CHICAGO -- Ever since former athletic director Pat Richter hired Barry Alvarez as Wisconsin's head coach in 1990, the running back position has been a good one for the Badgers. Whether it was Brent Moss and Terrell Fletcher in the early 1990s, Ron Dayne in the late '90s, Michael Bennett and Anthony Davis in the early 2000s or the number of quality backs from then on, the position produced and can be held responsible for a large portion of the program's six Rose Bowl appearances and Big Ten titles to go along with three Rose Bowl victories.
However, the game's most recognized individual accolade, the Heisman Trophy, was reached just once during this stretch, captured by Dayne during the 1999-00 season, in which the running back accumulated 586 first-place votes and 2,042 total points. Georgia Tech's Joe Hamilton was a mile behind Dayne, with only 994 total points. Wisconsin has just one other Heisman winner, as running back Alan Ameche took home the award in 1954.
Could a third be added this year? Absolutely, as running back Melvin Gordon is widely considered among the preseason favorites. Speaking at Big Ten media in Chicago on Monday, however, the Kenosha, Wisconsin, native deflected any kind of that talk.
"People ask me a lot, so it ponders every once and awhile," Gordon said. "Right now, man, I'm worried about the season. I can't be thinking about that."
Moreover, I got the sense that Gordon's answer wasn't scripted in any way; he truly isn't concerned about the accolades and awards that will come his way. And while most schools opted to send seniors to the media days, Gordon, who's heading into his redshirt junior season, received the nod from head coach Gary Andersen. This was, of course, warranted, and Gordon displayed more of his maturity by recommending one senior in particular who should have been in his shoes on Monday.
"It's a good feeling; I can't lie because you put in so much work," Gordon said of being among Wisconsin's representatives. "To be honest, there's some guys I feel that should be in the spotlight, too. I feel that Kenzel Doe should definitely be in my position right now, being a senior and knowing the hard work he put in. I definitely feel he should be where I'm at right now, and I should be at home."
Gordon enters the season as the nation's active career leader in rushing average per carry at 8.1, and needs just 12 attempts to break the Big Ten rushing average record, held by Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter. Plus, from the moment he stepped onto the UW campus, Gordon made an immediate impact, becoming the fastest player in Badgers history to reach 1,000 yards, achieving the feat with his 104th carry.
Gordon's talent is undeniable and he can clearly make plays from just about anywhere on the field. Wisconsin's trademark offensive line certainly helps, of course, and this year's unit figures to be one of the deciding factors if Gordon is to host the 25-pound trophy come December.
"As an offensive lineman, I want to see a run being called every play," senior right tackle Rob Havenstein said. "We want Melvin to have the best year he can have.
"If we can help him out in any way possible, we'll do that, just because we have high expectations of ourselves as an offensive line. We want to be one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten and the country."
Havenstein also revealed the kind of work ethic Gordon displayed throughout summer condition that could result in bringing the Heisman Trophy back to Madison. On one specific occasion, Gordon corralled a couple of guys to run stadium steps while others were hovered over trash cans after a tough run.
"He just felt like he wasn't quite satisfied, which speaks testaments to the character and person that Melvin is," Havenstein said. "He wants to win, and he's going to fight for every single breath he has to win a game."
When the 2013-14 season concluded, Gordon put his name into the NFL Draft Advisory Board to see how he stacked up against the rest of the competition that would declare for the draft. Ultimately, Gordon decided on coming back to Madison, with more than a fair share of improvements he wants to add to his game in the hope to get his team to the inaugural College Football Playoff.
"Melvin had a little bit longer list of what he wanted to get better at, and I completely agreed," Andersen said. "A couple of things that is important for him, that he worked hard on during spring ball, is the whole grasping of pre-snap awareness.
"Melvin wants to be a very good pass protector. He's worked very hard at that and has become very better at it, and Melvin wants to be more involved in the throw game, so we want him to be a part of the throw game."
The more Gordon is involved within Andy Ludwig's offense, the more successful the unit and team as a whole will be in 2014. And the more successful the Badgers are -- whether that's getting back to the Big Ten championship game, getting back to the Rose Bowl or being one of the four teams in the playoff -- the better the chances Gordon hoists the stiffed-arm trophy, and there won't be any hesitation from the running back in thanking his teammates along the way.