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Derrius Guice's success off LSU bench setting high bar for 2017

Derrius Guice graduated from Leonard Fournette's backup to one of the best running backs in the SEC. AP Photo/David J. Phillip

BATON ROUGE, La. -- There was no groundswell of support for Derrius Guice's candidacy as SEC offensive player of the year -- that honor went to Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, and understandably so -- but we could reasonably argue that no player made more of his opportunities this season than Guice.

For a guy who came into his sophomore season playing second fiddle to Heisman Trophy contender Leonard Fournette, Guice proved that he has plenty of superstar ability of his own.

It's not just that Guice broke Fournette's brand-new single-game LSU record by rushing for 285 yards in the Tigers' Thanksgiving night win over Texas A&M, it's that Guice’s record-setting performance came just 12 days after he ran for 252 yards against Arkansas.

In case you missed it, here’s the list of SEC players who previously posted at least two 250-yard games in their entire careers:

  • Auburn Heisman winner Bo Jackson (290 yards against Southwestern Louisiana in 1985 and 256 against Alabama in 1983).

  • Georgia Heisman winner Herschel Walker (283 yards against Vanderbilt in 1980 and 265 against Ole Miss in 1981).

  • Kentucky's Moe Williams (299 yards against South Carolina and 272 yards against Cincinnati, both in 1995).

Guice matched them in less than two weeks.

Let's look at Guice's season in another way. He ranks 25th nationally and second in the SEC with 1,249 rushing yards this season despite serving as Fournette's backup for about half the season.

In the first month of season, when Fournette was still playing for the most part, Guice had a big game against FCS Jacksonville State while Fournette sat out but was essentially a non-factor otherwise. In three September games against FBS competition, Guice totaled 10 carries for 84 yards -- 52 of which came on a single run against Auburn.

Fournette missed three games and never handled more than 17 carries in a game the rest of the way. That's when Guice proved without a doubt that he is not just LSU's feature back of the future, he's perfectly capable of serving the role in the present.

He averaged 144.3 rushing yards per game and scored 13 touchdowns once the calendar flipped to October, and his average of 8.0 yards per carry currently sits third in SEC history among players with at least 100 rushing attempts in a season.

As crazy as it sounds -- Fournette might be the most talented running back in school history, after all -- it's tempting to daydream about what Guice could have accomplished if he had been LSU's lead back for the entire season. Despite the gimpy ankle that made him a shadow of his 2015 self, Fournette still rushed for 843 yards in just seven games and earned second-team All-SEC honors in the process.

That's a lot of potential yardage that Guice missed out on when his superstar teammate was able to play.

Maybe he'll never match Fournette's status as a No. 1 national recruit or the top prospect on Todd McShay's NFL draft board, but Guice's numbers also speak for themselves. At this point, he is rushing for a greater career yards per carry than Fournette (8.1 to Fournette's 6.2, which will break the LSU record at the end of this season) and he's scoring touchdowns at a greater rate (one per every 12.2 rushing attempts versus Fournette's 1-in-15.5).

This was legitimately one of the best seasons by a running back in SEC annals. It won't go down in history like last season's Heisman horse race between Fournette and Alabama's Derrick Henry, where both players chased the SEC’s single-season rushing record, but Guice never had a chance to post those kinds of numbers.

He got enough carries to easily win first-team all-conference honors, and maybe that's enough for now, but Guice's 2016 performance will set an incredibly high bar to clear next season once Fournette is no longer blocking his path.