Ameer Abdullah is a long shot to win the Heisman Trophy, but Nebraska can dream.
Actually, folks who still cherish that award might pull for Abdullah if they get to know his story.
It’s Week 5 of the season, the unofficial start of the Big Ten title chase, and if you’re a fan of this beaten-down conference looking for something to pull for beyond your own team, Abdullah could be your guy.
Consider the way he responded this week after moving into third place on Nebraska’s all-time rushing leaderboard, at 3,602 yards, behind Ahman Green (3,880) and Mike Rozier (4,780).
“People forget numbers,” Abdullah told the Omaha World-Herald. “What they don’t forget is personalities, what kind of impact that person had on the program, the school and the community.
“I want to be remembered as someone who catapulted this program to where we are now and above, being an influence on the guys who are going to lead this program into the future.”
Abdullah hails from Homewood, Ala. Listed generously on the roster at 5-9, the senior tailback grew up hoping to play for Auburn, but the Tigers were among the teams that wanted him to play cornerback.
So he took his dream to Nebraska, where he blossomed into one of the Big Ten’s top players in 2012. He turned down a chance to enter the NFL draft this year, knowing he can become the ninth of nine children in his family to earn his college degree.
At this year’s Big Ten’s Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago, Abdullah delivered the keynote speech, inspiring everyone inside the packed ballroom.
He showed the courage this week to publicly rebuke Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who keeps getting headlines for the wrong reasons. Abdullah and Winston both grew up in the Birmingham, Ala., area and trained together at the same gym.
“It’s kind of hard for me to understand what’s going on with him right now, but from a general standpoint it’s the maturity level,” Abdullah said. “Think before you act. Understand the bigger picture. Everything that you do, say or how you present yourself can have dire consequences. That’s something I feel like he definitely needs to assess more.”
Abdullah has propelled Nebraska to a 4-0 nonconference start and ranks third in the nation in all-purpose yards (212 per game). He delivered a game-winning play for the ages when he broke six tackles to fend off an upset bid from McNeese State.
He packs 195 pounds onto that compact body, and has proved he can take a pounding. He had 35 carries for 229 yards in last week’s win over Miami, which raised hope in Nebraska that this Cornhuskers team might be for real.
“I’ll tell you, I’ve been around a lot of football, and No. 8 showed how special he was tonight,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “He ran like a man possessed.”
The Heisman seems reserved for quarterbacks these days. Since Ron Dayne won the award in 1999, the only non-QB to claim it was Mark Ingram in 2009.
The current Heisman favorite is Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Abdullah has plenty of competition just for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s premier running back, including Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.
To win the Heisman, Abdullah would have to carry Nebraska on a magical ride, keeping the Cornhuskers undefeated. That might be the Big Ten’s last hope of sneaking into the College Football Playoff. Of course, no other Big Ten West contender — the Gophers included — wants to see that.
But if Abdullah wins the trophy, it’ll be good for college football’s soul.
Big Ten short takes
• Quarterback Jake Rudock’s development was critical to Iowa’s turnaround last season. Now a junior, Rudock suffered a leg injury last week at Pittsburgh. But sophomore C.J. Beathard came in and led Iowa back from a 10-point deficit in a 24-20 win, completing seven of eight passes for 98 yards.
Rudock is questionable for this week’s game at Purdue, but coach Kirk Ferentz might find these two QBs interchangeable.
• Ohio State had to replace Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier and four offensive line starters coming into the season. Then Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and standout defensive end Noah Spence was lost to a drug suspension. But the schedule should help Ohio State continue to retool since its Sept. 6 Virginia Tech loss. The Buckeyes play Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers before heading to Penn State.
• How big was last week’s win at then-No. 18 Missouri for Indiana? For one thing, it quieted talk about coach Kevin Wilson’s job security.
After the game, Wilson said he felt like his players had been pressing at times, costing them opportunities. The Hoosiers better not let their guard down, as Maryland arrives this week, averaging 36.8 points per game.
BIG TEN POWER POLL
1. Michigan State (2-1): Final nonconference tune-up comes this week against Craig Bohl’s 3-1 Wyoming squad.
2. Nebraska (4-0): Tommy Armstrong Jr. continues to play well, with nine TD passes and two interceptions.
3. Wisconsin (2-1): Badgers face a 2-2 South Florida team that averages just 21.8 points per game.
4. Ohio State (2-1): Buckeyes get Cincinnati next. Bearcats are 2-0 with wins over Toledo and Miami (Ohio).
5. Penn State (4-0): Improved running game is helping the Nittany Lions take pressure off Christian Hackenberg.
6. Iowa (3-1): All four games this year have been decided by one possession. One loss was to Iowa State.
7. Maryland (3-1): A narrow loss to West Virginia and a win over Syracuse. Playmakers abound on this team.
8. Indiana (2-1): Win last week at Missouri was Hoosiers’ first road win over a top-20 team since 1987.
9. Rutgers (3-1): The offense took a huge hit when running back Paul James went down with a torn ACL.
10. Michigan (2-2): Among the most staggering stats: That minus-10 turnover margin (two takeaways, 12 turnovers).
11. Gophers (3-1): Committed an uncharacteristic 10 penalties last week, while San Jose committed none.
12. Illinois (3-1): Beat Texas State despite nearly being outgained (485-475) and holding ball for just 22:19.
13. Northwestern (1-2): DE Ifeadi Odenigbo had two sacks, three forced fumbles and a recovery vs. Western Illinois.
14. Purdue (2-2): Iowa gets first chance to devour this Big Ten West cupcake. Minnesota’s turn comes Oct. 18.