LSU running back Leonard Fournette is the favorite among SEC players to win the 2016 Heisman Trophy. His odds are listed at 5-1, according to Bovada.
This isn’t a surprise considering how close Fournette came to winning the award in 2015. Heading into the Alabama game on Nov. 14 of last year, with his team ranked No. 2 in the country, Fournette was such an overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman that he was favored over every other player in college football combined. However, Fournette found little success against the Crimson Tide and faltered so much because of that performance that he didn’t even get invited to New York City as a Heisman finalist at the end of the season.
Here are three things that need to happen for Fournette to get a different result in 2016:
Fournette needs a better game against Alabama
Fournette had just 31 yards on 19 carries against the Crimson Tide last season. It was one of the most shocking results in college football all year. What made the game so unbelievable was Alabama’s uncomplicated approach to Fournette. Alabama coach Nick Saban and his then-defensive coordinator Kirby Smart simply trusted their defensive linemen and linebackers to shed blocks and hit Fournette in the backfield, and that’s exactly what happened over and over.
Last season’s victory for Alabama came in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but in 2016 the game shifts back to LSU. Will home field advantage be enough to change the result? That remains to be seen.
Fournette needs better play from his quarterback
Of course, one of the reasons Alabama trusted its front seven so much against LSU last year is because it had little reason to fear Tigers quarterback Brandon Harris, who struggled for much of 2015. However, this upcoming season will be the third year for Harris at LSU, and there’s reason to believe an improvement could be on the way, especially compared to other former SEC quarterbacks in their third seasons. For instance, Aaron Murray added 2.3 yards per throw in his third season at UGA in 2012. Former Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott nearly tripled his his touchdown passes from 10 in his sophomore season of 2013 to 27 in his junior season in 2014, and former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron nearly doubled his touchdown throws from 16 as a sophomore in 2011 to 30 as a junior in 2012.
Potentially enabling the improvement for Harris is the fact that LSU made the decision this offseason to maintain continuity on offense, as it was announced that LSU coach Les Miles would be retained and that Miles would keep his offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. It’s possible that Harris’ opportunity to continue in a familiar system will pay off with improved play and, in turn, take some of the pressure off Fournette.
Fournette needs help from his defense
While no one can know for sure what to expect from the LSU offense, or the quarterback in particular, the LSU defense should be predictably dominant once again. This is true even though last year’s defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has departed for the same job at Auburn. Steele’s replacement — Dave Aranda, who spent the last three years as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin — has a great reputation and will be working with one of the finest collections of defensive recruits anywhere in the country.
LSU’s stellar defense could benefit Fournette’s Heisman campaign by eliminating some of his competition. The Tigers will play two teams in the SEC West that each have favorites to win the 2016 Heisman — Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly and Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, both of whom are listed at 12-1 by Bovada. If Kelly and Ridley have poor showings at the hands of LSU’s defense, it only increases the chances of Fournette hoisting the Heisman at the end of the season.
In other words, the possibility of Fournette receiving college football’s most significant individual honor will require a tremendous contribution from his teammates. This should come as no surprise. Team success has almost always been a factor in a player’s Heisman candidacy — including last year, when Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman while playing on the team that also won the national championship.
Fournette and LSU looked to be close to achieving that dual goal at one point last season, and shouldn’t be counted out as a possibility in 2016.