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The (trophy) case for Richardson

TUSCAOOSA _ For University of Alabama junior running back Trent Richardson, next week could be one of the best and worst times of his life.

Just like the Heisman Trophy itself, Trent Richardson applies a stiff-arm move against Auburn

On the one hand, he’s expected to be named a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday, could win the Maxwell, Doak Walker and Walter Camp awards on Thursday, and then might enjoy a life-changing weekend in New York.

The bad part is that to be on hand for the presentations he has to do something that brings out his “ugly face,” get on an airplane.

“I really just start praying before I get on and when I get on just go from there,” Richardson said. “I start sweating and it's just a big mess, for real. I haven't gotten over it yet but I'm used to flying. Just when it takes off and when they be about to land, it's crazy.”

While this year’s Crimson Tide football journey won’t conclude for at least another month, his emotional coaster is about to reach some extremes as Alabama braces for yet another tight Heisman vote.

Similar to two years ago when Mark Ingram edged running back Toby Gerhart, the award may be down to Alabama and Stanford standouts with Richardson and Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck. Both are already done until their respective bowls, but Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Houston’s Case Keenum will try to convince any voters watching their conference championships this weekend that they’re worthy of going to the Big Apple too.

“This is my first time, and it's going to be crazy, I know it is,” Richardson said. “I saw when Mark was there, how the ’Bama fans were. I know they're going to be supporting us everywhere we go. I just really can't wait to get up there.”

With a tip to Ingram, here are 22 favorable factors for Richardson winning Alabama’s second Heisman in three years.

1. Richardson’s numbers are better than Ingram’s were in 2009: With an extra game in hand Ingram finished with 1,658 rushing yards, 334 receiving, 1,992 total and 20 touchdowns. That worked out to an average of 118.4 rushing yards and 142.3 total yards per game. With his final game yet to be played Richardson has 1,583 rushing yards, 327 receiving, 1,910 total and 23 touchdowns, for an average of 131.9 rushing yards and 159.2 total yards.

Trent Richardson's return to Florida was one of his best career games.

2. The full package: Richardson’s a complete running back who can do everything well, which is pretty rare. In addition to being a good receiver, he’s a good pass-blocker and picks up blitzes well.

“He shouldn’t get pigeon-holed into being a bruising back because to me he’s so much more,” Coach Nick Saban said. “He’s a great leader on our team. He’s a hard worker and sets a great example. He cares about the other players on the team. He’s certainly a very productive and competitive guy, who has been as good of a player as I have had the opportunity to coach in terms of the whole package. I think bruising back would be an insult to all that he is, even though he does that too because he’s really tough and physical.”

3. The regional voting: Heisman voting is split into six balanced regions and only other serious candidate east of the Mississippi River is Ball, who is making a late charge. Most of the other candidates have regional competition with Luck, Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley, Oregon running back LaMichael James and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore all in the West, and Griffin, Keenum and Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden in the Southwest. Consequently, the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions could have a huge impact on the outcome.

4. Best player on the best team voting: With No. 1 LSU not having a strong candidate, Richardson could get a lot of best player on the best team votes, while Luck is riding the “best NFL prospect” reputation after returning for his senior season.

5. Which player looked best in the game his teams lost? Richardson was still impressive when Alabama played LSU, with 169 total yards (89 rushing, 80 receiving) against the nation’s No. 2 defense. Meanwhile, Luck threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions and a fumble when Stanford was routed at home by Oregon, 53-30.

6. Southeastern Conference legacy: Richardson is the only running back in SEC history to have 20 rushing touchdowns in a single season. The only other players to rush for that many were quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Cam Newton, both of whom won the Heisman Trophy. In overall touchdowns, Richardson needs only one more to tie the SEC record.

SEC single-season touchdowns
24 Shaun Alexander, Alabama, 1999
23 Trent Richardson, Alabama, 2011

(tie) Tim Tebow, Florida, 2007
21 Garrison Hearst, Georgia, 1992
(tie) Cam Newton, Auburn, 2010
20 Herschel Walker, Georgia, 1981
(tie) Reggie Cobb, Tennessee, 1987
(tie) Mark Ingram, Alabama 2009

7. Timely touchdowns: Only four of Richardson’s 23 touchdowns have been when Alabama led by 20 points or more. Although Ball’s 34 touchdowns are the second-most in a single season in Bowl Subdivision history behind Barry Sanders’ 39, 14 were after Wisconsin had at least a 20-point lead.

Most of Trent Richardson's numbers compare or are better than Mark Ingram's in 2009

8. Yards after contact: Of Richardson’s 1,583 rushing yards, 787 have been after contact, or 49.7 percent. Incidentally, Ingram was credited with 54 percent of his total yards (1,075 of 1,992) when he won the Heisman.

“He does that in practice and it sort of carries over to the field,” senior nose tackle Josh Chapman said. “It’s just his will. He just wants to keep rolling. The guy is strong. He wants every yard he can get.”

9. Yards after the pile: Ok, it’s not an official stat, but how many times have fans seen Richardson move an entire pile forward for extra yards this season? It’s been a regular occurrence.

“It's crazy because you've got everybody trying to move you this way and move you that way,” Richardson described. “You've got to make sure you're not getting pinched or you're not getting pulled on or something like that. You've got to make sure nobody's trying to twist your ankle. It's crazy underneath that pile. Everything goes on. It's every man for himself underneath that pile.

“I'm dodging and I'm trying to take these folks on and try to carry them on my back and trying to push them away from me at the same time. When I get that feeling that I'm just going to drag everybody, it just gets me excited and has me ready to go for the next play.”

10. 100-yard performances: The nine 100-yard rushing games tied an Alabama record (Ingram, 2009), and his streak of six consecutive games tied another (Shaun Alexander, 1999). In comparison, both Ball and James have six total.

11. No turnovers: Richardson’s last, and only, fumble lost was during his freshman season, a span of 550 touches. While the other running backs have been pretty impressive as well, with James losing two and Ball none, here the quarterbacks’ interceptions.

Interceptions
Keenum 3
Griffin 5
Barkley 7
Moore 7
Luck 9
Weeden 12

Trent Richardson enjoyed his first career 200-yard rushing performance against rival Auburn

The last Heisman winner to have as many as nine interceptions was Carson Palmer in 2002, when with 3,942 passing yards he finished his career as the Pac-10's career passing (11,388) and total offense leader.

12. Road warrior: Richardson’s arguably been at his best in hostile environments, including the 203 rushing yards last week at rival Auburn. The five times he was on the road this season he averaged 161.9 rushing yards and scored nine touchdowns.

13. Wearing down the competition: Richardson has had his most yards in the third quarter, but with a higher average in the fourth quarter. Three times he never touched the ball in the fourth quarter, and in three other games he had three or fewer carries. FYI, Ball hasn’t had a fourth-down carry in six games.

Richardson rushing yards per quarter
First quarter 73-326-5, 4.5 average
Second quarter 64-319-3, 5.0
Third quarter 73-538-6, 7.4
Fourth quarter 53-413-4, 7.8

14. Defenses have keyed him: Richardson’s 1,910 yards from scrimmage have been 36.7 percent of the Alabama offense. In comparison, Ball’s 1,870 yards have been 32.7 percent of Wisconsin’s offense, and James’ 1,613 just 21.2 percent.

“I think every team we play goes into the game saying ‘We’ve got to stop him if we’re going to have a chance to win’ and he keeps churning out yards,” senior center William Vlachos said.

“Mississippi State and Auburn? They had like 150 people in the box and he’s running it for 57 yards (on one run vs. Auburn).“A lot of that credit is to him, even though we’re blocking well up front. He’s a special player.”

15. Toughest competition, part I: This is the update of a chart that appeared on BOL two weeks ago, measuring who faced the toughest competition. Listed are the players involved, the opponents’ rankings and average yards allowed in total defense. With Football Championship Subdivision opponents discounted, the averages are referenced back to where they would be in the original rankings (full numbers for each player listed at the end of this article).

Of all the Heisman contenders, there's no doubt that Trent Richardson faced the toughest competition

Average rank of average defense faced, total yards
Richardson 33 (349.1)
Ball 49 (370.0)
James 66 (385.3)
Barkley 72 (391.6)
Moore 72 (392.6)
Luck T78 (405.3)
Griffin 86 (416.3)
Keenum 86 (416.5)
Weeden 92 (423.1)

Incidentally, here’s where the quarterbacks rank in passing yards …

2. Weeden, 4,111 yards, 34 TDs
4. Keenum, 4,726 yards, 43 TDs
10. Barkley, 3,528 yards, 39 TDs
15. Moore, 3,194 yards, 38 TDs
20. Griffin, 3,678 yards, 34 TDs
23. Luck 3,170 yards, 35 TDs

… and passing efficiency:

2. Griffin 191.11
3. Keenum 187.34
4. Moore 175.19
5. Luck 167.5
8. Weeden 162.25
9. Barkley 161.22

Luck’s efficiency rating is actually a little down from last year’s 170.2.

16. Toughest competition, part II: In scoring defense, Richardson has faced only two teams ranked 80th or worse.

Opponents ranking 80th or worse in scoring defense
Luck 8
Keenum 8
Weeden 6
Ball 5
James 5
Barkley 4
Griffin 4
Moore 4
Richardson 2

Which do you think he would rather do, face the media or get on a plane?

Richardson has faced five teams in the top 30, eight in the top 51.
Luck has seen one in the top 30 (No. 30), four in the top 53
Griffin has played one in the top 30 (No. 28), three in the top 46.

17. Toughest competition, part III: Richardson’s opponents have a combined record of 81-61, with the .570 winning percentage the best of any contender. In contrast, Luck’s opponents are .500 (72-72), with the teams Ball and Keenum faced having losing records.

18. Toughest competition, part IV: Richardson has the most wins against Top 25 teams:

Ranked opponents (record)
Richardson 5 (4-1)
Griffin 4+ (1-2)
Weeden 3+ (3-0)
Ball 3+ (2-1)
James 3 (2-1)
Luck 3 (2-1)
Barkley 2 (1-1)
Moore 1 (1-0)
Keenum 0+ (0-0)

The +-symbol means that those players will face a ranked team this weekend. Richardson, Keenum and Luck are the only three whose teams didn’t lose to an unranked opponent.

19. Best against the best: Against ranked opponents Richardson is averaging 142 rushing yards (5.82 per carry) and 198.4 total yards. In his three games against Top 25 teams Luck averaged 219. 3 passing yards and 7.15 yards per attempt.

20. A much bigger stage: Richardson played before at least 100,000 fans eight times (twice the capacity of Stanford’s home stadium), and was a regular fixture on national television in big-name matchups including Arkansas, Florida, Penn State, etc. LSU at Alabama was the second-most most watched college football regular-season game since CBS started keeping records in 1987. During Stanford’s most high-profile game, James stole the spotlight with 146 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

21. Signature plays: There’s a prevailing belief that the Heisman winner must have a signature moment that stands out and sticks with voters. Richardson had both the impressive 76-yard touchdown at Ole Miss that included a jaw-dropping start-stop juke move and the swatting away a defender during the 57-yard carry at Auburn. Luck’s was probably leading Stanford’s 56-48 triple-overtime victory against Southern California, against which he also gave up a pick-six interception.

22. Handling the spotlight: Richardson has said the right things, and continually claimed that his offensive lineman are more deserving of being recognized.

“I'm looking forward to it,” he said. “I wish everybody could go and represent this team. I'm going to try to represent it hard and try to represent it the best I can and speak well and try to answer the questions as good as I can while I'm down there. And be relaxed and have fun when I'm down there. It is a fun trip at the same time. I'm really trying to go down there and have fun and make sure that at the end of the day, win or lose, that my name's been mentioned as a Heisman candidate.”

The game-by-game breakdown

Here are the players involved, the opponents’ rankings and average yards allowed in both the primary category (rushing for the running backs, passing for the quarterbacks), and total defense. With Football Championship Subdivision opponents tossed out, the averages are referenced back to where it would be in the original rankings.

For example, while Alabama’s opponents are 81-61, their combined rushing yards allowed average out to rank 62nd among 120 Bowl Championship Subdivision teams, and 33rd in total defense.

Trent Richardson, Alabama
Opponent, rush yards, total yards

Kent State (5-7); 37 (129.8); 20 (326.2)
Penn State (9-3); 50 (138.8); 11 (300.92)
North Texas (4-7); 75 (165.6); 105 (447.4)
Arkansas (10-2); 79 (174.3); 51 (371.4)
Florida (6-6); 40 (132.3); 10 (299.6)
Vanderbilt (6-6) 25 (123.0); 19 (324.6)
Ole Miss (2-10) 112 (224.9); 89 (419.3)
Tennessee (5-7); 70 (162.7); 28 (340.5)
LSU (12-0); 4 (86.1); 2 (248.4)
Miss. State (6-6); 65 (161.0); 42 (355.9)
Georgia Southern (9-2) (FCS team)
Auburn (7-5); 99 (194.8); 78 (405.8)
Total/Avg: (81-61); 62 (153.9); 33 (349.1)

Montee Ball, Wisconsin
Opponent, rush yards, total yards

UNLV (2-9); 100 (194.9); 106 (448.5)
Oregon State (3-9); 101 (196.8); 83 (411.3)
Northern Illinois (9-3); 84 (182.1); 91 (421.7)
South Dakota (6-5) (FCS team)
Nebraska (9-3); 66 (161.6); 36 (350.7)
Indiana (1-11); 118 (243.7); 110 (458.7)
Michigan State (10-2); 11 (102.5); 3 (266.7)
Ohio State (6-6); 53 (142.4); 23 (328.6)
Purdue (6-6); 89 (185.7); 68 (388.5)
Minnesota (3-9); 91 (186.4); 77 (403.1)
Illinois (6-6); 42 (132.7); 8 (291.8)
Penn State (9-3); 50 (138.8); 11 (300.9)
[b[Total/Avg. [/b] (70-72); 78 (169.8); 49 (370.0)

LaMichael James, Oregon
Opponent, rush yards, total yards

LSU (12-0); 4 (86.1); 2 (248.4)
Nevada (6-5); 57 (147.0); 61 (378.0)
Missouri State (2-9) (FCS team)
Arizona (4-8); 66 (161.6); 111 (460.5)
California (7-5); 38 (130.3); 27 (339.4)
Arizona State (6-6); 59 (148.0); 88 (418.9)
Colorado (3-10); 87 (183.9); 103 (439.3)
Wash. State (4-8); 63 (157.2); 81 (409.6)
Washington (7-5); 54 (142.6); 95 (426.3)
Stanford (11-1); 5 (90.3); 24 (331.4)
Southern Cal (10-2); 19 (111.4); 54 (374.8)
Oregon State (3-9); 101 (196.8); 83 (411.3)
Total/Avg: (75-68); 53 (141.4); 66 (385.3)

Matt Barkley, Southern California
Opponent, pass yards, total yards

Minnesota (3-9); 52 (216.7); 77 (403.1)
Utah (7-5); 86 (245.8); 30 (342.8)
Syracuse (5-6); 99 (258.2); 71 (391.3)
Arizona State (6-6); 106 (270.9); 88 (418.9)
Arizona (4-8); 119 (298.9); 111 (460.5)
California (7-5); 45 (209.1); 27 (339.4)
Notre Dame (8-4); 36 (202.2); 33 (349.3)
Stanford (11-1); 79 (241.1); 24 (331.4)
Colorado (3-10); 98 (255.4); 103 (439.3)
Washington (7-5); 115 (283.8); 95 (426.3)
Oregon (10-2); 91 (249.1); 64 (384.7)
UCLA (6-6); 68 (233.8); 84 (411.9)
[b[Total/Avg. [/b] (77-67); 89 (247.1); 72 (391.6)

Kellen Moore, Boise State
Opponent, pass yards, total yards

Georgia (10-2); 15 (186.2); 4 (273.3)
Toledo (8-4); 108 (278.5); 80 (407.2)
Tulsa (8-4); 105 (273.2); 79 (406.1)
Nevada (6-5); 60 (223.6); 54 (374.8)
Fresno State (4-8); 97 (261.2); 103 (444.0)
Colorado State (3-8); 13 (180.7); 74 (400.7)
Air Force (7-5); 12 (178.6); 71 (397.1)
UNLV (2-9); 109 (278.8); 106 (446.7)
TCU (9-2); 75 (234.7); 43 (358.4)
San Diego St. (7-4); 16 (186.7); 57 (375.8)
Wyoming (7-4); 42 (207.6); 100 (434.6)
Total/Avg: (71-55); 61 (226.3); 72 (392.6)

Andrew Luck, Stanford
Opponent, pass yards, total yards

San Jose State (7-4); 56 (221.3); 94 (431.5)
Duke (3-9); 84 (244.8); 93 (425.4)
Arizona (4-8); 119 (298.9); 111 (460.5)
UCLA (6-6); 68 (233.8); 84 (411.9)
Colorado (3-10); 98 (255.4); 103 (439.3)
Wash. State (4-8); 93 (252.4); 81 (409.6)
Washington (7-5); 115 (283.8); 95 (426.3)
Southern Cal (10-2); 101 (263.3); 54 (374.8)
Oregon State (3-9); 49 (214.4); 83 (411.3)
Oregon (10-2); 91 (249.1); 64 (384.7)
California (7-5) 45 (209.1); 27 (339.4)
Notre Dame (8-4) 36 (201.2); 33 (349.3)
Total/Avg: (72-72); 82 (244.0); T78 (405.3)

Robert Griffin III, Baylor
Opponent, pass yards, total yards

TCU (9-2); 71 (235.9); 45 (362.9)
Stephan F. Austin (6-5) (FCS team)
Rice (4-8); 111 (278.7); 112 (462.1)
Kansas State (9-2); 108 (277.3); 76 (401.6)
Iowa State (6-5); 82 (244.4); 102 (439.0)
Texas A&M (6-6); 112 (280.5); 66 (386.5)
Oklahoma State (10-1); 102 (267.0); 107 (453.6)
Missouri (7-5); 89 (247.3); 62 (282.3)
Kansas (2-10); 109 (277.9); 120 (516.4)
Oklahoma (9-2); 87 (246.0); 52 (373.0)
Texas Tech (5-7); 63 (226.8); 115 (485.6)
Total/Avg: (73-53); 100 (258.2); 86 (416.3)

Case Keenum, Houston
Opponent, pass yards, total yards

UCLA (6-6); 68 (233.8); 84 (411.9)
North Texas (4-7); 113 (281.7); 105 (447.4)
La. Tech (8-4); 94 (252.8); 55 (374.8)
Georgia State* (3-8) (FCS team)
UTEP (5-7); 92 (251.7); 104 (441.5)
East Carolina (5-7); 36 (202.2); 58 (376.3)
Marshall (6-6); 100 (262.8); 87 (417.8)
Rice (4-8); 111 (278.7); 112 (462.1)
UAB (3-9); 114 (282.3); 115 (485.6)
Tulane (2-11); 85 (245.4); 82 (410.3)
SMU (7-5); 58 (223.9); 38 (351.3)
Tulsa (8-4) 118 (289.3); 90 (402.7)
Total/Avg: (61-82); 99 (255.8); 86 (416.5)

Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
Opponent, pass yards, total yards

La.-Lafayette (8-4) 90 (248.7); 72 (393.2)
Arizona (4-8); 119 (298.9); 111 (460.5)
Tulsa (8-4); 118 (289.3); 90 (420.7)
Texas A&M (6-6); 112 (280.5); 66 (386.5)
Kansas (2-10); 109 (277.9); 120 (516.4)
Texas (7-4); 35 (201.8); 9 (297.6)
Missouri (7-5); 89 (247.2); 62 (382.3)
Baylor (8-3); 107 (271.8); 114 (470.3)
Kansas State (9-2); 108 (277.7); 76 (401.6)
Texas Tech (5-7); 63 (226.8); 115 (485.6)
Iowa State (6-5); 82 (244.4); 102 (439.0)
Total/Avg: (70-68); 100 (260.5); 92 (423.1)

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