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 hallowed award and enduring symbol of greatness. Over the course of the week, we'll take a look 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, we look at Evan Royster in a roundtable forum with SB Nation Pittsburgh Penn State writers Adam Bittner and Jeff Junstrom.
What has Royster done to put himself in the Heisman discussion to this point?
Adam: Simply put, if Evan Royster repeats the production he's provided for Penn State over his first three years, he has the potential to graduate with the best career by a Penn State running back ever. With all the talented running backs who have played for the Nittany Lions, that's quite a statement. Sure, many have posted better seasons than Royster has to this point, but he stands only 480 yards from Curt Warner's Nittany Lions career record of 3,398. Does a career track record like Royster's win a Heisman Trophy? No, but he could be in the discussion at year's end.
Jeff: Royster has been Penn State's featured running back for the past two years. In 2008 he rushed for more than 1,200 yards while scoring 12 touchdowns. Last year his yards stayed steady while his number of carries increased, but his six yard per carry average over his career remains extremely impressive. In addition to his obvious rushing abilities, Royster is a leader on and off the field, heading an impressive corps of running backs in Happy Valley. Without Royster, whose return was uncertain at the end of 2009, the offense would be on even shakier ground for 2010.
What does your player need to do to win the Heisman?
Jeff: Not to take away from Mark Ingram, Sam Bradford, or other recent winners, but the Heisman trophy has become a glorified "Most Popular Player" contest in recent years. The trophy will go to the biggest name on a top-10 team. Still, Royster is close, statistically (his 2008 stats were only 400 yards and five touchdowns fewer than Ingram's 2009 Heisman-winning numbers), and if he stays above six yards per carry and gets his double digit touchdown tally, he could be in the hunt come December.
What might keep Royster from winning the Heisman?
Adam: As we both mentioned above, the success of his team will play a role. Royster might be ruled out of the Heisman race quickly if Penn State drops early contests against Alabama and Iowa.
Jeff: Two major factors will keep Royster from winning, neither of which are within his control. First, although Penn State's offense focuses on the ground game, it doesn't focus on one player. Joe Paterno isn't one to run up the score, and if a game is out of hand, the starters will have long been pulled for the reserves. Because of this, Royster will not get the number of touches necessary to take home the trophy. Second, players like Stephfon Green, Curtis Dukes and Silas Redd are too good to not be on the field, and every touch they get is one less for Royster. Outside of that, there is really nothing Royster doesn't do on the field; his only real flaw is his lack of breakaway speed.
Jeff: Each week during the year, ESPN's "experts" cast first-through fifth-place Heisman mock ballots. In 2005, Michael Robinson had a fair number of votes, but no one that year was going to top Reggie Bush and Vince Young on the leaderboard. In 2010, provided Royster stays healthy and produces like usual, he'll likely get a couple fifth- and fourth-place votes in ESPN's poll, but he probably won't be invited to the New York trophy presentation in December. This is disappointing, since few can argue Royster's importance to the 2010 Nittany Lions team.
Adam: If Penn State turns out to be the team most expect it to be (somewhere between 8-4 and 10-2), it's going to be tough for Royster to get enough momentum early on to be considered a candidate from the start. With early tilts against Alabama and Iowa, both teams that should throw stout run defenses at him, it's difficult to see him putting up attention-grabbing numbers. Of course, if he plays a significant role in beating one or both of those teams, it could propel him to the front of the Heisman class early in the year, and with a softer schedule the rest of the way, he'll have the opportunity to stay there. Ultimately, though, the chances of Royster getting that New York invite appear unlikely.