Heisman Forecast: Why Henry could be NY-bound, plus who will rise, fall in Week 2

Once the only position that mattered in the Heisman Trophy race, running backs have been largely set decoration for the better part of a decade.

With Reggie Bush’s 2005 win vacated, the only official victory for a back since Ron Dayne in 1999 was Mark Ingram in ’09. Not even being on his way to the second highest rushing season in history could help Melvin Gordon end the reign of quarterbacks as he lost in a landslide to Marcus Mariota.

Could Alabama, provider of that last victory by a runner, do it again?

Derrick Henry entered the season behind SEC brethren Nick Chubb (Georgia) and Leonard Fournette (LSU) as far as RBs go, and trailed Auburn passer Jeremy Johnson within his own state. But Henry proved the workhorse in the Crimson Tide’s rout of Wisconsin, totaling 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries and vaulted himself into the early Heisman Trophy conversation.

The opening weeks are ripe for overreactions, with examples like Denard Robinson, Tate Forcier, Seneca Wallace and Kyle Orton and on and on.

The difference, though, is Nick Saban has a track record when it comes to running backs and, at the very least, getting them to New York for the ceremony.

Twice in his time in Tuscaloosa he’s had a back rack up 44 percent or more of the team’s carries — Ingram with 271 (45 percent) in ’09 and Trent Richardson’s 283 (44 percent) in ’11 — and the former won and the latter was a finalist. In ’13, T.J. Yeldon ran 207 times, but that was 35 percent of the rushes and QB AJ McCarron that was the face of that team and its representative in NYC. Glen Coffee ran 233 times in ’08, but that accounted for 41 percent as Ingram had 143 carries.

It’s doubtful Henry will have to contend with first-year starter Jake Coker stealing his thunder, but what about fellow back Kenyon Drake? He ran 10 times vs. the Badgers, but Henry had just three attempts after his 56-yard TD run on the first drive of the second half made it 21-7.

If Henry is indeed the true focal point of the Alabama offense, there’s a distinct possibility we can pencil in at least one finalist.

How’s that for hyperbole after Week 1?

Before we look at the Forecaster’s predictions for the players that are poised to rise and fall this week, here’s the current Heisman standings. While it’s devoid of anyone from No. 1 Ohio State, it’s is a situation in flux with so many candidates likely stealing each other’s spotlight for weeks to come.

Is anyone surprised that the erstwhile Notre Dame QB made such a smooth transition into leading the Seminoles past the Jameis Winston era? Yes, he committed 20 turnovers in ’14 for the Fighting Irish, but he also threw for 3,445 yards (last season) and 2,405 (in ’12) with completion percentages of 60 and 58.8, respectively. Golson also has a certified star in the backfield in Dalvin Cook, which could create a fight for attention, but also takes off pressure. Golson may be in for his most accomplished statistical season yet, and is poised for a big day against South Florida and a defense that ranked 69th last year.

Another graduate transfer stepping into the driver’s seat of a playoff contender, Adams was sharp in his Ducks debut against his former team Eastern Washington (19 of 25 for 246 yards and two touchdowns and 14 rushes for 94 yards). The degree of difficulty will increase exponentially as Oregon heads to East Lansing this weekend. Michigan State may have been looking ahead, but it was shaky on defense against Western Michigan, giving up 365 passing yards. Both Adams and that Spartans D — which is without its former architect Pat Narduzzi, who is now at Pitt — have something to prove. Here’s thinking Adams makes the statement.

In at fullback, Nkemdiche took a play-action pass 32 yards for a touchdown in Ole Miss’ annihilation of Tennessee-Martin. Hugh Freeze has put in his 6-foot-4, 296-pound defensive tackle in on offense before, but if this is a common occurrence, it’s likely the difference between the argument whether a defender of Nkemdiche’s ilk should be in the Trophy’s conversation and whether he’s actually in it. Remember, no strictly defensive player has ever won, and even a handful of plays in which Nkemdiche gets involved on offense will only help his cause. Here’s hoping Freeze continues to be just as creative with using his DT.

Like Adams, his counterpart at Spartan Stadium, Cook will try to feast on a D that looked lackluster in the opener as the Ducks gave up 438 passing yards to Eastern Washington. Overall, Cook wasn’t sharp vs. the Broncos, hitting 48.4 percent of his passes (15 of 31), though he was 7 of 11 on third downs and there were multiple dropped passes. He played well against the Ducks last season with 343 yards and two scores, but if someone rises in this Top-10 matchup (Adams), a resume has to take a hit too.

Last season, LSU provided one of Prescott’s defining games as he racked up 373 yards and three scores, punctuated by a 56-yard TD run. Admittedly, we don’t now much about the Tigers outside of their No. 14 ranking. The opener vs. McNeese State was canceled due to lightning, keeping Les Miles’ crew from a tune-up as it works in five new starters on defense. Preseason All-SEC first-teamers Jalen Mills and Tre’Davious White are both back, though from a secondary that was third against the pass last season. Here’s thinking the Tigers rebound and deliver an early blow to Prescott’s chances.

In his first game as the full-time starter, Johnson didn’t look superb. He threw three interception to just one touchdown, an alarming number given that of the last 13 quarterbacks to win the award, only one of them threw that many picks in a single game (the freewheeling Johnny Manziel against LSU in ’12). So he’s already playing from behind with seven current Top 25 teams still on the schedule and won’t be able to help his case this week against Jacksonville State. Of course, the other side of that is he still has plenty of chances to rebound, but Johnson missed an opportunity to make the most of one of Week 1’s bigger platforms.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney