What will it take for Braelon Allen to win the Heisman Trophy?
"Here's a look at what Allen would need to happen to win the Heisman, based on past winners and vote-getters' performances," writes Colten Bartholomew.
MADISON — Braelon Allen's impressive freshman season has inspired many questions from enthusiastic University of Wisconsin football fans.
Just how good can Allen be after rushing for 1,268 yards and 12 touchdowns as a 17-year-old? Can he be the next in the lineage of star tailbacks who are synonymous with the program? Can he become the third running back from UW to win a Heisman Trophy?
Winning the Heisman Trophy is the ultimate individual honor in college football, but it has become extremely difficult for a non-quarterback to achieve. In fact, only three non-quarterbacks have finished in the top three of Heisman voting since 2016 — Stanford tailback Bryce Love finished second in 2017, Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith won the award in 2020 and Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson was second last season. Alabama's Derrick Henry in 2015 was the last running back to win a Heisman.
Allen's prowess for producing highlight runs and being a known commodity entering the season helps his chances of being on the radar of Heisman voters. But winning the award as a tailback in the modern era is difficult. There only have been four running backs, including UW product Ron Dayne in 1999, to win the Heisman in the past 23 years.
Here's a look at what Allen would need to happen to win the Heisman, based on past winners and vote-getters' performances.
At least 10 wins and Big Ten title game appearance
Allen is going to be a focal point of the Badgers offense this season, but the first criteria for a Heisman candidate in the modern era is being part of one of the best teams in the nation.
Only two Heisman winners in the past 23 years were from teams with fewer than 10 regular-season wins. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III (2011) and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (2016) both led teams with 9-3 regular seasons. But Griffin III finished second in the country in total offense and touchdowns responsible for, while Jackson was third and second in those categories his Heisman season.
UW's resume is going to have to include at least 10 wins and a Big Ten Conference West Division title for Allen to win the Heisman. The four tailbacks to win the Heisman since 1999 — Dayne, Southern Cal's Reggie Bush (2005), Alabama's Mark Ingram (2011) and Henry — all came from teams with at least 10 wins and conference champions at the time of Heisman voting. UW will have to beat out a veteran-laden Iowa squad, an improved Nebraska roster and a Minnesota team that showed it could stymie Allen last season to keep the Badgers from the Big Ten title game. Winning a Big Ten title, which UW hasn't done since 2012, only would bolster Allen's campaign.
Gain 2,300 scrimmage yards
It's easier than it's ever been to throw the ball in college football with the sophistication of offenses, the space created by wider hash marks and targeting rules keeping defenses on their heels. Thus, quarterbacks can put up big numbers and pad their Heisman resumes with less effort than a tailback.
That's why Allen will have to have some outstanding statistics to earn consideration for college football's top individual award. The four most recent tailbacks to win the Heisman averaged just more than 2,150 all-purpose yards in those seasons, led by Bush's 2,611. Bush had the benefit of being a part-time kick and punt returner to boost his yardage.
Allen has dedicated a significant chunk of his offseason to becoming a better receiver, and new offensive coordinator Bobby Engram has encouraged UW's quarterbacks to get the ball out faster, which could lead to more receiving targets and chances for Allen to gain yards. Amassing 2,300 yards would mean Allen averaged 177 total yards per game. He averaged just less than 140 total yards in the games he was a featured back last season, so 177 per game seems attainable with an uptick in receiving work.
Score 30 touchdowns
If the first reaction to reading that Allen would need to score 30 touchdowns to win a Heisman is, "Wow, that's a lot," that's correct. But that's how high the bar is set for a tailback to crack the QB stranglehold on the Heisman.
Seven tailbacks have scored 30 or more touchdowns in the past 10 years, and UW's Melvin Gordon (32 in 2014) had the highest Heisman finish as the runner-up to Oregon QB Marcus Mariota. But Allen has a chance to have a scoring season like UW's Montee Ball in 2011. Ball scored 39 total touchdowns that season in part because he was the Badgers' best goal-line runner in an explosive offense. Ball finished fourth in Heisman voting.
UW's offense produced 52 red-zone chances last season despite its issues, but it converted just 28 of those into scores. Engram's upgrades should help the offense improve, and featuring Allen often should give UW the ability to punch in scores.
Never forget that it's real people with eyes, hearts and emotions who decide the Heisman. Storylines matter.
Allen has an appealing narrative as one of the youngest players in college football playing such a prominent role for his home-state Badgers. He'll be on ballots if he puts up the aforementioned statistics, the Badgers are winning games and are ranked in the top 15.
But Allen will need to have signature plays against the best teams UW plays this season, like Ohio State in the Big Ten opener in Columbus and on the road at Iowa late in the season. A big performance in the Big Ten title game would help cement a vote for him like it did for Alabama QB Bryce Young last season when he thrashed Georgia in the SEC championship tilt.
As an example, Dayne had 161 yards and four touchdowns at No. 12 Ohio State in 1999 to get UW's season and his Heisman campaign on track, and he had 200-plus-yard games against No. 11 Michigan State and at No. 17 Purdue. UW won both games.
This one Allen can't control, but he'll need star quarterbacks like Young and Ohio State's C.J. Stroud to have less-than-stellar seasons.
Both Ingram and Henry owe their Heismans in part to no quarterbacks being otherworldly in their winning seasons. Ingram won the Heisman over Stanford tailback Toby Gerhart, and Henry finished ahead of Stanford's Christian McCaffrey, the only times since 1994 the top two didn't feature a quarterback.
It'll take an extremely impressive season by Allen to secure the Big Ten's first Heisman since 2006, and he'll need QBs around the country to appear mortal.
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