EAST LANSING, Mich. — Le’Veon Bell was presented the Elite Running Back Trophy at halftime of the basketball game between Michigan State and Loyola University Chicago earlier this month. It’s a “scientific” award chosen by a computer rather than voters.
But some pretty strong emotion did enter into Bell receiving the award. During the ceremony, with Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio standing next to him, the “Izzone” fans chanted: “One MORE year! One MORE year!”
Bell, who rushed for 1,648 yards as a junior this season, has a decision to make after playing Dec. 29 in the Buffalo Wild Wings bowl in Tempe, Ariz. Spartans fans were trying to make the choice for him that night. They want the heart and soul of the offense back as a senior.
The chant — which came before and after the trophy presentation by College Football Performance Awards director Brad Smith — got to Bell. He couldn’t stop smiling. After the ceremony, he lifted the 50-pound trophy over his head and carried it to every corner of the court, showing it to the fans and beaming.
“As I’m out there and they’re all chanting, ‘One more year!’ It’s so emotional,” Bell said. “It’s crazy how Spartan Nation really likes Le’Veon Bell.
“Being here these last couple years meant everything to me. It was a great moment out there, and I just wanted to do it for the fans.”
Bell was the reason to smile this season for anyone wearing green and white. On a disappointing, 6-6 team that entered the season with Rose Bowl hopes and a No. 13 national ranking, Bell and tight end Dion Sims proved to be the only formidable offensive elements.
The defense held up its end of the bargain. Middle linebacker Max Bullough and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Johnny Adams were coaches All-Big Ten first-team picks, and the Spartans led the conference in scoring (16.6 points) and total defense (293.1 yards) allowed per game.
On the other side of the ball, however, the Spartans couldn’t score enough, leading to losses in five conference games by a total of 13 points.
Unlike in 1987, when the Spartans led the Big Ten in total defense and had the conference’s top rusher in Lorenzo White, this team did not finish first and advance to Pasadena.
Bell’s yardage total led the Big Ten and ranked third nationally. It’s surpassed at MSU by only the 2,066 White rushed for in 1985.
Bell’s career rushing total of 3,201 yards ranks seventh at MSU. He could eclipse White’s record of 4,887 yards by electing to return and duplicating his junior season.
Will there be a senior season for Bell? It’s a question that will persist until he answers it.
“First and foremost, I just want to get to the (bowl) game first and then just let the rest take care of itself,” Bell said. “I’m not in any rush to make a decision or anything. I haven’t really been thinking about it.”
Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN’s long-time NFL draft analyst, said on a conference call that Bell has the potential to go as high as the second round.
“Very patient runner,” Kiper said of Bell. “One of those guys that just wears the defense down.”
Bell, from Groveport, Ohio, was considered a Mid-American Conference running back at Madison High and would’ve played at a school such as Eastern Michigan had Dantonio not offered a scholarship.
Yet, there he was, hoisting a trophy symbolic of a mathematical formula that proclaimed him better than Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
Bell wasn’t selected an Associated Press All-America on its first-, second- or third-team units. Each of the six backs picked ahead of Bell were voted on those squads by college football writers nationwide.
“But our award is objective,” Smith said. “It’s scientific. It lets the numbers do the selecting, and Le’Veon Bell came out on top.”
In a year of frowns, Bell was a reason to smile — even chant.