By Chris Emma-
MADISON, Wis. (CBS) — In a college football world in which “student-athletes” are saturated by PR mumbo jumbo, Wisconsin junior running back Melvin Gordon’s confidence is refreshing.
After running for 122 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 52-7 win against Maryland on Saturday — continuing a run of 15 touchdowns in five games — Gordon said what so many pundits believe.
“I would say I’m one of the best running backs here in the nation right now,” Gordon said.
Perhaps it’s a bold proclamation to make. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah has been spectacular this season. Georgia’s Todd Gurley, though currently suspended, is an elite talent. But Gordon isn’t fazed by the competition.
Gordon believes he’s the best, isn’t afraid to admit it, then goes out and proves it. His head coach, the reserved Gary Andersen, made the same statement unprovoked, too. Those around Gordon see it every day.
On a wall near the door out of Gordon’s apartment, which he walks past each day to go to football practice, hangs a poster of Todd Gurley. It’s a reminder that there’s competition at the top.
“It drives me a lot, seeing that you can’t slack,” Gordon said.
The motivation goes deeper than that.
Mere minutes after Wisconsin’s win on Saturday — with so many other matters at hand — Gordon was equipped with Ameer Abdullah’s stat line. He’s invested in the race to be the nation’s top rusher.
“It sucks,” Gordon said. “I heard Ameer went for 225 today. It’s crazy.”
Don’t mistake Gordon for a me-first guy; he’s anything but. Gordon is known as a workhorse in the Wisconsin weight room, pushing himself and teammates. Andersen lauds the effort that Gordon brings each day.
Gordon is the consummate player, a superstar on the field and terrific teammate. And he just so happens to really care about being the best.
“To have young kids in your program that could be mentored by Melvin Gordon is pretty special,” Andersen said.
For the season, Gordon has rushed 1,168 yards, the fourth-most in the nation. Abdullah leads the way with 1,249 rushing yards, but his Cornhuskers have played one more game than the Badgers. (Gordon’s averaging 166.9 rushing yards per game, with Abdullah checking in at 156.1 per game). Gordon has also posted 16 touchdowns, one behind Abdullah and three behind the nation’s leader, Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin. Gordon’s impressive 7.6 yards per carry is somehow below a career average, 7.9 yards, which is the best in college football history.
Gordon has an incredible ability to find a gap, no matter how small it seems, and burst through. Give him some green grass, and he’ll maximize each carry. He has game-changing speed and an ability to make tacklers miss, but he can also bowl through a defender with his 213-pound frame.
Pound for pound, Gordon may be the best player in college football.
“The kid is big and fast and he has great vision,” Wisconsin quarterback Tanner McEvoy said. “Once he gets outside, he’s going to win in a footrace.”
“He pushes piles, and he’s a physical runner,” Andersen added. “He gets a crease, he’s hard to get down. He’s a lot more powerful than he was last year, a credit to Melvin and the way he works.”
Accolades will find Gordon as his stellar season and historic career continue. He’ll earn All-Big Ten honors, will be tabbed as an All-American and should be invited to New York City as a Heisman finalist.
In the months that will follow, Gordon is projected as a first-round draft pick. But so are Abdullah and Gurley (773 rushing yards and eight scores in five games). Let the comparisons continue.
“It’s whatever,” Gordon said. “The competition, it is what it is. We’re going to compete each week and make each other better.”
Being the best is what drives Gordon in each workout and rep. And he’s not afraid to admit it.
Chris Emma covers the college sports scene for CBSChicago.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.