There isnt a full-fledged Heisman Trophy campaign under way in Chapel Hill, but North Carolina did unveil a poster Friday touting Giovani Bernards awards candidacy.
It raises the question, Why Gio Bernard?
A better question to ask would be, Why not Gio Bernard?
When a linebacker and Notre Dames Manti Teo is a linebacker with an inspiring story on a top-five team, but a linebacker nonetheless is one of the top Heisman candidates, its safe to say the race is wide open for an underdog candidate.
Bernard is a front-runner for the ACC player of the year award, and hell get due consideration for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the top running back in college football.
Its too late for North Carolina to mount a full-fledged Heisman campaign for Bernard, but the Tar Heels have put together the poster and will make sure awards voters get all the information they need in the mail.
It wont be anything elaborate, like a $250,000 billboard in Times Square, for us, said Kevin Best, the North Carolina assistant athletic director for athletic communications who oversees football. Hes certainly worthy of all those considerations, any kind of award hes up for in the postseason.
That includes the Heisman Trophy. Whatever criteria one may choose for narrowing the field, Bernard fits.
Value to his team? North Carolina lost to Louisville and Wake Forest without Bernard, turning the 2 1/2 games he missed to a leg injury from a liability into an asset as far as awards consideration is concerned.
Head-turning numbers? Bernard is first in the country in yards per carry among backs with more than 100 carries (7.38), third in scoring (12.9 points per game), third in all-purpose yards (1,498) despite missing those two games and fifth in rushing yards per game (132.86). Only five players have more plays of 50-plus yards than Bernards four.
The N&Os Andrew Carter did some research and found that Bernards stats through seven games compare favorably to other recent running back Heisman finalists, including Alabamas Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram (the 2009 winner), Oregons LaMichael James and Arkansas Darren McFadden.
Raw talent? If there was any doubt about Bernards ability to score every time he touches the ball and his potential to turn losses into wins, look no further than his game-winning 74-yard punt return against N.C. State.
Meanwhile, the field of Heisman candidates is as unimpressive as any in recent years, with no clear standout. Quarterbacks have won 10 of the past 11 awards, but if there was ever a year for a sophomore running back who missed two full games playing for a 6-3 team under a postseason ban to win the Heisman, this is it.
The postseason ban shouldnt affect Bernards candidacy. Houston quarterback Andre Ware won the 1989 Heisman Trophy even though the Cougars were in the first of a two-year bowl ban. Braxton Miller, Ohio States talented dual-threat quarterback, is a candidate this year even though the undefeated Buckeyes arent eligible for the postseason.
The current favorite is Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, and four of the past 10 winners have been Big 12 quarterbacks, including Robert Griffin III last year. But Klein left Kansas States last game with a mysterious injury, so his candidacy might be hanging by a tendon or two.
Oregon running back Kenjon Barner is putting up video-game numbers 1,295 yards and 20 touchdowns, almost identical to Bernard on a per-game basis, and an Oregon player is going to win the Heisman eventually. Maybe Barner is the guy, but voters have so far been suspicious of products of the Oregon system.
Teo has a great story to tell, but hes a linebacker. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron isnt even the best player on his team. Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley, the preseason favorite, has been awful.
In other words, the field is wide open, which just happens to be where Bernard does his best running.