Orange Watch: Syracuse RB Sean Tucker deserves Heisman consideration

Sep 18, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Syracuse Orange running back Sean Tucker (34) runs into the end zone for a touchdown against the Albany Great Danes during the first half at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Item: The Syracuse running back, named the ACC Running Back of the Week Monday for the second straight week, has dazzled through seven games despite the team’s 3-4 record and winless mark in the ACC.

We’re always maintained that Syracuse should have three Heisman Trophy winners in its storied football history, not only the one that Ernie Davis earned in historic fashion in 1961, becoming the first African-American player to win the most coveted individual honor in sports.

But twice the more legendary Notre Dame football program (and a segregated 1950s nation) got in the way.

In 1956, Jim Brown ran for 986 yards in an eight-game schedule, third best in the country, averaging a school-record 6.2 yards per carry, and against Colgate ran for 196 of those yards, scored a school-record six touchdowns and kicked seven extra points for a 43-point game, a NCAA record that stood for 34 years. The 8th ranked Orangemen finished 7-2 losing to No. 14 TCU 28-27 in the Cotton Bowl.

Yet Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung won the award even as the Irish finished 2-9, and Hornung statistics were a so-so 59-for-111 passing attempts for 917 yards, 3 TDs, and 13 interceptions. Instead of Brown becoming the first African-American winner of the Heisman, he finished just fifth in the voting, yet was the sixth overall pick in the 1957 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns.

In 1987, Don McPherson was the brilliant catalyst leading No. 4 Syracuse to an undefeated regular season, topping the nation in passing efficiency rating, passing yards per attempt, and adjusted passing yards per attempt, earning Sugar Bowl MVP honors in the bittersweet tie with Auburn.

But in a September (27th) game that season on national TV (not as ubiquitous as today’s era), Notre Dame receiver Tim Brown returned two punts of 71 and 66 yards for touchdowns in a two-minute span against Michigan State, and that was a season-long image that catapulted Brown to win the Heisman over number-two vote getter “Donnie Mac” despite an 8-4 Irish season and Cotton Bowl defeat.

Which brings us to Sean Tucker and the marvelous 2021 season he has had so far and which he documented on Twitter Sunday, notwithstanding SU’s disappointing won/loss record.

Despite defenses stacking the line of scrimmage, and in the case of facing quality D-lines in ACC games against Florida State, Wake Forest, and Clemson, Tucker leads the FBS with 1,172 total yards from scrimmage (42-yards more than Bijan Robinson of Texas), is second in rushing (49-yards behind Kenneth Walker III of 7-0 Michigan State), along with scoring 11 touchdowns (tied for third in the country) which puts him in some eye-opening company.

According to ESPN, in the bowl playoff era dating back to 1998, only eight other running backs have exceeded or matched those total yards/TD numbers through seven games, and two of them Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin in 2014 and Bryce Love of Stanford in 2017 finished second in the Heisman voting.

Four of the six others on the list finished in the top seven in the Heisman vote (Tevin Coleman of Indiana in 2014, Dalvin Cook of Florida State in 2015, Leonard Fournette of LSU also in 2015, and Saquon Barkley of Penn State in 2017, while Royce Freeman of Oregon in 2015 and Chuba Hubbard of Oklahoma State in 2019 accomplished the feat through seven games without being top seven Heisman vote-getters), so if Tucker keeps up this pace, he’s likely to appear on many Heisman voters’ ballots.

» Related: Tucker has another standout game as Syracuse loses again

While animated on the field with his running style of jukes and movement and deceptive speed, Tucker is humble away from the spotlight talking about his game.

“It definitely means a lot,” Tucker said in lowkey fashion about eclipsing 1,000 total yards following the disappointing end of the Clemson game, especially considering he came up one yard short on a 3rd down and two yards-to-go play with 0:43 left, the down prior to Andre Szymt’s missed 48-yard field goal that likely would have sent the contest to overtime for the second straight week.

“I wouldn’t be able to do any of that (leading the nation in yards from scrimmage) without my (offensive) line. “They’re coming to work each week blocking, making holes for me in the game. (I) want to dedicate this game to Floyd (Little). Definitively disappointing loss.”

As for the remaining five games of the season starting with a road trip Saturday to Virginia Tech (12:30 p.m. ET/ACC Regional Sports Networks), the ACC has proven to be fluid week-in, week-out, which bodes well for a Syracuse team that has narrowly missed the sweet taste of victories, and will certainly need Tucker at full throttle the rest of the way.

“I feel like we’re really close,” Tucker said after the Clemson defeat. “Just coming down to those last couple of minutes. We have the ball in our hands, we just got to get the ball down (the field) make a play and finish.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.