Let’s face it. Saturday afternoon in Wisconsin belongs to Kenosha native Melvin Gordon.
The junior running back at the University of Wisconsin is it.
By proxy, he brings along his Badgers and if he runs wild again, and he will make his team a somewhat relevant national story for another week.
All the Badgers have to do is continue to pound the nail that is "rival" Minnesota at Camp Randall, and Bucky is off to the Big Ten Championship game against Ohio State next weekend in Indianapolis.
That should happen anyway, but a large part of it will have to do with Gordon, a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate that fell off the radar, and then vaulted back into it with a record-setting performance against Nebraska two weeks ago. (Gordon’s 408-yard effort against Nebraska was then eclipsed just a week later by Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, who rushed for 427 yards.)
Now, the machine is full effect.
Gordon was just named a finalist for the Maxwell Award (presented to the collegiate player of the year) and the Doak Walker Award (presented to the best running back). He’s back in the Hesiman conversation, which many consider is a two-way talk between Gordon and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Most importantly, Gordon deserves it. He should have gone to the NFL after last year, but instead he elected to come back to improve his pass-catching ability and contend for the nation’s top individual honor. He’s done both.
"His legacy is going to be left here for a long time, and his footprints are going to be all over these hallways," Badgers coach Gary Andersen said.
Look where Gordon stands heading into Saturday:
- Is the nation’s leading rusher (191.7 yards per game).
- Is the nation’s leading scorer (27 touchdowns).
- Is tied with Badgers alumnus Ron Dayne for the Big Ten single-season rushing record (2,109 yards).
This is all very impressive.
"He's made everybody miss," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "There ain't nobody stopped him including LSU. That kid has just been on fire.
"He's like a missile. And we better get him deactivated before he gets up there. Before he gets through the hole we better be able to close it and make him have to bounce and be able to squeeze him in. Nobody's stopped him."
When Gordon passes Dayne on his first carry against the Golden Gophers, he’ll top a single-season NCAA rushing list that includes the following runners in the top 10:
Dayne (who will hold the second and sixth spots), Penn State’s Larry Johnson, Michigan State’s Lorenzo White, Northwestern’s Damien Anderson, Ohio State’s Eddie George, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
George and Dayne won Heisman’s in their career, and are part of a fraternity of Big Ten running backs who not only graduated to the NFL, but are considered some of the best players in their school’s long football histories.
We’re talking about the likes of Anthony Thompson (Indiana), Archie Griffin (Ohio State), Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois), Keith Byars (Ohio State), Le’Veon Bell (Michigan State), Tim Biakabutuka (Michigan) and Shonn Greene (Iowa).
"It is kind of crazy," he said. "I try to take it for what it is. I really don’t think about it too much. It’ll probably set in when I actually break it (the single-season record). But I mean, there have been so many greats that have played in this conference and to know that I’ve got a chance to break that record, it’s a good feeling."
While Gordon should, finally, enter the NFL draft after this year – and an upset loss to the Gophers would only give him one more game in his collegiate career – he won’t pass Dayne as the conference’s all-time career leader in yards.
But, should he play in the Big Ten Championship game and then a bowl game, he could threaten the 5,000-yard mark, which has been reached by only five other running backs in conference history.
Not only that, but having two extra games to play brings the NCAA single-season rushing record into play.
That belongs to Barry Sanders, who during his junior campaign at Oklahoma State in 1988, rushed for 2,628 yards and 37 touchdowns while averaging a whopping 7.6 yards per carry.
"I don’t think you can emulate or be anything like Barry Sanders," Gordon said. "He’s one of a kind. Everyone knows that there’s only Barry Sanders. You can’t be like him. You could try, but I don’t think you’d be too successful. He’s just a legend. He had his own style of play and I don’t think anyone could fit that."
If Gordon didn’t see a single carry the rest of the year, he’d be No. 10 all-time.
And, if he hits his average of 191 yards against Minnesota, he’ll vault all the way to fourth all-time and leapfrog such college luminaries as Ricky Williams (Texas), Matt Forte (Tulane), Mike Rozier (Nebraska), LaDanian Tomlinson (TCU), Andre Williams (Boston College) and Troy Davis (Iowa State).
Marcus Allen of USC, Central Florida’s Kevin Smith and Sanders are the only college runners to ever top the 2,300-yard mark in a single season.
"The records, I really don’t think about them too much," Gordon said. "I really, when I set my goals this year, I didn’t think about breaking any records. I never put that in my goals. I just wanted a better season than I had last year and really team goals. I never really cared about the records. But obviously they’ve been coming so, I mean, I can’t say too much about that."
As a program, the Badgers’ dreams of national relevance in regards to the new, four-team playoff for the national title, ended with an October loss to Northwestern. They’ve really only played two decent teams in LSU and Nebraska, and they’ll be an underdog to Ohio State next week (don’t get me started if they lose to Minnesota).
But they have this bright, shining star, in a year when the college game is severely lacking one. And, that is always good for a program in terms of recruiting, and a head coach in terms of job security.
Gordon’s time in red and white is running short, so be sure to enjoy The Show before the credits roll.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.