Entering his junior year, Royce Freeman was expected to be one of the best running backs in the country. On June 7, his odds to win the Heisman Trophy this year stood at 20/1, according to oddsharkcom. Those aren’t the best odds, but they were his most favorable all season.
By Sept. 7, Freeman’s odds had dropped to 40/1. By the time Sept. 26 rolled around, Freeman had dropped from the board all together.
As of Oct. 18, the running back with best odds to win the Heisman is Florida State Dalvin Cook, coming in at 33/1.
Injuries have limited Freeman to 67 carries over essentially four games this season; about 17 carries per game. He only ran the ball five times during Oregon’s 35-32 loss to Nebraska before exiting with an injury that sidelined him for Oregon’s next game, a 41-38 loss to Colorado.
Freeman returned for Oregon’s matchup against Washington State, rushing for 138 yards and three touchdowns, albeit in a losing effort. Then, in Oregon’s abysmal 70-21 loss to Washington, Freeman was held out of the second half for precautionary reasons. Offensive coordinator Matt Lubick said Freeman got “nicked up” and he didn’t want to risk arguably his best offensive weapon. Freeman finished that game with 11 rushes for 50 yards.
All things considered, Freeman is still having a productive year. He’s accounted for the second most touchdowns on the team (7) and is Oregon’s leading rusher by 191 yards.
“Well, so far, I think he’s done well,” running back coach Gary Campbell said. “He’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do and everything that we’ve expected from him. Unfortunately I didn’t ask him to get hurt, so he’s done a little more than I’ve asked.”
But for the second straight year, Freeman’s Heisman hopes have slipped away, this time from a combination of poor team record and injury.
Even though individual awards are not something he cares about — he said he’s only focused on helping the team win games and tunes out award hype — it begs the question: How much of a difference would a healthy Freeman have made this year?
Backup running back Tony Brooks-James thinks there definitely would have been a difference if Freeman hadn’t missed significant time, but still thinks the running unit has performed well without him.
“He’s (Freeman) a back that can get 100 yards easily,” Brooks-James said. “So he’d have definitely added more yards to the backfield. But as far as him being out, we’re still productive.”
Campbell agrees that the team is lacking something when Freeman isn’t playing but can’t deny that the rushing unit has performed well.
“His presence on the field has an impact,” Campbell said. “But when you’re in the game you’re looking for rushing yardage and we got that.”
Obviously, no one can know for sure how different the season would be with a healthy Freeman. And despite his absence from most of its games, Oregon has still rushed for 1,547 yards, the 18th most yards in the country. But there is no doubt that his presence on the field is a game changer for the Ducks.
Freeman was a long shot for Heisman this year anyway. On most preseason lists he was dark horse candidate at best.
But in a season where Oregon really could’ve used a Heisman performance, it’s unfortunate that injuries have derailed what was looking to be a promising season.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris