DeCock: Why not UNC's Gio Bernard for Heisman?

ldecock@newsobserver.comNovember 10, 2012 

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NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: The Heisman trophy awarded to Running back Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at a press conference after he was named the 75th Heisman Trophy winner at the Marriott Marquis on December 12, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Ingram

TIM LEE — PHOTO ILLUSTRATION

  • Why? Why not? The Heisman Trophy case for/against Gio Bernard: Why? Third nationally among backs in total yards per game and scoring despite missing two games. Why not? RBs have won just one of past 11 Heismans. Why? Signature Heisman moments, notably 74-yard game-winning punt return for touchdown against N.C. State. Why not? Just two ACC players – FSU QBs Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke – won the Heisman. Why? Value. UNC is 6-1 with Bernard, 0-2 without him – and he scored 2 TDs in the last-second loss against Duke. Why not? Postseason ban doesn’t preclude him from winning, but doesn’t help.

There isn’t a full-fledged Heisman Trophy campaign under way in Chapel Hill, but North Carolina did unveil a poster Friday touting Giovani Bernard’s awards candidacy.

It raises the question, “Why Gio Bernard?”

A better question to ask would be, “Why notGio Bernard?”

When a linebacker – and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o is a linebacker with an inspiring story on a top-five team, but a linebacker nonetheless – is one of the top Heisman candidates, it’s safe to say the race is wide open for an underdog candidate.

Bernard is a front-runner for the ACC player of the year award, and he’ll get due consideration for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the top running back in college football.

It’s too late for North Carolina to mount a full-fledged Heisman campaign for Bernard, but the Tar Heels have put together the poster and will make sure awards voters get all the information they need in the mail.

“It won’t be anything elaborate, like a $250,000 billboard in Times Square, for us,” said Kevin Best, the North Carolina assistant athletic director for athletic communications who oversees football. “He’s certainly worthy of all those considerations, any kind of award he’s up for in the postseason.”

That includes the Heisman Trophy. Whatever criteria one may choose for narrowing the field, Bernard fits.

Value to his team? North Carolina lost to Louisville and Wake Forest without Bernard, turning the 2 1/2 games he missed to a leg injury from a liability into an asset as far as awards consideration is concerned.

Head-turning numbers? Bernard is first in the country in yards per carry among backs with more than 100 carries (7.38), third in scoring (12.9 points per game), third in all-purpose yards (1,498) despite missing those two games and fifth in rushing yards per game (132.86). Only five players have more plays of 50-plus yards than Bernard’s four.

The N&O’s Andrew Carter did some research and found that Bernard’s stats through seven games compare favorably to other recent running back Heisman finalists, including Alabama’s Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram (the 2009 winner), Oregon’s LaMichael James and Arkansas’ Darren McFadden.

Raw talent? If there was any doubt about Bernard’s ability to score every time he touches the ball and his potential to turn losses into wins, look no further than his game-winning 74-yard punt return against N.C. State.

Meanwhile, the field of Heisman candidates is as unimpressive as any in recent years, with no clear standout. Quarterbacks have won 10 of the past 11 awards, but if there was ever a year for a sophomore running back who missed two full games playing for a 6-3 team under a postseason ban to win the Heisman, this is it.

The postseason ban shouldn’t affect Bernard’s candidacy. Houston quarterback Andre Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy even though the Cougars were in the first of a two-year bowl ban. Braxton Miller, Ohio State’s talented dual-threat quarterback, is a candidate this year even though the undefeated Buckeyes aren’t eligible for the postseason.

The current favorite is Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, and four of the past 10 winners have been Big 12 quarterbacks, including Robert Griffin III last year. But Klein left Kansas State’s last game with a mysterious injury, so his candidacy might be hanging by a tendon or two.

Oregon running back Kenjon Barner is putting up video-game numbers – 1,295 yards and 20 touchdowns, almost identical to Bernard on a per-game basis, and an Oregon player is going to win the Heisman eventually. Maybe Barner is the guy, but voters have so far been suspicious of products of the Oregon system.

Te’o has a great story to tell, but he’s a linebacker. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron isn’t even the best player on his team. Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason favorite, has been awful.

In other words, the field is wide open, which just happens to be where Bernard does his best running.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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