, but keep an eye on the sophomore for a late-season push. McCaffrey rushed for 243 yards and four touchdowns last week against UCLA for his second 200-yard performance in Pac-12 play. McCaffrey also chips in on special teams (480 kickoff return yards) and can help flip the field quickly for the Cardinal. Stanford is home to the son of a former Heisman Trophy winner (Barry J. Sanders; Barry Sanders), but it is McCaffrey leading the resurgent Stanford offense as the perfect complement to quarterback Kevin Hogan.
On The Radar
RB C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame
The Irish have been banged up this season, which is why the steady and reliable play of Prosise has been so important to keeping Notre Dame in the Playoff discussion.
QB Jared Goff, Cal
Cal's prolific passer is leading Cal on a magical season, but Goff's disaster of a game at Utah a couple of weeks ago likely ruined any shot Cal had at landing a Heisman Trophy winner no matter what happens the rest of the way.
QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis; QB Greg Ward Jr., Houston
Take your pick between these two American Athletic Conference quarterbacks. Both have played a vital role in getting their teams out to undefeated starts and each will generate some long-shot Heisman buzz if they keep it going. Odds are neither will have a serious shot at the Heisman Trophy (although Lynch having a win against Ole Miss helps), but an invitation to New York City may not be far out of the question with an undefeated season. These two face each other on Nov. 14.
Where are the defensive players?
You know the answer to that. No matter how good a defensive player may be, there is virtually no shot they will be able to win the Heisman Trophy. Until proven otherwise (it's been almost 20 years since Charles Woodson won the hardware), we should expect this trend to continue.
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.