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March 12, 2007

The 2007 Contenders: Doak Walker award

Some of football's greatest running backs were easily identifiable by first name alone.

There has been Gale and Herschel and Bo and LaDainian, among others.

But before all of them there was Doak Walker, the 1948 Heisman Trophy winner, whose unusual name is on the award presented annually to college football's premier running back.

Therefore, it may seem a bit ironic that the Rivals.com list of leading contenders for the 2007 Doak Walker Award have rather common names, although uncommon ability.

Darren, Steve and Mike are names that can be found with relative ease on monogrammed merchandise. They may also be on the list of Walker Award winners next February.

Darren McFadden, Steve Slaton and Mike Hart rushed for more than 1,500 yards last season. Mike Goodson averaged more yards per carry than all of them except Slaton, and his attempts should increase dramatically in '07.

With another strong season any one of them could be the next recipient of the Walker award. But that's not to imply Boise State's Ian Johnson, Oregon State's Yvenson Bernard or Georgia Tech's Tashard Choice can't win it, too.

Doak Walker award contenders
1. Darren McFadden, Arkansas: Last year's Walker Award winner, McFadden hopes to join Texas' Ricky Williams (1997 and 1998) as a two-time recipient. There are plenty of reasons to assume McFadden will do just that. In 2006 McFadden rushed for 1,647 yards, and 643 of them came against six of the nation's top 23 defensive units. He was slowed by injury early last season, but that shouldn't be an issue in 2007.
2. Steve Slaton, West Virginia: Not only did Slaton rush for 1,744 yards in 2006, but he averaged more than 8 yards per carry in six games. He's just as explosive as McFadden, having posted eight touchdowns on runs of at least 37 yards. He rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of 12 games a year ago.
3. Mike Hart, Michigan: More efficient than electric, Hart gained more than 90 yards in every regular season game last season and was at his best against the Wolverines' rivals. He gained 124 yards against Notre Dame, 122 against Michigan State, 195 against Minnesota and 142 against Ohio State. Hart was limited to just 47 yards in a Rose Bowl loss to Southern California, but at least part of that futility may have been due to the Wolverines falling behind 19-3 in the third quarter.
4. Ian Johnson, Boise State: Naysayers or haters, as the kids say might dismiss Johnson's brilliant 2006 season in which he rushed for 1,714 yards and 25 touchdowns as a byproduct of facing inferior WAC defenses. Yet, Johnson gained 240 yards and scored five touchdowns against Oregon State and had 101 yards in the Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma. The Walker Award committee is open-minded to honoring players from that area of the country, which was proved when BYU's Luke Staley received the award in 2001.
5. Mike Goodson, Texas A&M: True, Goodson rushed for just 847 yards as a true freshman, but he never got more than 15 carries and didn't get that many attempts until the Aggies' seventh game. After averaging 6.7 yards per carry in '06 his opportunities and yardage figure to have a sharp increase in '07. Plus, seven of the past 16 Walker recipients were from Texas schools, but none from A&M - yet.
Others to consider
Ray Rice, Jr., Rutgers: 1,794 yards, 20 touchdowns in 2006
P.J. Hill, So., Wisconsin: 1,569 yards, 15 touchdowns
Tashard Choice, Sr., Georgia Tech: 1,473 yards, 12 touchdowns
Yvenson Bernard, Sr., Oregon State: 1,307 yards, 12 touchdowns
James Davis, Jr., Clemson: 1,187 yards, 17 touchdowns

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