Leonard Fournette was a star before he ever set foot on campus. Ranked the No. 1 overall player in the nation out of New Orleans, he was instantly beloved by both LSU and college football fans for being the homegrown superstar sent to revitalize the Tigers.
He lived up to the hype almost immediately, rushing for 100 yards in his fifth career game and finishing his freshman season with more than 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. That just set the stage for an incredible sophomore season, in which Fournette rushed for a 1,953 yards and 22 touchdowns despite being the sole focus of the defense.
Before a string of underwhelming games, headlined by a 1.6-yard per carry performance against Alabama, Fournette was the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy. After those games, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the favorite heading into 2016. Unfortunately, injury has kept Fournette out of the spotlight for most of the season.
But after a devastating performance against Ole Miss, rushing for 284 yards and 3 touchdowns on just 16 carries, several are writing him back into the Heisman race. Not to be outdone, Bleacher Report has already put together a video about why he’s not a Heisman contender:
Hold up, hold up!
Leonard Fournette’s performance this year doesn’t fit the bill of a Heisman candidate pic.twitter.com/9dXxzFw1JL
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 26, 2016
Almost since the moment he arrived on campus, Fournette has been held to the Heisman standard. The great players in college football history win the Heisman, right? Therefore, the best individual talent in college football should also win a Heisman — it’s that simple.
That mindset ignores how difficult it is to accomplish that feat. Winning a Heisman Trophy is one of the hardest things to do in sports and often is completely out of a player’s control. Not only do you need to be the most impressive player in college football, a winner has to be close to flawless. The narrative has to be on your side. Your team has to be close to a national contender. You have to peak at the right time. That doesn’t even count having to beat others around you; sometimes it’s just the wrong year to have a great season.
Even though Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey had marginally better numbers, Fournette was clearly the best individual talent in college football last season. Both other backs would have struggled with the kind of defensive attention Fournette gets every down. Regardless, it didn’t matter, as the Tigers star still didn’t even sniff the finalist list. Somehow, 2,206 all-purpose yards and 23 total touchdowns was good enough for only sixth on the list.
Fournette wouldn’t be the first star to not win the award. Adrian Peterson didn’t win the Heisman. Vince Young didn’t win the Heisman. Jim freaking Brown didn’t win the Heisman. Holding Fournette to the impossible standard of perfection devalues the incredible things he’s able to do on a football field every Saturday.
It’s not impossible for Fournette to earn an invitation to New York. LSU has four regular-season games left on its schedule: No. 1 Alabama, No. 9 Texas A&M, No. 14 Florida and an away game against recently ranked Arkansas. Go undefeated through that stretch and post monster numbers and he could get an invite. However, he’d need Lamar Jackson’s all-time great season to cool down and San Diego State RB Donnel Pumphrey’s torrid rushing pace to cease to have any real shot at winning the award.
But whether Fournette is able to capture the Heisman, we need to realize we have something extremely special here. Even though he’s played just two-and-a-half years at LSU, he ranks No. 4 in program history in both total rushing yards and touchdowns. He has four of the top 10 individual rushing games in program history, including the 284-yard performance last weekend.
Leonard Fournette is a legendary college football talent. He doesn’t need a trophy to prove it. Not even the Heisman.