College football fans got to see the top two rushers in the country face off in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl with Ka’Deem Carey of the Arizona Wildcats and Stefphon Jefferson of the Nevada Wolfpack. The matchup of talented backs was billed as a showdown to determine the rushing title for the top rusher in college football for the 2012 season. Carey maintained his lead in rushing average with a 172 yard showcase, but the rushing title isn’t sealed up just yet. Le’Veon Bell of the Michigan State Spartans could still make a push to win it.
With his impressive performance on Saturday, Carey improved his rushing average to 148.38 yards per game. Jefferson put on a show of his own as well, rushing for 180 yards to improve his average to 144.85 yards per game. Each of them put extra distance between themselves as the No. 1 and No. 2 rushers in the country and Bell, who sits squarely at No. 3.
The junior from Michigan State finished the season rushing for 1,648 yards over 12 games for a 137.33 yards per game average. He will need to make up 11.05 yards on Carey if he hopes to capture the rushing title. To do that, Bell will need to rush for 229 yards in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl on December 29 against the TCU Horned Frogs.
While that sounds like a tall task, it is not out of the realm of possibility for Bell. Three times this season, Bell has rushed for over 200 yards with two performances better than he would need in the bowl game. On September 22, Bell went for 253 yards on 36 attempts against the Eastern Michigan Eagles then topped that in the season finale with 266 yards on 35 attempts against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
However, TCU’s defense is not Eastern Michigan or Minnesota. It is so much better. The Horned Frogs boast the No. 10 ranked rushing defense in the country this season, giving up an average of just 103.92 yards per game on the ground. Bell has faced two run defenses ranked in the top 15 this season and has struggled both times. Against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (No. 4 against the run), Bell gained 77 yards on 19 carries. Then against the Ohio State Buckeyes (No. 13), Bell had his worst game of the season rushing for just 45 yards on 17 carries.
This will likely be Bell’s last chance to have a big game against a stout run defense in college as the junior running back is reportedly considering declaring for the NFL draft and skipping his senior season in East Lansing. He’s been a workhorse this season as the primary offense for an inconsistent Spartans’ attack, carrying the ball more in 2012 than he has in his previous two seasons combined.
Bell has enjoyed a great collegiate career at Michigan State. The Spartans have disappointed as a team this season, limping to a 6-6 record. Finishing the season out with a win in a bowl game with a rushing title to his name would be a fitting way for one of college football’s under-appreciated talents to go out. It will take a special performance from Bell against a formidable opponent, but that’s what the bowl season is all about.