Tom Oates: LSU game critical to UW tailback Melvin Gordon's Heisman hopes

2014-08-17T04:00:00Z Tom Oates: LSU game critical to UW tailback Melvin Gordon's Heisman hopesTOM OATES toates@madison.com, 608-252-6172 madison.com

Two weeks before the University of Wisconsin opens its football season with a nationally televised heavyweight bout against LSU, there’s not an oversized photo of Badgers Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon anywhere to be found.

Not on that billboard on the south wall of the UW Field House like the school did for Ron Dayne in 1999. Not on the side of a city bus like it did for Montee Ball in 2012. Not even on a postcard mailed to the 1,000 or so Heisman voters.

But if the lack of an orchestrated Heisman campaign is a problem for Gordon, a top-10 candidate on almost every preseason Heisman watch list, you would never know it.

“It really doesn’t matter that much,” the UW tailback said. “If they do it, they do it. If they don’t, whatever.”

A few years ago, Gordon would have had a right to be upset over UW’s inaction. After all, one of his stated goals upon spurning the NFL draft and returning to school was to join Dayne and Alan Ameche as UW Heisman Trophy winners.

But times have changed, and Gordon has no reason to feel slighted by his own athletic department. Indeed, the Heisman campaign has gone the way of the wishbone offense in college football. It doesn’t really work anymore, so most schools have abandoned it. At least before the season.

In recent years, Heisman winners have tended to come out of the blue, a phenomenon due largely to the rapidly changing landscape in both college football and social media. Once a regional sport, college football has morphed into a national entity since the advent of the BCS. And thanks to pervasive weekly watch lists in newspapers and on websites, there is little need to introduce a candidate in August or constantly update his progress, even for those voters in out-of-the-way college towns.

Not since Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford won in 2008 has the eventual Heisman winner shown up on any preseason watch lists. The past five winners — Alabama’s Mark Ingram, Auburn’s Cam Newton, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Florida State’s Jameis Winston — weren’t on anyone’s top-10 list at the start of the season. In fact, their names never appeared in any preseason Heisman discussions.

Clearly, the road to the Heisman has changed. Instead of a school putting up a larger-than-life billboard in New York’s Times Square, as Oregon did with Joey Harrington in 2001, or changing the pronunciation of a candidate’s name to rhyme with Heisman, as Notre Dame once did with Joe Theismann, the trophy is now all about a candidate playing well in big games and being on a very good team.

A riveting performance or a signature victory can launch a candidacy much more readily than filling the email boxes of voters with spam. Look at Manziel in 2012. His campaign caught fire when he led the Aggies to a victory over No. 1 Alabama on the road.

It also helps greatly to be a quarterback and play on a team that contends for national honors. Of the past 13 winners who didn’t forfeit their trophy (sorry, Reggie Bush), 12 were quarterbacks. The only running back was Ingram in 2009.

Meanwhile, three of the past five winners played on teams that went 14-0 and won national championships. Only two Heisman winners — Florida’s Tim Tebow in 2007 and Griffin in 2011 — played on a team that won fewer than 11 games.

Just because he’s not a quarterback doesn’t mean Gordon isn’t a Heisman candidate, though. The latest Heisman odds on Bovada.com have quarterbacks in eight of the top 10 spots, with the only exceptions being Georgia running back Todd Gurley sixth and Gordon tied for seventh.

So Gordon is solidly in the mix heading into the season. The trick in the now-volatile world of Heisman voting is staying there. Every week of the season, it seems, someone wins the Heisman and someone loses it.

Unless he puts up numbers that are so spectacular they can’t be overlooked, Gordon’s candidacy will hinge on two things.

First, he has to come up big on the national stage. If he plays well against LSU, Gordon will shoot up the lists. If he doesn’t, he’ll have a long, hard comeback because UW doesn’t play nationally significant games until it meets Nebraska and Iowa in November.

“If you go out there and have a great game, it’ll definitely spring it,” Gordon said. “I’m pretty sure that’s how it works.”

Second, the Badgers have to have a good season. If they don’t win 10 games and at least get to the Big Ten Conference championship game, Gordon likely will get lost in the Heisman shuffle.

“At the end, we just want what’s best for Melvin and whatever path that takes him down,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “Hopefully, we get a team around him that can support him because he’s had a tremendous camp. You can see how that kid practices. It’s not hard to fall in love with the way he practices and his work habits and his leadership.”

But Heisman voters don’t see any of that. They only see what happens on Saturdays.

“Ultimately,” Andersen said, “it will come down to how Melvin plays on the field.”

As it should be.

Fun at camp: Gary Andersen shows his players he’s not all business. C5

Contact Tom Oates

at toates@madison.com

or 608-252-6172.

Copyright 2015 madison.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(9) Comments

  1. buckthorn
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    buckthorn - August 18, 2014 1:28 pm
    Very silly article and a waste of space. Why oh why are talking about the Heisman? I mean, at this point who cares? If he's smart, Gordon won't waste his time thinking about it either. As for sports reporters, well...I'd prefer if they wrote about something else that really mattered (to the extent that sports can really matter, anyway).
  2. somecleverscreenname
    Report Abuse
    somecleverscreenname - August 18, 2014 10:41 am
    RG III was on a few Heisman watch lists in July/August of 2011. In fact Chris Huston "the Heisman Pundit" put him on his watch in February of 2011. I'm guessing the others were too. Oates and his "research", lazy, lazy.
  3. hoosierbadger
    Report Abuse
    hoosierbadger - August 18, 2014 9:27 am
    No chance to win the Heisman,it is a QB award plain and simple.
  4. Honorary Kentucky Colonel
    Report Abuse
    Honorary Kentucky Colonel - August 18, 2014 8:45 am
    The Heisman has cheapened itself in recent years thanks to Reggie Bush, Johnny Football, & Jamies "light fingers" Winston.

    Not that I wouldn't want to see Gordon in the conversation, because if he is, that means he & Bucky are having good years.

    I'd rather see a running back I'm cheering get the "Doak Walker," AND the "Maxwell."

    ON WISCONSIN!!
  5. Norwood44
    Report Abuse
    Norwood44 - August 17, 2014 8:45 pm
    RIchard. If Mr. Gordon is in the hunt this year, or even has a year simply as good as last year, he should turn pro. You are asking to forego a ten million dollar pay day for your entertainment. I am not so presumptous. Running backs have a short life span, and take a lot of punishment. Melvin deserves to get paid well for every hit that shortens his life.
  6. Cornelius_Gotchberg
    Report Abuse
    Cornelius_Gotchberg - August 17, 2014 8:03 pm
    @RichardSRussell;

    "If Melvin seriously wants to take a run (heh) at the Heisman Trophy, he should announce here and now that he intends to return for his senior year."

    You don't say?

    MGIII is a special runner!

    Anyone that doesn't think so, just queue up that run with ~ 20 seconds left in the first half of the 2012 B1G Ten Football Championship Game against NE.

    We have him for an extra season.

    He would have arguably been the first back chosen in the 2014 draft.

    Were he my nephew;

    "Uncle Gotch, should I stay in school to make progress on my degree (which I'd always be able to come back and complete) and take the risk of career-ending injury every time I step on the field, for the room, board, & tuition stipend my scholarship provides?"

    Or;

    "Uncle Gotch, should I declare and do pretty much the same thing for a 7 or 8 figure contract with a good chunk guaranteed?"

    Know what I'd say?

    "Just remember your Uncle Gotch when he needs tickets & parking!

    The Gotch

  7. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - August 17, 2014 7:09 pm
    If Melvin seriously wants to take a run (heh) at the Heisman Trophy, he should announce here and now that he intends to return for his senior year. That's when he'll have his best shot at it.
  8. seered
    Report Abuse
    seered - August 17, 2014 5:07 pm
    I agree. GA should put personal interests aside and give MG the rock 25 times in this big time game. Let the them load the box, once MG gets past the front 4 or 7 he will be gone.
    25 carries, 200yds , and 3-4 TD's.
  9. toby
    Report Abuse
    toby - August 17, 2014 8:26 am
    Everyone knows that the Badgers have to be able to stretch the field & have a passing game that will neutralize the 8 & 9 men in the box defenses. LSU will have # 25 in their focus on every play. The question will be answered on the 30th if they can open up some running lanes. Give him a step on you or crease and its sianara!!!!

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