Gio Bernard for Heisman
By Jacob Shoor
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UNC running back Gio Bernard leads the FBS in all purpose yards per game.
Before the crash that occurred after Mack Brown left Chapel Hill for Texas, UNC football had the most 1,000 yard rushers of any program in the country. While Don McCauley, Mike Voight, Amos Lawrence, and Kelvin Bryant all achieved legendary status among UNC fans, none could quite match two-time Heisman runner-up Charlie Justice as the most beloved Tar Heel gridiron hero.
If Gio Bernard returns for his junior season of eligibility, he can match the man they called "Choo Choo", and perhaps eclipse him. Bernard's electrifying 74-yard punt return to beat NC State in the game's final half minute, ending five consecutive losses to the Wolfpack, made him a legend far greater than he became last year as a freshman when he became UNC's first 1,000 yard rusher since 1997.
If I could vote for the Heisman trophy and the season were concluded, Gio Bernard would get the three point vote from me.
Even many readers of Southern Pigskin may not know how dominating a player Bernard has been this year. I doubt that more than a few know that he is leading the NCAA in all purpose yards. Through nine games, Bernard has carried the ball 126 times for 930 yards (an average of 7.4 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He has caught 32 passes for 319 yards and three TDs. As a part time punt returner, Bernard has added 249 yards and two TDs. He is averaging 214 all purpose yards per game.
While those statistics are amazing, they are not the complete story. UNC has played nine games, but Bernard has played only seven, missing the Wake Forest and Louisville games with injury. In addition, in the two lopsided UNC blowouts, Bernard carried the ball a total of 11 times.
If Gio Bernard had played all nine UNC games, including playing at least half of the games against Elon and Idaho, he probably would have a chance to finish the year with 2,000 yards rushing and 30 total TDs from rushing, receiving, and punt returning.
I know that with UNC football being what it is and ACC football being so far down, coupled with UNC being on probation, the odds that Bernard will receive more than a handful of Heisman votes this year are slim to none. But if Gio,who redshirted his first year out of high school and thus could enter the next NFL draft, returns to UNC for 2013, he will be be a major Heisman candidate.
As for my other hypothetical Heisman votes: My two-point vote would go to Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. The senior is the heart and soul, the center piece, of the most fundamentally sound defense in the country. Te'o is so dominating that offensive coordinators must game plan to try to neutralize him, much as NBA coaches of the 1960s facing the Boston Celtics had to plan games to try to neutralize the defensive abilities of Bill Russell. Far more than any other half dozen players combined, Te'o has put the Irish on his shoulders and carried them back into the hunt for a national title.
My one-point vote would go to Kansas State's senior QB Collin Klein. Many 'athlete' or 'dual-purpose' QBs never master QB fundamentals. They may have arms able to throw stones across the Potomac and/or legs able to run with deer, but they often remain athletes trying to be QBs. Klein rushed for 1,141 yards last year, and this year, with all defenses obsessed with stopping him, he has rushed for 634 yards and 16 TDs. More impressive, he has completed 70.9 percent of his passes for 1,630 yards and 12 TDs. In 2011, Klein was an athletic runner playing QB. In 2012, he is a top notch QB carrying his team of overachievers toward a possible shot at the national title.