December 11, 2014

MADISON, Wis. (AP) The voice sounded a little weary. The steps were a bit slow, at least compared to Melvin Gordon's usual gait around Camp Randall Stadium.

Nearing the end of a memorable season, 17th-ranked Wisconsin's star running back sounded and looked like he could use a pick-me-up days after his team's humbling 59-0 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

Maybe a chance to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday will cheer him up.

''You don't want to leave here just being another guy,'' Gordon said. ''You want people to remember you.''

He's already put together a remarkable year.

A Big Ten single-season record 2,336 yards rushing - the fourth-highest mark in NCAA history. Twenty-nine touchdowns. He is just Wisconsin's fourth finalist for the Heisman Trophy, joining fellow running backs and winners Alan Ameche (1954) and Ron Dayne (1999); and Montee Ball, who finished fourth in 2011 and finished with an NCAA-record 83 touchdowns.

Yet ask Gordon what he thinks he might be remembered for most, and he sounds a little down.

''I don't really know to be honest. Montee set the touchdown record. Ron - Mr. Dayne - he won the Heisman leading in rushing. I kind of got nothing,'' Gordon said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press at the team's training facility.

Gordon did set the single-game record with 408 yards rushing against Nebraska last month. But he held the mark just for a week before it was broken by Oklahoma's Samaje Perine.

Gordon had to be reminded that he still owned several conference and school records. He's also averaging 7.6 yards per carry for his career, which would set an NCAA record. Wisconsin finishes the season on New Year's Day at the Outback Bowl against No. 19 Auburn.

Winning the Heisman, though, might be a longshot at this point. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the clear front-runner.

The blowout loss to the Buckeyes, in which Gordon ran for 76 yards on 26 carries, didn't help.

''Yeah,'' Gordon said disappointingly when asked if the loss affected the race. ''It definitely did, but you know, what can you do about it, man? That's how the cards played out.''

Other than that, the last year has played out as well as can be expected for the junior from Kenosha.

A year ago, Gordon was weighing whether to bypass the 2014 season to enter the NFL draft. It took him about eight days to decide to come back to Wisconsin.

Gordon was determined to work on his receiving skills and blocking. In the pass-happy NFL, running backs must be well-rounded to succeed.

By all accounts, he's improved immensely in both areas, as well as running with power between the tackles. A long future awaits him in the pros.

Gordon seems especially proud of what he's done off the field. From spring practice to the Heisman hype, Gordon has projected an engaging personality before the cameras. He's turned into a team leader.

''When something doesn't go his way or is going his way, he's `Steady Eddie' - he's going to get his best shot every single week,'' former coach Gary Andersen said recently.

Gordon said Wednesday morning that he was entering the draft after the bowl game, ending the worst-kept secret in Madison. It turns out he'll be with the Badgers one game longer than Andersen, after the coach left for Oregon State in a stunning move after two seasons.

While not shy, Gordon was usually one to let others give the pregame motivational speeches. He also didn't do it in high school, he said, when he was a team captain.

It changed this season with the Badgers.

''I wasn't nervous - it was just never who I was. I like playing with my actions, work hard and not say anything. Just do what I need to do, show up,'' Gordon said. ''Coach Andersen challenged me to further myself with my leadership roles. I think I did that. I'm proud of myself, definitely.''

It had nothing to do with his most unforgettable trait - running the football.

HE'LL WIN VOTES FOR: The 408-yard game - through three quarters - against Nebraska in what was billed as a Heisman candidate duel with the Cornhuskers' Ameer Abdullah. No letup down the stretch run of the regular season. A career rushing record in a league with a legacy of standout running backs. A good off-field reputation.

HE'LL LOSE VOTES FOR: A clunker in his last game against Ohio State. Week 2 against Western Illinois also still sticks out for a shocking lack of productivity - 38 yards on 17 carries. To be fair, the Badgers were still experimenting at quarterback and won with a confidence-building outing for the passing game against a lower-division school. The offensive line didn't play well. Still, 38 yards? Against Western Illinois? Also, lackluster Big Ten schedule outside of Nebraska and Minnesota.

NFL PROSPECTS: Gordon might have been a lock for a top five pick - a decade ago. But the stock for running backs has dropped in the pass-happy NFL. Still, Gordon has improved in every area that has been asked of him. He could very well be the first running back taken, though probably not an option until after midway of the first round.

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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