Montee Ball won the Big Ten Championship MVP, but an argument could be made the biggest performance was that of Melvin Gordon. He carried the ball just nine times, amassing a ridiculous 216 yards and a touchdown as he rattled off three runs of 48 yards or more. Those were all drive-making runs, even if he only reached the end zone once, and his blazing speed was a big reason the Badgers were able to jump all over Nebraska.
Gordon finished the regular season with just 53 carries -- a fact lamented in the Perspectivetorium already -- and 570 yards. Given my possession of a degree in mathematics from this very university, I'm in a unique position to say Gordon rushed for over 10 yards per carry -- 10.8 to be precise. Gordon is now just the 25th FBS player since 2000 to rack up at least 10 yards per carry. His 570 yards ranks seventh highest among those 25.
But more impressively, Gordon isn't just any old FBS offensive player -- he's a freshman running back playing on a BCS squad, and each of those qualifiers makes his presence on the list increasingly unique. Just click through the tabs on the following visualization:
The overall list is long on ephemeral players. There's a few Navy and Georgia Tech option heroes, plenty of reverse-powered wide receivers and third- or fourth-year players dominating low-level conferences. But as we progress through the BCS players and the freshmen and the actual running backs, we see just two comparable players: Ramonce Taylor of Texas and DeAnthony Thomas of Oregon.
Everybody knows about Thomas after last year's Rose Bowl. Gordon lacks Thomas's impact in the passing game -- he caught 46 passes for 605 yards in 2011 -- but they were incredibly similar runners statistically. Thomas carried 55 times for 595 yards, Gordon two fewer times for 25 fewer yards. Both used incredible speed in space to routinely bust long runs.
Thomas remains a terror in his sophomore season, rushing 90 times for 686 yards (7.6 per carry) and catching 41 passes for 385 yards. Kenjon Barner kept him out of Feature Back status, as James White and Montee Ball did to Gordon this season, but Thomas was incredibly productive when given the chance and will probably see space on Heisman watch lists as he heads into his junior season.
The name Ramonce Taylor, however, won't ring too many bells outside of Texas (or the most diehard college football fanatics). Taylor converted from defensive back to running back in his first season as a Longhorn in 2004. He carried just 28 times but racked up 284 yards. He was successful in a bigger role his sophomore season, as he turned 76 carries into 513 yards and 12 touchdowns and added 27 receptions for 265 yards and three more scores.
However, Taylor had already been through disciplinary issues multiple times through his first two seasons. His career was effectively ended in May 2006, when he was arrested with five pounds of marijuana in his car, which is less possession with intent to sell and more possession with intent to start a business. He eventually pleaded guilty to felony drug charges. Taylor entered the NFL Draft but wasn't selected, bounced around with some Arena and Canadian teams, and is now a member of the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League, according to Wikipedia.
Gordon figures to be a key player for the Badgers next year with Montee Ball and his 332 carries shipping out to the NFL. Touches will be available, both as a runner and hopefully as a target for Joel Stave (or Bart Houston?) in Matt Canada's offense's second season. Asking for DeAnthony Thomas Midwest is a lot to put on Gordon's shoulders, but Gordon appears to be a unique talent and has already shown unique productivity. With a bigger role next season, only bigger things should be expected.