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Can Ezekiel Elliott catch the favored Leonard Fournette in the Heisman race?

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LSU's bruising back has surpassed Elliott, the preseason favorite, as the front runner to win college football's most prestigious award.

James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

In the months after 85 yards and a cloud of dust and Ohio State's national championship win, Ezekiel Elliott was dubbed the favorite to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy by Vegas oddsmakers. Eight weeks deep into the 2015 campaign, Elliott has surrendered ground in the race to be named college football's most outstanding player.

Per Bovada, LSU battering ram Leonard Fournette is primed to be the first running back since Alabama's Mark Ingram in 2009 to capture the Heisman Trophy. The sophomore is the clear betting favorite (-250) to claim the Heisman. Elliott (+900) is third, with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin (+750) second in line.

We'll get to Fournette's numbers in a second, but it's because of runs like the above clip -- and similar ones opposite Auburn (x2) and Florida -- that have elevated Fournette from slightly-under-the-radar freshman sensation to arguably the top player in college football as a sophomore.

As for Elliott, he has improved upon his 2014 campaign in some areas. Elliott's per-game rushing average has increased by nearly 16 yards, and he is also on pace for more runs of at least 20 yards in 2015.

I meandered down a statistics rabbit hole to see how Elliott and Fournette compared to recent Heisman-worthy running backs. I compiled the full-season statistics of the five running backs over the last five years to finish in the top five of the Heisman voting: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (2014), Boston College's Andre Williams (2013), Alabama's Trent Richardson (2011), Wisconsin's Montee Ball (2011), and Oregon's LaMichael James (2010).

Player

Yards per rush

Yards per game

Rush TDs

20-yard runs

50-yard runs

100-yard games

200-yard games

Season rush total

Gordon

7.54

184.8*

29*

35*

10*

12

6

2,587*

Williams

6.13

167.5*

18

26*

6*

9

5

2,177*

Richardson

5.93

129.2

21

17

4

9

1

1,679

Ball

6.26

137.4

33*

17

1

10

2

1,923*

James

5.89

144.3*

21

19

4

8

4

1,731*

*Led country

Those are five monster seasons. Here are Elliott and Fournette's 2015 seasons to date.

Player

Yards per rush

Yards per game

Rush TDs

20-yard runs

50-yard runs

100-yard games

200-yard games

Season rush total

Elliott

6.8

141.3

13

8

5

8

1

1,130

Nat’l Rank

36th

5th

T-5th

T-15th

T-1st

N/A

N/A

4th

Fournette

7.7

193.1

15

13

4

7

3

1,352

Nat’l Rank

T-14th

1st

T-1st

T-2nd

T-4th

N/A

N/A

1st

Finally, lets' project Elliott and Fournette’s numbers through 13 games, which assumes both Ohio State and LSU reach their respective conference title games. Heisman votes are due the Monday after conference title game weekend.

Player

Yards per rush

Yards per game

Rush TDs

20-yard runs

50-yard runs

100-yard games

200-yard games

Season rush total

Elliott

6.8

141.3

21

13

8

13

1

1,837

Fournette

7.7

193.1

28

24

7

13

6

2,510

The short answer is that, yes, Elliott and Fournette compare favorably to recent Heisman-worthy running backs. (Admittedly, the projection of Fournette rushing for a hair over 2,500 yards -- within striking distance of Barry Sanders' single-season FBS record (2,628) -- is a little out there.) As for Elliott, the projection has him near his 2014 season total (1,878) and very close to Eddie George's single-season Ohio State record (1,927).

And although Fournette is the LSU offense -- among the top 100 individual total offense leaders in the country, Fournette is the only non-quarterback on the list -- Elliott remains the fulcrum of Ohio State's offense despite the Buckeyes possessing a handful of talented individual stars. For example, Fournette averages a smidge over 26 touches per game -- just barely ahead of Elliott's even 24 touches. On the other hand, Elliott will continue to lose yards and touchdowns to J.T. Barrett, as Ohio State has re-inserted the quarterback run game after Barrett accumulated more playing time from Cardale Jones before taking over as starter.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't note that Elliott and Fournette are far from the only two running backs with serious Heisman hopes, as Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Florida State's Dalvin Cook are submitting the sort of numbers that reinforce the Year of the Running Back narrative that has enveloped college football this fall.

So, can Elliott catch Fournette? Absolutely, but it will take a handful of grandiose performances, games like Elliott delivered last year vs. Wisconsin (220 yards, two touchdowns), Alabama (230 yards, two touchdowns), and Oregon (246 yards, four touchdowns) and Indiana (274 yards, three touchdowns) this year for Elliott to move within striking distance of Fournette.