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At this pace, Leonard Fournette could have best rushing year in SEC history

Four times in his past five games, Leonard Fournette has set a career high for rushing yards in a game. Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

BATON ROUGE, La. -- On one hand, it’s reasonable to try to temper your enthusiasm when projecting what Leonard Fournette will accomplish this fall.

It’s still early, you might tell yourself. He's played only three games. It’ll be tough to keep up this pace over an entire season.

Then you watch LSU’s star running back on Saturdays, exploding through holes, bolting past linebackers and running through defensive backs’ tackle attempts and you can’t help but imagine the possibilities.

So let’s just go crazy for a minute.

How does Fournette’s pace compare with those of the best running backs in SEC history? And what is a reasonable expectation for Fournette, whose average of 210.3 rushing yards per game leads the nation and is 41 more than the next closest player? What should we expect to see when LSU’s next opponent, Eastern Michigan, ranks last in the FBS against the run, allowing 373.3 yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry?

Let’s start with some of Fournette's recent accomplishments. He is the first LSU back to rush for 200 yards in consecutive games, going for 228 yards against Auburn and following that with 244 against Syracuse. Four times in his past five games he has set a career high for rushing yards in a game.

He could easily have broken LSU’s single-game rushing record -- 250 yards by Alley Broussard in 2004 -- in either of the past two weeks, and he would have shattered it against Syracuse if an 87-yard touchdown run hadn't been called back because of an illegal-formation penalty.

But focusing on his place in school history is shortsighted. Charles Alexander’s 1,686 rushing yards in 1977 ranks sixth in SEC history for a season, and Fournette seems sure to run down that school mark. Heck, at this pace, he might surpass even bigger names like Herschel Walker and Bo Jackson.

In fact, if you examine the top six seasons by running backs in conference history, Fournette is ahead of each player’s pace after three games. Only one (Jackson, with 575 yards in 1985) was within 100 yards of Fournette’s total of 631 yards through three games.

Let’s rein it in for a second and remind ourselves that maintaining this pace over a full season is a long shot. We’ve seen backs have impressive stretches -- Auburn’s Tre Mason ran for 177.2 yards per game and scored 14 touchdowns in the final six games in 2013, for instance -- but the wear and tear of an SEC slate could cause Fournette to slow down a bit as the season progresses.

But let’s go crazy again: Right now, he’s on pace to rush for 2,524 yards and 32 touchdowns and average 8.64 yards per carry. That would give him SEC records in all three categories, besting Walker’s 1,891 yards in 1981; Tim Tebow's and Mason’s 23 TDs in 2007 and 2013, respectively; and Nick Chubb’s 2014 average of 7.06 yards per rush.

It would also allow Fournette to threaten Barry Sanders’ modern-day FBS record of 2,628 rushing yards, set in the 1988 season.

In other words, no pressure, Leonard. You’re only three games into the season and we’re already projecting that you might put together one of the best rushing seasons of all time.

Of course that’s premature, and maybe a bit silly, but just watch Fournette run wild on an average Saturday and it seems reasonable to use your imagination and speculate about the possibilities.