In recent years, there hasn’t been much variation when it comes to the position of Heisman trophy winners. In five out of the past six seasons, a quarterback held up the Heisman — an award intended for the most outstanding player in all of college football.
It does make sense. Quarterbacks naturally put up a higher volume of statistics than any other position player, inevitably making them more likely to win the award. But to say the best player in all of college football has been a quarterback for five of the past six years seems unlikely.
In the past, players such as Aidan Hutchinson and Manti Te’o put up historic seasons on the defensive end of the ball, but their lack of statistical dominance hindered them from winning the award.
In 2020, the Heisman was awarded to Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who edged out quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones to win the trophy. This was only the second time in the last 12 years that a position other than quarterback took home the award. with fellow Alabama star Mark Ingram bringing home the trophy in 2009.
To win the Heisman trophy as a non-quarterback is simply an unlikely feat. But if there’s a player who’s poised to make it happen again in the 2022 season, Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen has all the tools.
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The four-star recruit out of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, had high expectations to meet if he wanted to follow in the footsteps of past great Badgers backs. At just 17 years old and joining an already-crowded Wisconsin backfield, many imagined Allen’s first year to be mostly development before he eventually took over as the starter.
Working alongside fellow backs Chez Mellusi and Jalen Berger, Allen was immediately put in good hands next to two elite runners. His opportunity came a bit earlier than expected, following the season-ending injury of Mellusi and the dismissal of Berger. From week five on, Allen topped 100 rushing yards in all but one game.
He went on to average a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry throughout the season — tied for second in the entire NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. Allen totaled over 1,200 yards on the ground and racked up 12 touchdowns, all while receiving over 20 carries in just four of the 13 games throughout the season.
Allen showed he was one of the best running backs in the country with his utterly dominant stretch to start the month of November. Over three games at Rutgers, Northwestern and Nebraska, Allen ran the ball 62 times for 530 yards and a whopping 7 touchdowns. The Badgers won those games by a combined margin of 84 points, and the Wisconsin offense looked the most dominant it’s been since the days of Jonathan Taylor.
Soon enough, analysts and experts in the world of college football began to recognize that Allen was blooming into one of the premiere talents in the country. By the end of the season, Allens’s name was being tossed around in early Heisman conversations for 2022.
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Among other running back Heisman candidates for the 2022 season are Texas running back Bijan Robinson and Ohio State running back TreVeyon Henderson, both of whom had outstanding 2021 seasons. Neither of them finished as hot as Allen did, and neither are expected to receive as much volume as the UW back is this upcoming season.
The Badgers have always been a ground-and-pound type team. With a talent like Allen, they’re unlikely to stray far from this identity. It’s also worth noting that Wisconsin returns three of the five offensive line starters from last season. The Badgers have a surplus of talent in their offensive line room — leaving Allen with expectations to pick up right where he left off.
Handing it to Allen would be in the Badgers’ best interest too. A historic season from Allen could bring the first Heisman trophy to Madison since legendary running back Ron Dayne did in 1999.
If Allen can perform this season the same way he finished in 2021, there’s a good chance he’ll end the year in the Heisman conversation. Playing almost all of the last season at 17 years old, it’s scary to think he still has room to develop physically despite already being so dominant.
With a full season of playing time, Allen will have an even better opportunity to show he’s one of the best players in the country — but he’s going to need a ton of volume to match up statistically with the quarterback candidates.