The Heisman Trophy the most iconic award a player can receive in his college football career, aside from the College Football National Championship Trophy. It’s a trophy that helps bring in recruits, adds value to a program and sky rockets the winner’s draft stock. The last and only time the Heisman made its way to Eugene, Oregon was 2014 when Marcus Mariota won it. Now, with a new defensive coordinator and Royce Freeman is returning, there’s a chance Oregon will host another Heisman winner.
Clearly, Freeman is a freak of nature. He stands just 6 feet tall, but at 230lbs he weighs almost as much as the Oregon linebackers. His stocky build allows for the perfect power running style to go with Oregon’s fast-paced tempo.
Freeman finished the 2015 season going nine straight games with 100 rushing yards or more. It seems like year after year he keeps getting better. As a freshman, the running back rushed for the most TDs (18) in the Pac-12 and 1,365 rushing yards. One year later he managed to rush for the fourth-most rushing yards in the nation, 1836 and had 19 total touchdowns. Freeman, however, still didn’t make it as a Heisman finalist last year. Most likely due to the video game like seasons Derrick Henry, Christian McCaffrey, and Deshaun Watson had. And most pre-season polls consider Freeman as an under the radar contender this coming year as well.
The Brady Hoke Effect
So how does the addition of Brady Hoke fit into the equation? As mentioned in a previous article, Hoke wants the Oregon defense to play much more physical. That means harder tackling and in theory more turnovers. Turnovers that will give the offense more time of possession. And if you’re familiar with the Oregon offense, you know the Ducks don’t take long to score. Last year, the Ducks averaged around 27 minutes of possession lowest in the Pac-12 and 112th in the nation. Therefore, more time of possession equals more offensive plays, which equals more touches for Freeman and hypothetically more touchdowns as well. Which brings more dancing cheerleaders, it’s a win-win.
Now take into account the amount of red zone trips the Ducks had last year. The Ducks ranked eighth in the Pac 12 for red zone offense with 45 touchdowns. Of those 45 touchdowns, 28 of them came from rushing. So if Oregon finds itself in the 10-yard line more often, even with all the weapons, Helfrich will do what Pete Carroll didn’t. He’ll give the ball to his top running back and let Freeman do the rest.
It’s understandable why most pre-season polls have Freeman outside the top five in terms of Heisman candidates with the likes of Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, and Dalvin Cook into the mix, but it’s not impossible. Yes, Fournette rushed for 22 TDs last season, McCaffrey had over 3,000 total yards and Cook is only getting better at breaking long runs, but Freeman is capable of holding his own. Besides Cook both Fournette and McCaffrey had more rushing attempts than Freeman and only Fournette had more TDs. If all goes according to Hoke’s plan the defense will allow Oregon’s offense more plays throughout each game and give Freeman more chances to score and creep his way up the Heisman list for 2016.