With news that Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly is going with redshirt freshman Everett Golson as his starting quarterback Week 1 against Navy (via the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton), there is likely no happier player on the roster (other than Golson) than star running back Cierre Wood.
The 21-year-old back comes into the 2012 season as the unquestioned No. 1 back for the first time in his career after splitting carries with Armando Allen and Jonas Gray the past two seasons.
Regardless of his timeshare with Gray, the redshirt junior had a marvelous campaign last season. Wood rushed for 1,102 yards, becoming the first Notre Dame back to go over the 1,000-yard mark since Darius Walker in 2006, and showed versatility by catching 27 balls out of the backfield.
But despite his high profile both in name value and program prestige, Wood is nowhere to be found on preseason Heisman lists. The oddsmakers over at Bovada.lv have 44 players on their list with odds going as high as 200-1, and Wood is conspicuously absent.
That should change with Golson manning the quarterback position, as much of Wood's lack of hype comes from his perceived lack of explosion.
Though Wood got the lion's share of the carries in 2011, Gray was unquestionably the big-play threat of the two. Getting a little more than half of the Notre Dame starter's carries last season, Gray scored 12 touchdowns on 114 carries—an astounding rate of one touchdown per 9.5 carries.
Gray also averaged 6.9 yards per carry in comparison to Wood's respectable (but not spectacular) 5.1 yards per carry.
Essentially, Wood was the steady hand while Gray made the big boom.
With Gray gone and the dual-threat Golson at quarterback, the field should open up for Wood to put his underrated explosiveness on display.
Golson's core strength is in his pocket passing abilities, yet a key to him securing the job was versatility. The redshirt freshman has drawn comparisons to legendary Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice, who started on the Irish's 1988 national championship team.
That makes him the perfect quarterback for Kelly, who thrived at Cincinnati with quarterbacks that could run read-option plays out of the spread formation.
One of the biggest benefits of the read option if run correctly is the likelihood of huge plays. And everything we've seen from Golson so far indicates he's a smart enough quarterback to correctly read defenses.
Couple that with the fact that Kelly is likely to lean heavily on his star back early on to avoid putting too much pressure on Golson, and Wood should at least open the schedule with massive rushing outbursts.
If Notre Dame gets off to a hot start along with their running back, it could vault Wood straight into the Heisman discussion.
Whether he sticks will be contingent on his ability to shoulder the extra workload, and the Fighting Irish's win-loss record.
But the fact that he's not even in the discussion makes Wood the biggest Heisman dark horse heading into the 2012 college football slate.
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