While this whole offseason for the Florida Gators has been about getting better and putting last year’s nightmare to bed, it’s time to focus on something positive. Florida will have a chance to produce its fourth Heisman winner if running back Kelvin Taylor has the season many expect.
Only a sophomore and flying under the radar due to Florida’s offensive issues last season, nobody in their right mind would consider any running back for the Gators a candidate for the most prestigious award in college football.
But don’t be surprised if that’s the case once we get the season underway.
Expect the Unexpected
Back in the days college football had to know who you were before the season began for you to have a chance to win the Heisman.
Matt Leinart had already thrown for more than 3,500 yards and 38 touchdowns the year before he won the award. Reggie Bush was making jaws drop way before his final season at USC. Ricky Williams had 4,155 career rushing yards and 45 touchdowns before he walked away with the hardware as a senior.
How about the last four winners?
Cam Newton had just 12 career pass attempts and was more known for his off-the-field issues at Florida before his first season at Auburn. Robert Griffin III had some buzz, but very few took him seriously considering he played for a Baylor program that had not won double-digit games since 1980. The last two winners (Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston) were freshmen, and the last thing anybody was thinking was a Heisman trophy.
Gone are the days where you have to already be a college football superstar.
Now, you just have to show up, help your team win and put together an off-the-wall individual season. There’s enough TV time, highlight videos and coverage to go around that builds the case for said player nowadays.
Taylor has just as good a shot as any player entering this college football season.
If Last Season Was a Sign of Things to Come...
Taylor only received six carries through his first five games and then eventually was thrown into the starting role due to various injuries to other backs. Even then, he only had 20 or more carries in three games and finished with only 111 touches for 508 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged a decent 4.58 yards per carry and scored three of his four touchdowns in his final four games.
A stat that was really impressive is that Taylor averaged five yards per carry against AP-ranked teams, which was higher than his average against any other group of teams. It was clear he was just getting comfortable with the speed of the game.
But what if Taylor sees a typical starter’s workload this season?
One thing that may prevent Taylor from having any shot at the Heisman is the fact offensive coordinator Kurt Roper typically isn’t a one-running-back coach. In fact, no player ran the ball more than 120 times a season in his career at Duke. He likes to keep guys fresh and use nearly the entire backfield.
However, it’s fair to say Roper hasn’t had a back as talented as Taylor and may change his style a bit. If so, Taylor’s chances at the hardware improve dramatically.
Taking Taylor’s average of 4.6 and multiplying that by 215 carries, we end up with 989 yards. Not Heisman numbers, but there’s reason to believe he can bump that average up with ease. This is the same back who averaged 5.2 yards against LSU, a team that had the third-best run defense in the SEC.
Taylor also moved the chains on nearly 25 percent of his carries and had five runs produce 20 or more yards.
Another thing to consider is Florida had zero offensive production with Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg at quarterback, so defenses were selling out completely to stop the run.
Taylor still rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns against South Carolina. Now, he’ll be in an offense that spreads the field and makes it difficult for opposing defenses to focus on one thing or player. It’ll also force defenders to tackle Taylor in space.
Good luck with that.
We just saw Tre Mason put up ridiculous numbers in a spread offense and receive an invite to New York. Granted, Taylor won’t receive over 300 carries, but he does have the talent and has shown his potential in a sample size last season.
Don’t rule it out.