Wisconsin fans have known this time would come. At one point not so long ago -- less than two months, really -- Melvin Gordon was considered a viable Heisman Trophy candidate. At that point, through seven games, the sophomore running back was a thousand-yard rusher averaging nearly 10 yards per carry within one of the Big Ten's most explosive offenses.
The consistent presence of backfield mate James White and a slight dip in the mind-blowing numbers eventually cooled Gordon's Heisman hype, but his sophomore season no doubt remained excellent. With the Capital One Bowl still to be played, Gordon leads Wisconsin with 1,466 rushing yards (8.1 per carry, fifth-most in the country) and 12 touchdowns. He, along with White, finished the regular season as a second-team All-Big Ten pick.
Badgers fans have known for a while now that Gordon leaving Wisconsin early was a legitimate possibility, but did they expect that conversation to begin this early? Tuesday, Gordon told reporters that he was seeking input from the NFL draft advisory board. The move is common for most players with at least a decent shot of being drafted, and even for high-profile underclassmen, it's hardly rare. After finishing as a Heisman finalist in his junior season, Montee Ball did the same, only to receive a third-round draft grade and return to Madison.
It's hard to read between the lines of Gordon's Tuesday comments, considering he also said a third-round grade or lower would keep him in Madison. From Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"I want to get some type of feedback to at least let me know what I need to work on or what they need to see," he said.
Gordon said he plans to make his decision after the bowl game, as former teammate Montee Ball did after the 2012 Rose Bowl.
He grinned when asked about the prospect of making a run at the Heisman next season.
"If I stay I'll be a contender," he said.
Gordon has until Jan. 15 to decide, as that's the deadline for underclassmen to declare for the draft. That's two weeks after the bowl game, another reminder that we're still early in this process.
Alas, it seems quite possible that Gordon could warrant a high draft grade. His explosiveness is unquestioned, and he's the sort of long-stride rusher that makes him deceptively fast. His perceived weaknesses -- namely pass blocking and pass catching, more unproven qualities than weaknesses, really -- could also easily be improved on in the pros.
As for draft chatter, it seems most national outlets haven't considered Gordon a likely member of the 2014 class. In an apparent and intriguing oversight, CBSSports.com's prospect rankings don't list Gordon among 70 running backs. White, for what it's worth, is ranked 12th as a fourth- or fifth-round prospect.
Back in late November, after the Indiana game and with two more to come, SB Nation's Dan Kadar listed Gordon third, behind Baylor's Lache Seastrunk and Washington's Bishop Sankey:
For a bigger back, Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin runs with the fluidity of a 190-pound speedster. He may rise to the top of rankings before everything is said and done.
Scouts do indeed like his size at 6'1, 207 pounds, and should he enter the draft, teams would gladly welcome a younger back with less tread on his tires, so to speak.
Gordon, though, did fail to reach 100 yards in either of the Badgers' last two games, gaining 69 and 91 vs. Minnesota and Penn State, respectively. His draft chatter largely fell by the wayside as White also received the bulk of the carries in that span (39 to Gordon's 25). The stunning Senior Day loss certainly didn't help, but at that point, the team's bowl prospects garnered more attention anyway.
So we'll see. Gordon would almost assuredly enter the 2014 college football season as a top-five Heisman candidate -- with a grin Tuesday, he acknowledged "If I stay I'll be a contender" -- and with Wisconsin trending upward despite missing out on a BCS bowl this year, the team's potential in the first year of the College Football Playoff could also be enticing. His parents seem split, too, which is interesting:
According to Gordon, his father has advised him to return to UW. His mother offered the same advice initially but now wants him to explore leaving early.
"People are getting in her ear," he said, "agents.
"But at the end of the day she said: It is whatever you want.'"
The smart money appears to be on Gordon returning next season, but we'll have to see how things play out in Orlando on New Year's Day. A strong showing against Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina's 32nd-ranked rushing defense could certainly change matters, and perhaps that's a reminder that patience is the best route here. Remember, Corey Clement -- and possibly Joe Mixon -- lies in the wings, too.
I asked UW associate head coach Greg Gard if the Badgers were still actively recruiting players in the 2014 class.
"We always look," Gard said. "We always approach everything that there always can be possibilities. So we'll consistently continue to look, and if we find the right fit, whether it be a four-year kid - junior-college kids are a little different in trying to find the right fit and then academically fitting the right profile we need - and then obviously on the flip end, there's a lot of transfers out there, too. So there'll be very good players that will be looking to make moves, and if something is the right fit at a certain point in time, I don't think anything will be done here immediately.
-- Ahead of Wednesday night's game vs. UW-Milwaukee, Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin has a nice look at the ties that bind the two programs. Phil's preview will be up this morning, as well.
-- 17 percent of Wisconsin home football tickets went unused in 2013, The Cap Times reports.
-- For the small-towners out there, today's SB Nation longform will be especially appealing.
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