What would it take for one of the two stars in the backfield for the Michigan Wolverines to win the Heisman Trophy this season? Blake Corum was on track to at least receive an invitation to New York last year before his knee injury, and Donovan Edwards has the potential to be one of the most dynamic backs in the country.
But will each back have an equal opportunity to rack up the necessary statistics to garner a nomination? Are there even enough touches to go around? Back in April, Edwards and Corum joked about sharing the load this season as well as the award.
“Both of us are gonna win the Heisman,” Edwards said. “We’re gonna split it with each other. We’re both winning the Doak Walker Award, too, and we’re gonna split that as well. Walter Camp.”
“We’re gonna split that one, as well,” Corum inserted. “We’re gonna win them all.”
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as splitting the awards, so what would it take for either one of these backs to claim the college football’s most prestigious individual award?
Since 2000, only three running backs have won the Heisman Trophy — Reggie Bush (2005), Mark Ingram (2009) and Derrick Henry (2015).
To me, Reggie Bush is still a Heisman winner and a one-of-one, so for the sake of comparison, let’s exclude him from this exercise. But in revisiting Ingram and Henry’s seasons, Michigan could be in a similar place to those two Alabama teams and see one of its backs in New York.
**Be cautious, SportsReference factors in bowl stats to its Heisman pages. The numbers below are pre-bowl stats to more accurately reflect the award’s race.
2009 Mark Ingram: 1,542 yards, 15 touchdowns; 30 catches, 322 yards, three touchdowns
2015 Derrick Henry: 1,986 rushing yards (SEC record), 23 touchdowns
In looking back, revisionist history would probably give the two Stanford runner-ups the Heisman Trophies in 2009 and 2015. In ‘09, Toby Gerhart rushed for 1,376 yards and 26 touchdowns (most in FBS) for an eight-win Cardinal team under third-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. It was Stanford’s first winning season since 2001.
In 2015, Christian McCaffrey registered video game numbers for the eventual Rose Bowl Champions: 1,847 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns; 41 receptions for 540 yards, four touchdowns; 1,042 kick-return yards and one touchdown.
However, the reason Ingram and Henry won was they were the most important and valuable players to the best teams in the country. Undoubtedly, both running backs had outstanding seasons, but they also benefitted from an old voting trope: Heisman voters love voting for the best player on the best team. A trope that could benefit Corum or Edwards this season.
Heisman Trophy ballots are due on Dec. 4. If the Wolverines again find themselves 13-0, coming off a third straight victory over Ohio State, a third straight Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff, Michigan will have a representative in New York. If it is a Michigan running back, the numbers will have to be similar to Ingram and Henry. Averaged out, it is safe to assume either Corum or Edwards will have to account for 1,900 yards and 20 touchdowns.
Maybe the statistics between the two backs will be too close or balanced to differentiate one from the other. Perhaps Michigan could have two finalists in the top-five. It’s not that uncommon. Alabama had three offensive finalists in 2020 – wide receiver Devonta Smith (winner), quarterback Mac Jones (third) and running back Najee Harris (fifth).
Corum and Edwards are the inseparable engines that will drive this team to where it wants to go. Regardless of whether both are nominated among the finalists or just one player is, both will be in attendance. If one of these Michigan backs wins the award, both players should accept it on stage. As close to splitting it as possible.