Was Leonard Fournette snubbed of a Heisman invite?


LSU running back Leonard Fournette was not invited to this weekend’s Heisman Trophy ceremony, despite a dominant 2015 campaign.

Through the first nine weeks of the 2015 college football season, LSU running back Leonard Fournette was the clearcut favorite to win the Heisman Trophy.

The sophomore standout was averaging 193.1 rushing yards per game, by far the most in the nation. His worst game of the season up to that point was a 150-yard, one-touchdown performance the previous week against Western Kentucky. And earlier in the year, he became the first player in SEC history to record three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances, evoking memories of all-time greats like Bo Jackson and Herschel Walker.

But perhaps most important in the Heisman Trophy Committee’s mind, LSU was 7-0 and sitting at the No. 2 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings

What a difference three weeks can make.

In what was being considered a Heisman Trophy elimination game against the Alabama Crimson Tide and their workhorse back Derrick Henry, Fournette and the Tigers fell flat on their face. Fournette rushed for a mere 31 yards on 19 carries, as Alabama outclassed LSU in a game that was not as close as the 30-16 final score would indicate. Meanwhile, Henry ran wild for 210 yards and three touchdowns, overthrowing Fournette as the Heisman Trophy frontrunner in the process.

Fournette would deliver solid performances over the course of the next two weeks against Arkansas and Ole Miss, compiling 307 total yards and a touchdown, but his play was overshadowed by LSU losing in a pair of blowouts.

The Bayou Bengals would put an end to their three-game losing streak with a 19-7 victory over Texas A&M in the regular season finale, as Fournette rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown. During the fourth quarter, he set the single-season school record for rushing yards, surpassing Charles Alexander’s 1977 mark of 1,686 yards.

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The strong finish was not enough for Fournette to overcome the Tigers’ late-season meltdown, however.

The three players who will travel to New York City for Saturday’s Heisman Trophy ceremony were announced this week, and the LSU star was not one of them.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Stanford running back Christian McCaffery and Henry were named the finalists for one of the most suspenseful Heisman Trophy races that college football has ever seen. In a tightly contested race, it is no coincidence that all three finalists are from teams that were crowned conference champions last weekend.

Upon hearing the news, Fournette, as well as his teammates and coaches, took to social media to voice their displeasure.

"Feeling is mutual Leonard"

But was Fournette really snubbed of a Heisman Trophy ceremony invite?

His statistics make a solid case for both sides of the argument.

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The fact that Fournette still leads the nation in rushing yards per game (158.3) despite his performance tapering off down the stretch speaks volumes about his dominance this season, as does his eight 150+ yard outbursts and 18 total touchdowns on the year. Even more impressive was his ability to do so as part of a rushing attack that was ravaged by injuries at fullback and on the offensive line.

On the other side of the argument, it is impossible to ignore that Fournette’s worst statistical performances came at the absolute most inopportune time.

Even with the 31-yard performance against Alabama in his team’s biggest game of the season, he could have salvaged his Heisman campaign with a Heisman-worthy end to the regular season. The following week, though, he rushed for just 91 yards in a loss to Arkansas. And while Fournette was certainly not to blame for LSU’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of Ole Miss the next week, the Tigers’ three-game losing streak and ensuing head coaching fiasco put the team in the national headlines for all the wrong reasons.

For better or worse, the Heisman Trophy has grown to reflect team performance as much as it does individual greatness. LSU simply did not perform to the standard set by the teams of recent Heisman recipients.

Of the past 10 Heisman Trophy winners, seven came from teams that won their conference title and were preparing to play for a national championship. Only one played on a team that won less than 10 games. That player was Tim Tebow in 2007, when the Florida quarterback became the first player in history with at least 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in the same season.

The bottom line: Leonard Fournette was not going to win the Heisman Trophy this season, and an invite would have been nothing more than a consolation from the committee. And while his play warranted an invitation, the same can be said about at least five other players who will not be headed to the Heisman ceremony either.

It would have been nice for Fournette to be recognized among his peers as one of the best college football players in the country, which he undoubtedly was this year. And if not for the complete collapse of his team in the final month of the regular season, there is little question that he would be taking a flight to New York this week with a legitimate shot at winning the prestigious honor.

But the snub — perceived or not — will only add fuel to the fire as Fournette gears up for a 2016 campaign that will feature him as one of the favorites to bring home the coveted Heisman Trophy.