There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. -- Mark Twain
Awards season is tricky. Voters are tasked with choosing the outstanding player at a position working with their own value system -- which is fueled by personal experience, regional bias, weighted statistics and subjectivity that only they can defend.
Let’s first agree that to be selected as a finalist for one of college football’s postseason awards, you have to be a pretty special player.
And this year’s lineup of Doak Walker finalists, which goes to the nation’s top running back, is no exception. Washington’s Bishop Sankey, Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey and Boston College’s Andre Williams can all make a compelling case. Williams has the numbers. Carey and Sankey have the consistency.
Yet recent history has shown us it’s not just about the back with the most rushing yards. If it were, Carey would have been the winner last season. And he wasn’t even a finalist.
The Doak Walker might be the one award where you can actually lean on the numbers -- because there are plenty of metrics available to gauge the success of running backs. And after dissecting those numbers, one thing is very clear: the award should go to one of the Pac-12 backs.
Says, the Pac-12 writer … I know. But hear me out.
Carey has rushed for at least 100 yards in every game this season. Williams has not.
Sankey has scored at least one rushing touchdown in every game this season. Williams has not.
Carey has caught 26 balls for 173 yards and a touchdown while Sankey has 25 catches for 298 yards and a score. Williams has not … caught a single pass all year.
Sorry, but in today’s football, zero receptions has to be a significant mark against Williams. Not a single check down or dump off or swing pass to speak of? Not one hot read? Maybe it’s what we’ve come to expect from Pac-12 offenses that the backs are more involved in the passing game. Or maybe it’s the fact that pretty much every other starting running back in the country has at least one catch this year.
Being a running back has to be more than just carrying the football. And while no one questions Williams’ ability to do that, and do it well, it does raise questions about his completeness as a back.
Looking at each player’s individual game log, Williams faced four rushing defenses that rank in the top 30. Carey faced three and Sankey faced two. That measurement in itself is slanted, by the way, because the Pac-12 has seven of the top 44 rushing offenses in the country, which in turn impacts the rush defense numbers. The ACC only has four of the top 44. So take that for what it’s worth.
Against top 30 rush defenses, Williams averaged 95.5 yards per game, well below his season average of 175.7. Sankey averaged 73.5 yards. With only two games to work with, his poor performance against Arizona State significantly slants that average and skews his outstanding 125 yards and two touchdowns against Stanford -- the nation’s No. 3 rush defense.
Carey, however, averaged 175.6 rushing yards per game -- almost 20 yards higher than his 156 average. Meaning Carey did some of his best work against the nation’s best defenses.
There isn’t a lot of head-to-head data among the three since one is from another conference. But against USC, Williams carried 17 times for 38 yards and no touchdowns. Carey rushed for 138 yards on 21 carries.
Sankey and Carey have a few head-to-heads. Against Oregon, Sankey rushed for 167 yards and two scores. Carey rushed for 206 yards and four scores.
Williams’ best games came against some of the nation’s weakest rush defenses. He posted 263 yards and five touchdowns against Army (ranked 99th), 295 yards against New Mexico State (ranked 123rd) and 339 against North Carolina State (ranked 79th). To his credit, he did have nice rushing numbers against Florida State (149 yards against the Seminoles’ 13th-ranked rushing defense), but no touchdowns.
And to be fair, the Pac-12 duo feasted plenty on the league’s weaker defenses. Sankey had 241 yards against Cal and Carey posted four touchdowns against Colorado.
But Carey’s strongest game of the season was a 232-yard effort against Utah -- which finished the year ranked 22nd against the run.
This isn’t a Carey vs. Sankey debate. The fact that both have shown up every week -- Sankey with the touchdowns and Carey with the 100-yard games -- speaks to their level of consistency. Sankey has the better overall numbers. But 1.7 yards per carry against ASU and 3.4 against UCLA certainly standout as a negative. Carey has the untenable argument of rushing for at least 100 yards in every game. But zero touchdowns in a close game against Cal and no scores against USC also standout.
However, both are also more complete and consistent backs than the third Doak Walker finalist. And the 2013 award should end up in the hands of a consistent, well-rounded Pac-12 running back.