It’s no secret we’re big Benny Snell fans here in the state of Kentucky, and that love is starting to spread nationwide. After coming out of high school as just a three-star running back prospect, Snell has dominated SEC football over the last two years, breaking several school records along the way.
After an incredibly impressive sophomore season, especially during the Music City Bowl fiasco, whispers of a Heisman campaign begun. He hadn’t reached the historic numbers necessary for consideration quite yet, but the potential was obviously there.
Some are already penciling him in as a darkhorse candidate.
SEC Heisman Rankings post-spring:
1. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
2. Jake Fromm, UGA
3. Tua Tagovailoa, Bama
4. Drew Lock, Mizzou
5. Nick Fitzgerald, MSU
6. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
7. D’Andre Swift, UGA
8. Damien Harris, Bama
9. Jake Bentley, South Carolina
10. Benny Snell, UK
— Andrew Miller (@AndrewMillerSSC) May 28, 2018
Others realize Snell is a stud back, but aren’t ready to pull the trigger on the #Benny4Heisman campaign.
AUDIO MAILBAG: Benny Snell as a Heisman dark-horse? He's a great RB, but I don't see it happening
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) April 19, 2018
So what would it take for Kentucky’s superstar back to actually take home the most prestigious individual award in all of college football?
When you go down the list of past Heisman winners and candidates, it’s no surprise it would take a legendary performance to even come close.
Reggie Bush took home the Heisman trophy in 2005, just one of three running backs to win the award in the last two decades. He finished with 1740 yards (8.7 yards per carry) and 16 touchdowns on the ground, to go with 478 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions. His trophy was later vacated for violation of NCAA rules, but there’s no denying Bush was one of the most electric college football players we had seen in quite some time.
Back in 2009, Mark Ingram won the Heisman in the closest margin of victory of all time, finishing the year with 1658 yards (6.1 yards per carry) and 17 touchdowns to go with 30 receptions for 322 yards. He beat out Stanford’s Toby Gerhard, who finished with 1871 rushing yards (5.5 yards per carry) and 28 touchdowns.
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon finished second in voting in 2014, despite a dominant 2587-yard, 29-touchdown junior season. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota came out on top following his ridiculous 42-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a junior.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the award in 2015 after setting the SEC single-season rushing record with 1,986 rushing yards and tied the record for rushing touchdowns with 23. According to the official Heisman website, Henry was just the third running back in SEC history (Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson being the others) to have four 200-yard games in a single season.
Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, during the same season, finished with 2019 rushing yards and eight touchdowns along with 645 receiving yards and five touchdowns. He also finished with a combined 1,200 yards off kickoff and punt returns.
As I mentioned in a post yesterday, Snell has an opportunity to shatter records next season such as most career touchdowns in SEC history by a running back, most career touchdowns and yards in school history, and the single-season UK rushing record. There’s a chance that by the time his junior year is over there may be no more records to break as a Wildcat.
But could it be enough to take the next step up from local star to national superstar?
Career-wise, absolutely. Snell became just the third player in SEC history to have at least 2,424 yards and 31 career rushing touchdowns before his junior season, joining only Georgia’s Herschel Walker and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. He had 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns, both totals that led the SEC last season. On-par with Ingram’s touchdown total in 2009, but still 300 yards fewer than the former Heisman winner.
But Snell isn’t at Alabama, and it’s a near-certainty (begging I’m wrong here) the Cats won’t be competing for a national championship this season. Though it’s entirely possible he could put up comparable numbers as a junior, Snell won’t have the same stage and national attention from the get-go we saw with Ingram. Playing under the bright lights on the big stage sways Heisman voters (see Lamar Jackson losing out to Baker Mayfield this past season).
What Snell does have, however, are marquee SEC games and elite defenses to make an impact in. Kentucky is chosen to play in the 3:30 p.m. primetime games on CBS usually once or twice a year, usually against stud opponents. If Snell can put up monstrous numbers in those with the national analysts and commentators calling the games, it certainly can’t hurt. Help lead Kentucky to victories in those games? Even better.
His ejection in the Music City Bowl turned heads nationally, with Snell actually going viral that night and going into the following day. National analysts realized the significance of Snell’s absence for the Cats and showered him with praise, and it kickstarted a mini Heisman campaign at the time for Kentucky fans. It was lighthearted in nature at the time, but the more praise he received, the more it got people thinking “what if.” It certainly didn’t hurt his status as a darkhorse candidate going into 2018.
As far as numbers go, one thing that can pay off in a major way would be Eddie Gran putting the ball in Snell’s hands both on the ground and through the air. By upping his YPC average ever-so-slightly, Snell’s rushing numbers can spike in a significant way as a junior. Moe Williams’ school-record 1,600 yards was done by averaging 5.4 yards per carry, just 0.3 yards more than Snell’s sophomore campaign. If he can reach 5.6-5.8 YPC with increased touches, he’ll easily reach those record-shattering numbers and gather a surplus of national attention. Surpass that 6.0 average (we saw that from Snell during the Tennessee, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt games last season), and those Heisman whispers will grow even louder.
He only caught ten balls for 72 yards last season, but we could see from the Blue-White scrimmage and spring practice Eddie Gran is pushing for Snell to catch more balls out of the backfield, and that’s absolutely necessary if he wants a shot at the national awards. He’s mostly known as a grind-it-out back to keep the clock moving forward and inch the offense down the field. With some dump passes out of the backfield, Snell will have some open field to work with for home run opportunities. He’ll need several hundred receiving yards and a few scores through the air.
He can’t afford dud games like we saw during Mississippi State and Northwestern, or even mediocre games like his outings against Southern Miss, Florida, and Eastern Michigan. He’ll have to have a near-perfect season with a major step up from year two to three to have a legitimate shot.
Likely? When you look at the numbers historically, probably not. Possible? Never say never.