Heisman Trophy? Again?!? Haven’t football fans in the state of Utah been through enough already, what with the season-ending injuries to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and Utah State QB Chuckie Keeton dashing their Heisman hopes?
Why talk about another Heisman candidate from the state of Utah, anyway? What good will it do when it will likely go to someone–as usual–from a team in the SEC? You could have that philosophy, but then you’d overlook one player who has had as impressive a year as anyone in the country.
That player is Utah Utes running back Devontae Booker, who has rebounded from academic probation last year–more or less–to fill a spot that hasn’t been filled with any regularity or proficiency since John White IV took handoffs all the way to the Sun Bowl, and nearly led the Utes to a Pac-12 title.
Booker has now put everyone on notice with his 26-carry, 102-yard performance against USC this past weekend. Considering that only two out of USC’s eight opponents have had anyone rush for over 100 yards against the Trojans, Booker’s totals look even more impressive.
Yet nobody is giving the 5-foot-11, 203-pound wrecking ball of a junior out of Sacramento any love nationally when it comes to talking about him and college football’s most prestigious trophy. All the love is going to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who does everything the right way and is in his final year as a college player.
Maybe it’s because Booker was used sparingly in the Utes’ first three games–getting about 75 yards on about 10-12 carries in each. Booker wasn’t utilized to his full potential until Utah’s Pac-12 opener against Washington State, when he carried the ball 24 times for 178 yards and one touchdown.
After that conference opening loss against Wazzu, though, it’s been nothing but 100-plus yard outings for Booker–and wins for his nationally ranked Utes squad. Here are five reasons he should be considered as part of this Heisman pack.
Booker only played limited minutes in his first few games and so he’s been a little late to the Heisman party. That said, name four running backs who have run for 100-plus yards against USC. Give up? That’s right; you have to because there haven’t been four backs who have done so. Booker now has four 100-yard plus games against Pac-12 opponents in four Pac-12 games. He gets stronger as the game goes on and he’s already proven he can take a hit against USC and UCLA.
It isn’t like Booker has been playing against tomato cans all season. If Utah’s coaches would have felt the need, Booker would have run all over the Big House and Michigan for 200-plus yards–possibly more. Instead the coaches held him back, preferring to keep him fresh for Wazzu, UCLA, Oregon State and USC. He ran for 100-plus yards against all four conference teams and so the smart money is on him running for another big day at Arizona State this weekend (it has allowed 180 rushing yards per game).
Name any running backs–besides Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah–who seem to get stronger as the game goes on. Booker is similar in that sense, yet he’s different in another sense. He’s bigger than Abdullah and if he had played in as many games as Abdullah (1,249 yards), Booker would likely have surpassed the Nebraska standout yardage-wise. The one and only negative on Booker’s resume is his yardage. But, when you consider he’s already rushed for nearly 900 yards and eight touchdowns this season–in about four games, frankly–you realize you’re looking at someone special.
Booker is getting overlooked by everyone in the country because of his low output in his first three games–Idaho State, Fresno State and Michigan. Once Pac-12 conference play kicked into gear, however, he has not only surpassed all expectations he had going into his first year as a Division I player, he’s putting his game on another level entirely. in the past four games alone, Booker has run for over 700 yards.
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is not one to hand out praise publicly, yet even he has admitted that Booker has been a primary reason for the Utes’ turnaround. Booker is even being invited to attend the Utes press conferences. Credit some of Utah’s rise to the defense and special teams for certain, but you’d be foolish not to think that Booker has played a major part–and will continue to do so.