James Conner is a Dark-Horse Heisman Candidate, Pitt a Suprise ACC Contender


Admit it; on the NCAA Football franchise (RIP), you gamed the Race to the Heisman function with a defensive end-sized creation who had the speed and elusiveness of a running back.

Don’t feel guilty for your blatant cheating–such a player exists in the flesh, not just polygons. He just doesn’t have a sweet Create-A-Player name like Hulk Machoman or Biff Stronguy. He’s James Conner.

The Pitt running back could very well be playing the real-world version of Race to the Heisman in 2014.

One week after averaging a shade below 11 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns, James Conner rumbled his way to 213 yards in Pittsburgh’s 30-20 ACC-opening win over Boston College.

Conner’s numbers are impressive on their own, but the way he runs. He scored only one touchdown against Boston College, but in that one score blew up two Eagles defenders.

Gamers nod knowingly. Defenders can’t easily tackle 6’2″, 250-pound ball-carriers.

Of course, it’s not as simple as lining up a big man in the backfield and letting him steamroll people. Were that the case, offensive coordinator around the nation would have tackles rushing 20 times a game.

James Conner is a rare–and I do mean rare–blend of size, power and dexterity. Watching him run is like seeing a locomotive with the handling of a Corvette. It’s a combination that’s produced some impressive numbers in his last three outings:

And he’ll continue to rack up impressive numbers. Conner is on a very early pace to join the illustrious 2,000-yard mark, which is often good enough to land a running back a spot at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York.

Fellow ACC back Andre Williams accomplished the feat a year ago, playing for a 7-win Boston College team.

Should James Conner reach that 2,000-yard mark, his Heisman profile should get a boost from playing on a Pitt team very much capable of winning the ACC Coastal.

The division lacks a clear favorite. Why not the Panthers?

Pitt defenses are typically stout, and Conner has plenty of help around him on offense. In fact, this could be one of the most exciting Panthers offense since 2009–perhaps longer.

Quarterback Chad Voytik and wide receiver Tyler Boyd are more than just complementary players to Conner’s punishing running style. Boyd already established himself as one of the ACC’s, if not nation’s, best wide receivers in 2013 when he hauled in 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns.

On Friday, he brought in two scores.

Leaning on Boyd and Conner early, Voytik’s learning curve in his first full season as starter is shallow.

And the most exciting part for Panthers head coach Paul Chryst? All three are sophomores.

If James Conner doesn’t pound his way to New York and the Heisman ceremony this year, he’ll have future opportunities.