What Arkansas running back Knile Davis has to do to win the Heisman

Knile DavisWe released the 2012 CBSSports.com Preseason Heisman Watch on Monday. Now it's time to go into further detail on the Heisman chances of each of the top 10 candidates.

Next up, Arkansas running back Knile Daviswho checks in at No. 8 on the list.

The SEC got a respite from Davis in 2011 thanks to a broken left ankle he suffered in training camp. But before his injury he was well on his way to becoming one of the best running backs in college football.

The 6-foot-0, 226-pounder burst onto the scene as a 2010 sophomore, rushing for 1,322 yards (tops among SEC backs) and 13 touchdowns. He was particularly effective in the last half of the regular season, rushing for 1,076 yards and 12 touchdowns as Arkansas rattled off six straight wins. The highlight of that stretch was a 152-yard effort in a victory over LSU. 

How good was Davis in 2010? He had 12 runs of 40 yards or more. His 6.48 yards per carry was the second best in SEC history for a back with at least 200 carries in a season. Only Garrison Hearst's 6.79 yards per carry in 1992 was better. This stat shows that he is not only explosive, but also capable of carrying a heavy load for the Razorbacks.

The word this offseason is that Davis is back and stronger than ever following his injury. His workout numbers tell the tale: The fastest 40-yard dash on the team (4.33), a bench press of 415 pounds and a squat of 570 pounds. News of him concussing a linebacker on a run early in 2012 fall camp further confirmed to us that a special season could be in store.

So while most of the Heisman love for SEC running backs is going to Marcus Lattimore, we bet it is Davis who is in a superior position to make a run at the trophy. While Arkansas is not a Heisman power, it does have a reputation for churning out quality running backs of late. Plus, the presence of future NFL first-round pick Tyler Wilson at quarterback will prevent defenses from keying on Davis. Lattimore may be a talent in his own right, but he does not have that same luxury at South Carolina. 

Davis' Heisman hopes will hinge on how well he performs in two high profile games. First up is a date with Alabama in mid-September. A productive rushing effort in a win over the Tide will put him on the Heisman map. The other key matchup is the regular season finale against LSU. Playing well in a win over the Tigers could make him a Heisman finalist. How he performs in between those two games will determine whether he heads to New York as a favorite, or as an also-ran.

Because he plays in the SEC, Davis doesn't necessarily need to produce a crazy statistical season to be a serious Heisman challenger. Keep in mind that Darren McFadden was the runner up in 2007 with 1,725 yards (at the time of the vote) and also in 2006, when he had 1,558 yards. In 2009, Mark Ingram had the fewest yards (1,542) by a Heisman-winning back since 1975 and the fewest yards per game (119) of any Heisman-winning back in the two-platoon era. So voters do take into account the degree of difficulty that exists for an SEC back.

However, McFadden did not actually win and Ingram's victory was the closest in the history of the Heisman vote. For Davis to have a real chance to become the next Heisman winner, he'll probably need at least 1,800 rushing yards--plus a win over either Alabama or LSU--by the time the voting occurs.

Can he do it? The talent is there. He plays in a wide-open offense that highlights his considerable abilities. This is a back who can run with power or sprint past defenders in a league filled with strong, fast defenses. If he picks up where he left off in 2010 and stays healthy the entire way, he should be an all-star. 

Will it be good enough to take home the bronze statue?  That will depend on how well the preseason favorites perform. But with few legitimate running back candidates in this race, Davis has a shot.

Read what De'Anthony Thomas has to do to win the Heisman here.

Read what Clemson's Tajh Boyd has to do to win the Heisman here.

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