Brian Kelly can hope for a lot of things, and many of them may come true. After all, Notre Dame has put itself into the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion as the calendar turns to November. That was certainly something the Irish coach hoped for, and it has come to be a reality.
His hopes for restraint from Heisman voters may be a bit more far-fetched, though grounded such a thought may be. After Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams ran for 202 yards and a touchdown against North Carolina State on Saturday, Kelly assessed Adams’ chances at the award for college football’s best individual player.
“There are other great players that are up for the Heisman, but [Adams] continues to play against top competition and continues to excel on a very good football team,” Kelly said after the 35-14 victory. “There’s plenty of really good football left in this season, and I think we should just let it play out.”
That’s all well and good, even accurate, but it does not seem quite likely, especially considering Heisman voters could cast their ballots now if they so wanted.
“If you wait until the end of the year, a lot of the questions will get answered,” Kelly said. “If you don’t vote — if you hold your vote until the end of the year, that would be great.”
Great, logical, appropriate. Also not the habit of many voters. Some would argue the trend of premature voters led to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson winning the award in 2016. The Cardinals lost their final two regular season games, and in the final three Jackson accounted for only six of his season-long 51 total touchdowns.
This space, fortunately does not have a Heisman vote. It will not bother to say who should or should not win the honor. It will, however, take a look at the race from 35,000 feet.
It is most likely only one or two running backs finish the season in the Heisman mix. Eventually, one or two will emerge from the rest, along with a quarterback or two doing the same at that position. Some of these conclusions will hinge on team finishes.
With that paring-to-come in mind, let’s simply compare facts about the three running backs at the head of the pack: Adams, Stanford’s Bryce Love and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley.
Adams in eight games, leading Notre Dame to a 7-1 record: 132 rushes for 1,169 yards and nine touchdowns, 8.86 yards per carry. Also adds 10 catches for 82 yards, making for an average of 8.81 yards per offensive touch.
Barkley in eight games, leading the Nittany Lions to a 7-1 record: 138 carries for 801 yards and nine touchdowns, 5.80 yards per carry. Also adds 36 catches for 471 yards and three scorings, making for an average of 7.31 yards per offensive touch, as well as 11 kickoff returns for 378 yards and two more touchdowns. 1,650 total yards and 14 total touchdowns.
Love in seven games, missing the Cardinal’s most-recent victory due to ankle injury. Stanford is 6-2 overall, 5-2 with Love: 135 rushes for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns, 10.27 yards per carry. Also adds four receptions for 19 yards, making for an average of 10.12 yards per offensive touch.
Whether Adams wins the Heisman or not, or even makes the trophy ceremony in New York City, Notre Dame has decided to go all-in on a marketing campaign to push his candidacy. Along with repeated mention, the “33 Trucking” theme featured hats over the weekend, because some physical gimmick theoretically serves to enhance the campaign’s potency.
Perhaps a more notable effect, Adams took the podium during postgame interviews, not the Irish starting quarterback as is the norm. Wherever he delivers his answers, Adams attempts to shirk the individual attention.
“I know [the campaign] has my number on it, but I don’t think it’s built around me,” he said.
That is a nice sentiment, but the Heisman hype most certainly is built around Adams. His point about the offensive game plan, though, holds more merit.
“It’s built around that offensive line and the confidence that we have in them as a team,” he said. “… The game and our offense is definitely built on those guys up front. From left to right, we have amazing guys up there. They lead this team and they bring all the energy and we do the best that we can to kind of feed off of them and really try to push the tempo.
“They bring the aggression and have that mindset to dominate, and it kind of spreads out throughout the entire offense.”
That offensive line deserves more credit than it gets, but such is the nature of being an offensive lineman. A Heisman-winning running back may be the best validation for the line’s season, and Notre Dame has made that a priority moving forward.