Saturday, July 23, 2011

Matt Chandik's Heisman Predictions...No.4

The SEC prides itself on being the top college football conference in the land (so much so that rival fanbases routinely take credit for other teams’ national titles. See: every SEC team’s fans chanting “S-E-C S-E-C S-E-C” whenever one of its teams wins the national title, though that could be partly attributed to everyone in the South being related to one another), but it might be best known in 2011 as the conference where elite running backs live.

Alabama’s Trent Richardson, Auburn’s Mike Dyer, Arkansas’ Knile Davis and my No. 4 pick for this year’s Heisman, South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, make up as good a foursome of running backs as you can find anywhere in the country. One of those three previously mentioned running backs will appear later in this countdown, but the No. 4 spot belongs to Lattimore.

Lattimore was the most sought-after running back in the nation as a high school senior in 2010. He was a consensus five-star recruit and was labeled the No. 1 back in the nation by both and While the fact that he played at nearby Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C., certainly helped South Carolina’s recruiting efforts, it the Gamecocks still had to fend off, well, everyone for Lattimore.

Once he stepped on campus, though, Lattimore backed up the hype. He scored a pair of touchdowns in the season opening win against Southern Mississippi and then announced his arrival to the college football world the week after with an utter demolition of SEC rival Georgia. Lattimore trampled over the Bulldog defense with 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 37 carries. He would also add highlight-reel games against Tennessee (29-184-1) and Florida (40-212-3).

The two main gripes on Lattimore’s game is that he might lack some explosiveness after averaging less than five yards per carry and that he doesn’t do well against the best teams on South Carolina’s schedule. His yards per carry should go up as the Gamecocks’ offense returns quarterback Stephen Garcia (yes, even after his 92nd stay in Steve Spurrier’s doghouse) and one of the nation’s most talented wideouts in Alshon Jeffery, thus opening up more lanes for Lattimore. Jeffery established himself as one of the nation’s most imposing targets last year when he racked up an absurd 88-1,517-9 line. Jeffery is so tough to defend because he’s so big (6-4, 235 pounds) and fast (17.24 yards per catch last season) and teams will have to roll a safety to his size, limiting how often that safety can creep down in the box to stop Lattimore.

Lattimore will need to perform better against top competition, though. He faced eventual national champion Auburn (well, we’ll see how long that lasts) twice and managed a combined 117 yards on 30 carries and only scored once in those two games. He put up 93 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, but needed 23 carries to do it. He averaged less than three yards per carry against Arkansas and barely scraped out two yards per carry against archrival Clemson. That needs to change.

One of the biggest reasons, however, that Lattimore is so highly regarded is because of how well he catches the football, especially for a power back. He led all SEC running backs in receiving yards with 412 and added two touchdowns, including a four-catch, 133-yard, one-touchdown performance against Kentucky.

Considering how Lattimore was able to put up more than 1,600 total yards of offense and 19 touchdowns while missing the Vanderbilt game and the bulk of the bowl game against Florida State (he was held to one carry before leaving the game), it’s not unrealistic to expect more than 2,000 total yards of offense from him. I’d venture to say that he’ll likely end up with about 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns, setting him up for a great chance to win the 2012 Heisman. Until then, though, he’ll have to settle for the No. 4 spot in this talented Heisman pool.

Look for Matt Chandik’s No. 3 pick for the Heisman Trophy later this week. He can be reached at

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