By all accounts, Melvin Gordon has had an incredible season for Wisconsin. He's averaged eight yards per carry, has run for over 2,200 yards, and even broke the NCAA single-game rushing record (even though it was broken again the next weekend). You could even make the argument that the aforementioned 408-yard performance, which was accomplished in only three quarters of play, got Bo Pelini fired from Nebraska. Gordon deserves Heisman Trophy consideration, and absolutely should be in New York City when the Heisman is announced.
But Tevin Coleman is a Heisman candidate in his own right, and his numbers on a 4-8 Indiana team, his domination in a struggling offense, and his comparison to his peers at the position make him the most impressive running back - and potentially overall player - in the Big Ten conference in 2014.
Before I get into detail, please note that I may be a little biased. as I'm a Hoosiers fan and this is a Hoosiers blog. I watched all 12 of Indiana's football games, including four in person, which is more than any casual college football fan should ever do. Among other things, I stood in the cold as Penn State and IU punted 20 total times, stood in the rain as Sparty put up 56 on us, watched an awful Michigan team pummel the Hoosiers by 24 points, and made a bar in New Jersey flip to BTN so I could watch two 3-8 teams battle for a bucket. It wasn't always enjoyable, but having a player like Tevin Coleman to root for always made me hopeful that something interesting would happen. And to be fair, I have not seen every Badgers game this season.
Since a surprising Rose Bowl season in 1993, Wisconsin has been near the top of the Big Ten in football basically every year. This year was no different. Despite blowing a huge second-half lead in the season-opener against LSU and somehow losing to bowl-ineligible Northwestern, the Badgers have gone 10-2 and are favored to beat a J.T. Barrett-less Ohio State in the B1G title game on Saturday night. Indiana, meanwhile, is 4-8. Yes, we did beat the SEC East champions and have now defeated our arch-rivals for the second straight year, but in general, this hasn't been a great season for Indiana. Thus, Coleman has had to carry more of the load on a worse team.
Let's look at the stats for each runner too. As you likely heard, both running backs were named to the All-B1G first team. At first glance, Gordon holds the advantages. He has 2,260 yards compared to Coleman's 2,036, 26 touchdowns to Coleman's 15, and 8.0 yards per carry to Coleman's 7.5. But when you look at what each running back has done in comparison to the rest of his team, the numbers are slightly favored towards Coleman. Tevin has accounted for over 64 percent of all of IU's rushing yards, while Gordon has rushed for just over 56 percent of Wisconsin's. In addition, while Indiana rushed for a loss of 301 yards this season (a fairly ridiculous stat because it also includes yards lost on sacks), Coleman only accounted for 26 of the lost yards.
One advantage that Gordon has on Coleman is the number of touchdowns compared to his teammates. Gordon has 26 of Wisconsin's 43 rushing touchdowns, while Coleman has 15 of Indiana's 29 on the ground. That's right - Gordon only has three fewer TDs than the entire Hoosier team. But of course, this stat doesn't take into account the many long runs from scrimmage that Coleman had, despite not getting into the end zone.
Then there is the yards per carry issue. Gordon averaged a half yard per carry more than Coleman, but part of that may be due to his offensive line, which has historically been a strength of Wisconsin teams. Gordon's primary backup, Corey Clement, is a very good running back in his own regard, and he has averaged 6.5 yards per carry. Compare this to the backup RB for the Hoosiers. I will always love D'Angelo Roberts because he scored the game-winning TD against Mizzou, but his numbers, including 4.6 yards per carry, do not measure up to Clement's. As a team, Wisconsin has averaged 7.2 YPC, whereas IU only has averaged 5.9 YPC this year. So when you look at the numbers in these terms, Coleman's stats outshine Gordon's.
When we compare the receiving numbers of Coleman and Gordon, as well as their performances against common opponents, both running backs yield similar results. Coleman ended up with fewer receiving yards (141) than Gordon (151), but before Sudfeld was injured, he was doing quite a bit in the passing game, including catching a few wheel routes and making a huge catch and run that set up the game-winning touchdown against Mizzou. Under Diamont, Coleman never reached above single-digit passing yards in a game for the rest of the season, but had Sudfeld remained in, this might have been a different story. Thus, when compared with the rest of the offense for both teams, Coleman ends up looking more impressive as well. Comparing Coleman and Gordon against common opponents also basically ends up as a stalemate between the two. Both rushed for the same amount of yards and carries against Maryland (122 yards on 22 carries), and while Gordon bested Coleman's rushing yards against Bowling Green (253 vs. 190) and Purdue (205 vs.130), Coleman held the advantage against Iowa (209 vs. 200) and Rutgers (307 vs. 128). And while those Iowa numbers are close, Coleman had 14.6 YPC in this game compared to Gordon's 6.5. We'll get one final comparison this weekend, when the Badgers face OSU. When Coleman played the Buckeyes, he ran for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Finally, there is the question of how each player has fit in with the rest of the offense. Both Coleman and Gordon went through quarterback changes over the course of the season. Unlike at IU, where Sudfeld went out for the season due to a separated shoulder, Wisconsin's quarterback situation switched because Tanner McEvoy was benched for Joel Stave during that Northwestern loss. Though Stave (QB rating 136.0) played better than McEvoy (115.2), both had better QB ratings than Diamont (77.7) in his half-season of play, whereas Sudfeld's rating of 126.6 was split between the two Badgers QBs. Regardless, the quarterback play was not as good overall at IU this season as it was at Wisconsin. As a result, Coleman ended up carrying much more of the load of the IU offense this year than Gordon did for the Badgers. Even when teams prepared all week for Coleman, almost every one of them failed to stop him, save for Penn State. Of course, opposing defenses would make also Gordon the focal point when playing Wisconsin, but the Badgers obviously found other ways to win games this year.
Yes, Melvin Gordon has been getting all the national attention this season, and it's all probably well deserved. But this year, Coleman has been the more impressive back overall, and his statistics on an IU team that had a weak offense, especially for Kevin Wilson's standards, back this up. Coleman may be on a team that only won one-third of its games this year, but nevertheless, it would be a giant snub were he not named as a Heisman finalist.