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Can Pitt's Ray Graham Contend For The Heisman?

Through two games, the Panthers back leads the nation in rushing.

With Dion Lewis and Jon Baldwin gone to the NFL, it was a pretty safe bet that Ray Graham would have plenty of opportunities to make an impact in Pitt's new offense under Todd Graham. What wasn't known was just how good he would be.

Two games into the season, we're starting to find out.

Through the first two weeks, Graham leads all of FBS (Division I-A) in rushing with 322 yards. He's averaging 5.6 yards per rush and his six touchdowns are tied for first in the FBS as well. Unlike Pitt fans, though, what most of the country probably doesn't realize is that Graham was pretty good in 2010.

While Lewis was struggling early in the year, Graham filled in admirably. Playing part-time, he ran for 922 yards and averaged more than six yards per carry. His first three games set the pace and showed Pitt fans just how special he was. On only nine carries against New Hampshire, he ran for 115 yards and two scores. After a bye week, Pitt was throttled 31-3 by Miami, but Graham was a bright spot, rushing for 100 yards on 14 carries. As if that weren't enough, he had a performance against Florida International that fans will still be talking about years from now when he nearly set a school record running for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

Somewhat surprisingly, we didn't hear from him much the rest of the season. After Lewis returned from injury, Graham resumed his role as backup and didn't rush for 100 yards in a game the rest of the year. But it became abundantly clear that even with Lewis' departure, Pitt's running game wouldn't suffer all that much - and it hasn't.

It's not just on the ground where Graham can make an impact, either. He caught 24 passes in that part-time role last year and is on pace to do even more with increased playing time in the new offense this season. Graham may not only be one of the best rushers in the nation, but as a dual threat in the backfield, he could be one of the game's best all-purpose players. With Lewis and Lesean McCoy over the past four years, Pitt's gotten used to having a big time ground attack. Graham looks to be well on his way to ensuring that continues.

So how far can Graham go? Can he actually win the Heisman trophy as college football's top talent? In my opinion, it's not likely. He's bound to have a big season if he stays healthy, but unless Pitt somehow turns into a ten-win team or he blows everyone away with this stats (neither of which appears all that likely), then he won't get much consideration. Don't forget that Lewis ran for a whopping 1,799 yards in 2009, and as the nation's third leading rusher, didn't even get a sniff. So while Graham should have a big year, it's probably not a Heisman-winning one.

Still, I imagine Pitt fans would settle for him continuing to churn out yards as he's done so far.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.