Bryce Love stood inches from college’s most sought after, personal achievement award: The Heisman trophy. Backing Love’s case were 1,973 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns and his average of 8.3 yards per carry.
Love trucked past quarterback turnover and youth. Past hampering ankle injuries. Past an offense desperately in need of him to do everything in order to function. Through the chaos of the 2017 season, the Cardinal hopped on his back time and again so Love could carry them to victory.
But, somehow, Love watched as the Heisman was handed off to Baker Mayfield when the time came to choose a victor for the coveted award. Another prolific Stanford running back launched a Heisman-level campaign, which promptly went unrecognized.
Headed into the 2018 season, Love is the Heisman front runner, opening up the offseason with seven to one odds of taking the trophy. Last season’s competition (Saquon Barkley, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb) have all moved onto the NFL. Everything is set for the Stanford workhorse to capture the 2018 audience with his heroics on the turf. Or is it?
From the void of talent, new challenges have risen. Players like Ohio State’s running back J.K. Dobbins (12/1 odds) or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa (10/1 odds) seemingly sprung from nowhere last season to grab the spotlight. Still others, like Wisconsin’s running back Jonathan Taylor (8/1 odds) or Penn State’s quarterback Trace McSorley (18/1 odds), already have battle-tested stats to give their run for the crown merit.
The field is as crowded as ever, so how does Love once again pull away, this time for good?
Flex Early -
To start the 2018 season, Stanford plays six defenses that ranked in the top 50 schools defending the ground attack. San Diego State (7th) allowed only 12 rushing touchdowns all season. Utah (37th) let up 14 and Notre Dame (49th) a skimpy nine through 2017. None of these teams held opponents to less than 100 rushing yards per game or touted low yards per attempt for opposing backs. They all did one thing very well: Keeping opposing runners out of the promise land.
Love can start the year strong by scoring on all three of these teams, giving his case for the Heisman real weight in the early going.
Owning Prime Time -
The Cardinal are on the late night circuit for a lot of the country, but in the first six games of the season (the only games that have set times as of the writing of this article) Stanford has two games in prime time.
Against USC and Notre Dame, the spotlight is on Stanford. Last year, the two blunder filled games Love had both went down in prime time games against the Washingtons gauntlet (which was tragically back to back weeks). While injuries played a role, so did a dedication to stopping the Stanford running game. It was the perfect storm to slow down Love.
Although it was a mere two games of the season, for a PAC-12 running back, that can be all the difference. So many late starts for Stanford means the few opportunities Love can make his case to East Coast voters need to be spotlight moments. This year, the difference may be as simple as really showing out with more eyeballs toward key contests.
Run The Marathon -
Love averaged 20.2 carries per game last season, a necessary burden while Stanford figured out a tenuous quarterback situation to start the season. A steep number, especially when Love nursed ankle injuries for the tail end of the season.
Stanford consistently runs a heavy amount of carries, with 2006 the last time they averaged less than 35 carries per game. However, not going to Love does not have to mean a change of system.
Trevor Speights and Cameron Scarlett are great role-playing backs who can handle more backfield work, easing the load on Love. His durability through the season directly correlates to the success of Stanford. Keeping Love healthy is the top priority.