A list of 53 candidates for the Doak Walker Award, presented annually to the nation’s premier running back, was released earlier this week. There are seven Big Ten running backs on the list: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Penn State’s Bill Belton, Minnesota’s David Cobb, Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, Illinois’ Josh Ferguson, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford and Penn State’s Zack Swinak.
You’ll notice Venric Mark is not included. Neither is Iowa's Mark Weisman. An injustice, I say! Outrage! The Doak Walker brain trust, in its infinite wisdom, decided the player who rushed for nearly 1,400 yards in 2012 is not among the top 53 backs in the country. If you’re looking for tailbacks to "watch" in the months leading up to the upcoming college football season, in other words, Venric Mark is not worth your time.
Definitely some snubs on the Doak Walker list. No Mark Weisman, no Venric Mark.— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) July 17, 2014
There are two questions that need to be answered here: 1) Should Mark have made the cut? And 2) Does it matter?
Let’s start with (1). Mark was one of the nation’s most exciting players in 2012, an offensive catalyst who was a threat to break big plays every time he touched the ball and a dangerous kick returner. Mark’s performance landed him on the outer fringes of the Heisman conversation. He was that good. But this being a 2014 watch list, Mark’s 2013 season is what really matters. Mark appeared in only three games, battled a nagging hamstring injury suffered in the preseason and was lost for the season after hurting his ankle in an Oct. 12 loss at Wisconsin.
His statistics: 31 carries for 97 yards, zero punt returns and one kick return for 38 yards. Fortunately for Mark, he was granted eligibility for 2014 via a medical hardship waiver. While NU has plenty of depth at running back, Mark is the Wildcats’ top player at the position and should get plenty of carries. It’s also fair to expect that he will resume kick and punt return duties
If Mark has fully recovered, his performance should more closely resemble what we saw in 2012 than 2013. But is it fair to expect him to exceed, let alone match, his output from two seasons ago? I don’t think so. For one, the pieces around him are not the same. Quarterback Kain Colter, whose athleticism and deft management of the option game helped spring Mark for lots of long runs, is gone. The veteran offensive line that created holes for Mark to run through has been replaced by shaky, inexperienced group that struggled mightily last season.
There will also be a host of capable backs vying for carries – including one, Stephen Buckley, who, like Mark, is a speed back who excels running to the outside. Buckley, Treyvon Green and others will cut into Mark’s workload, to say nothing of the possibility that the coaching staff will limit his touches to minimize the possibility of injuries and keep him fresh for kick returns.
Still, in the final analysis, I think it’s pretty clear Mark deserved a spot on this list. I mean, if he’s healthy, he’s one of the 50 or so best backs in the country, right? Not sure how anyone can reasonably dispute that. As for whether (2) Mark’s omission matters …. Almost definitely not! Preseason watch lists ostensibly aim to stoke anticipation for the players at a certain position for the upcoming season. But instead of getting excited, we laugh at them, pointing out the absurdity of their size and their sometimes confusing criteria.
Another reason we all think they’re so silly? There are players we are not encouraged to "watch" in the preseason that inevitably play their way into contention. To use another award as an example, Oregon cornerback Cliff Harris received a vote on the Heisman Pundit’s 2011 preseason Heisman poll. Baylor’s Robert Griffin III did not. Mark could well have a monster season, and if he does, we can all laugh at the time we (me mostly) took time out of our days to care about him being left off the Doak Walker Preseason Watch List.