There were times in the first half of the season where Melvin Gordon looked like the best running back in the country.
Through the first seven games, Gordon had already topped 1,000 yards while averaging close to 10 yards per carry. So there was naturally speculation that the third-year sophomore might be running his way toward the NFL.
But Gordon wasn't quite as effective down the stretch, running for 454 yards in his final five games and topping 100 yards just once in that span. Teammate James White became Wisconsin's No. 1 running option, and the coaches trusted White more because of his superior pass protection skills and ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
That showed Gordon still had things to work on as a running back. And it's why his announcement Friday that he plans to return to Wisconsin for his junior year is a wise choice, one that gives the 2014 Badgers a big boost in the process.
In his prepared statement, Gordon mentioned that he believes "there is still a lot of room for growth." He remains one of the most gifted runners in Wisconsin's storied history at the position, with size -- at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds -- and speed. But it's the little things like blocking and receiving that he needs to improve on before he's ready for the next level.
Montee Ball heard the same things about his game when he checked with the NFL advisory committee after his record-breaking junior year in Madison. Ball returned for his senior year, and while it wasn't a smooth ride, he won the Doak Walker Award and ended up being a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos.
Running backs often have short shelf lives in the pros, and they are usually smart to get paid as quickly as possible. But Gordon really only became a full-time player this past season, so he has a lot of mileage left.
Expect the Badgers to get the most fuel efficiency out of him next year. White graduates after a stellar and under-appreciated career. Now Gordon can step into the main role, with promising freshman Corey Clement as his understudy. Gordon should enter the year as a favorite for the Doak Walker and a possible Heisman candidate.
Wisconsin still needs to figure out its passing attack next year because of quarterback Joel Stave's shakiness and the loss of top receiving targets Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen. Gordon's return gives the 2014 Badgers offense a great place to start.