It was a BIG Ten matchup that took place between Michigan and Michigan State on October 30, Michigan State would walk away with the victory 37-33 but it would also be a huge statement game for one particular player. That player would be running back Kenneth Walker, who emerged as an absolute Heisman favorite after this game and how he had been playing all season.
Prior to this season, Kenneth Walker was the running back for Wake Forest. Over the two years he was at Wake Forest he wasn’t the feature back, and he would go on to put up 579-yards in both seasons. He was also barely used as a receiving back, in 2019 he only caught three passes for 17 yards then in 2020 he would again have three catches but for 30 yards. The 2020 season would be Walker’s first breakout season in the case of putting up 13 touchdowns. Yet Walker had bigger aspirations for himself, and with the offense Wake Forest was running didn’t see himself as a fit and decided to enter the transfer portal and Michigan States staff quickly reached out. In the 2020 season, the Spartans only had a total of 514 rushing yards from running backs and zero touchdowns, so the acquisition of Walker made sense and has worked out perfectly.
The Heisman hype around Walker started week one when they took on Northwestern. In that game, he would go on to have 23 rushing attempts and put up 264 yards and four touchdowns. On October 10, in the game against Rutgers, Walker would add another accolade to his name with his 94-yard touchdown. This touchdown set a new school record for the longest run, the previous record was held by Lynn Chandnois with 90-yards.
Before the win over the Wolverines, Walker entered the game second in the country with an average of 142.2 rushing yards per game, 997 yards total, and nine touchdowns. Out of the 997 total yards, 737 of them came after contact which would lead the nation.
The hype around Walker would intensify with Saturday’s performance. He would go on to have his tenth 100-yard rushing game in his career and recorded the most touchdowns by a player all-time when going against Michigan. He would score five touchdowns against the rival Wolverines, those five touchdowns would be the only touchdowns for the Spartans. He would also put up 197 rushing yards with an average of 8.6 yards per carry, and with this, it would launch him to have his first 1,000 rushing yard season. The explosiveness, ability to make quick cuts, and excellent vision helped in Walker being able to have the success he did and ultimately catch the attention of the nation.
In terms of his competition for the Heisman, it includes;
-Bryce Young, quarterback, Alabama(+180)
The Sophomore quarterback in his first season is currently the favorite in terms of odds with the stats he is putting up. So far this year he has 2,453 passing yards for 26 touchdowns and only three interceptions over 267 pass attempts. He has also helped the Crimson Tide have a 5-1 record right now with his performance.
-Matt Corral, quarterback, Ole Miss (+500)
Corral is another quarterback considered in the race but after a loss to Young and the Crimson Tide and another loss to Auburn he has seen his odds take a dip. Yet with production, this season putting up so far 2,202 passing yards for 15 touchdowns over 161 completions, and only two interceptions over 244 attempts keeps his name in the forefront of the race.
-C.J. Stroud, quarterback, Ohio State (+450)
Another front runner is again a quarterback, and it’s freshman quarterback C.J. Stroud who is playing his first-ever season. Stroud redshirted his first year at Ohio State and took only one snap in 2020 and it was for a rushing touchdown. Now this year as a starter learning the system as a passer he has put up 2,270 yards for 23 touchdowns over 147 completions, and three interceptions over 219 total attempts. How Stroud is playing in his first season as a starter is why his name is right up there in the race for the Heisman.
While this is some heavy competition, Walker is no stranger to being an underdog and overcoming obstacles. Months before his senior high school season he was diagnosed with a blood clot in his lung. With this doctors were uncertain if he’d be able to play sports again, but three months after taking blood thinners and recovering he was cleared to play a week before the season started. Then when it came time for his college career he was rated only as a three-star recruit out of high school and had only two offers initially. Those first two offers came from Kent State and Arkansas State until Wake Forest also gave an offer. This never give up, and always keep improving mentality has helped Walker get to where he is right now.
The last running back to win the Heisman was Derrick Henry at the ceremony in 2016 after a phenomenal 2015 season. That 2015 season at Alabama Henry would put up 2,219 yards for 28 touchdowns. At the pace Walker is on now he could very well get close to those numbers as he is currently averaging more yards per carry than Henry did that season. While Walker may not be the absolute favorite in terms of betting odds right now, if he keeps playing at the level he is at right now he should find himself in New York and could very well win it in the long run.
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