Entering 2010, Penn State, Pitt and West Virginia all have players they hope can have special seasons, carry their teams and, at the end of the year, be in the running for the Heisman Trophy. Evan Royster, Dion Lewis and Noel Devine have all positioned themselves well for runs at college football's most enduring symbol of greatness. Over the course of the week, we've looked at each running back, how he's positioned now, what he needs to do to keep himself and a prediction of what might ultimately happen. Today, SB Nation writer Anson Whaley takes a look at Dion Lewis.
What has Lewis done to put himself in the Heisman discussion to this point?
Lewis' 2009 record-breaking season catapulted him to superstar status. He rushed for 1,799 yards, breaking the freshman record of 1,686 by Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, Pitt's best player of all time. Lewis' 18 touchdowns also broke Lesean McCoy's record of 14 set in 2007. Lewis was a workhorse last year, carrying the ball 325 times, good for second most in the nation. Since Toby Gerhart and Ryan Matthews are now in the pros, Lewis is college football's top returning rusher in terms of yards. With a first-year quarterback, Tino Sunseri, at the helm this year, Lewis will be expected to again shoulder the load and will get a chance to put up similar numbers this season.
What does your player need to do to win the Heisman?
Lewis will need to again put up monster numbers and likely will need to lead the nation in rushing. To do that, he'll need to stay healthy and figure out how to work behind a retooled offensive line. Part of the equation, however, will depend on Pitt. The team will need to have success to keep the nation's spotlight on Lewis, and if Pitt falters early, it could cost him. The voters are impressed by big numbers, and Lewis will want to make sure he gets into the end zone when Pitt is down at the goal line to rack up touchdowns.
What might keep Lewis from winning the Heisman?
Other than injury, the factor most likely to keep Lewis from winning is Pitt's record. If the Panthers lose too many games, voters might look to stars on better teams. I think Lewis can stay in the hunt with two or maybe even three losses. Remember, Larry Fitzgerald finished second in 2003 when Pitt lost five times.
Alternatively, if Pitt jumps out to big leads against teams early, Lewis will likely be rested. Panther fans saw an example of that several times last year when Lewis averaged 25 carries per game, but only rushed 20 times in a 38-3 win over Youngstown State, 21 times in a 31-10 win over Louisville, and 18 times in a 37-10 victory over Syracuse.
To a lesser degree, Lewis could also be hurt by the presence of fellow Pitt running back Ray Graham. Graham would start for many D-I teams, and Wannstedt will surely give him some carries this year. Last season, he received 61 carries and that number could have been higher if not for some fumbling issues. Graham will get his share of looks this season and that might hurt Lewis in the long run.
Finally, Lewis will need to deal with a new quarterback and a new offensive line.
In order to have a shot at winning the Heisman, Lewis needs to stay healthy, Pitt needs to succeed, and Sunseri needs to make the passing game a viable threat. In addition, the offensive line will feature three new starters, and defenses will focus on Lewis even more this season. When it's all said and done, I expect Lewis to be a finalist this year in New York at the Heisman presentation, but guaranteeing a player will win the award before the season has even started is a bit foolish. I'll place his chances at somewhere between 30 percent - 40 percent to bring home the trophy.