<
>

Even without Heisman, Leonard Fournette's season one for the ages

BATON ROUGE, La. -- There was a time this season when bettors could get more favorable odds wagering on the field -- the entire collection of players throughout college football not named Leonard Fournette -- to win the Heisman Trophy than they could by picking Fournette as the eventual winner.

Now we know Fournette is not going to win the Heisman. LSU’s star running back didn’t even receive an invitation to attend Saturday’s trophy presentation in New York City as one of three finalists.

That’s the unusual path Fournette’s season followed over the final four weeks, when Fournette tumbled from overwhelming favorite to also-ran while his team’s offense struggled down the stretch.

“I’m not here to tell you that I know who the best Heisman candidate is. I’m not,” LSU coach Les Miles said last Sunday when asked to assess whether Fournette belonged among the Heisman finalists. “But I would have to say that one of the candidates certainly didn’t get an opportunity to play in a game that was in the middle of the night, where lighting robbed him. I’d have to say that he would have a good night that night. It would certainly have been more noteworthy and would put himself in position to have an invitation.”

Miles was referring to the scheduled opener against FCS McNeese State, which LSU canceled late that night because of repeated lightning strikes around Tiger Stadium. If Fournette rushed for his eventual season average -- an FBS-high 158.3 yards per game -- that would have been enough for him to join Alabama’s Derrick Henry among players who broke Herschel Walker’s single-season SEC rushing record (1,891 yards) this fall.

As it stands, Henry (1,986 yards and 23 TDs in 13 games) is a Heisman finalist along with Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, while Fournette (1,741 yards, 18 TDs in 11 games) likely will finish somewhere between fourth and sixth.

There is no shame in that possibility, but it will rank as a disappointment since it seemed at midseason that Fournette would join Billy Cannon as LSU’s only Heisman winners.

He regularly was running over defenders and even offered to auction a game jersey to help South Carolina’s flood victims, himself a victim of Hurricane Katrina’s devastating flooding as a child. LSU’s public relations department couldn’t have written a better script.

But Fournette’s ultimate undoing came on Nov. 7, when Alabama’s defense simply overwhelmed an LSU offensive line that had controlled most of the first seven games. Fournette rushed for fewer than 100 yards for the first time all season -- he totaled 31 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries -- while Henry abused LSU’s defense for 210 yards and three scores.

Fournette followed by rushing for 91 yards against Arkansas and 108 against Ole Miss -- LSU lost both games -- and essentially disappeared from the Heisman conversation with LSU stuck in its first three-game losing streak since 1999. Fair or unfair, players on teams that tank in November don’t win the Heisman.

Fournette maintained a healthy attitude about the award throughout the season, and that disposition hasn’t changed since learning that he was not a finalist. He told reporters prior to Thursday’s College Football Awards show that he remains pleased with what he accomplished this season.

“My brother was showing me a highlight tape someone made of me. Just looking at it, I was like, ‘Man, I did all that?’ ” Fournette said. “It was like a dream, everything was coming so fast. I had a wonderful season. I enjoyed every bit of it.”

The end result isn’t what we might have expected in October, but Fournette’s season was wonderful indeed. Here are some of the new additions to his resume:

• Fournette surpassed Charles Alexander’s single-season LSU rushing record (1,686 yards in 1977) in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. His 2015 rushing total ranks seventh in SEC history for now, but the totals of Walker (1,891 yards in 1981 and 1,752 in 1982), Darren McFadden (1,830 in 2007), Tre Mason (1,816 in 2013) and Bo Jackson (1,786 in 1985) are within reach depending on what Fournette accomplishes against Texas Tech’s porous run defense in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl.

Henry’s total will be nearly impossible to top since he has a 245-yard lead and the Crimson Tide will play at least once more -- and possibly twice if it defeats Michigan State in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

• Thanks to his becoming the first SEC player to rush for 200-plus yards in three straight games (228 vs. Auburn, 244 vs. Syracuse, 233 vs. Eastern Michigan), Fournette reached 1,000 rushing yards in a season quicker than any player in LSU history (five games). Only 10 players in FBS history have hit 1,000 yards that quickly.

• Fournette already is one of four LSU players to rush for 1,000 yards twice. (Kevin Faulk did it three times.) He set LSU’s freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards in 2014.