As he sprinted down the sideline, Bijan Robinson knew his season was ending on the right note. Texas was minutes away from winning the Alamo Bowl against Colorado. He had surpassed 100 total yards once again.
The fourth quarter had started a Robinson caught a pass from an under pressured Casey Thompson. The protection played in his favor and it was a sprint to the end zone. Robinson scored his third touchdown of the game and the Longhorns were rolling.
As the preseason rankings began to flutter, Robinson's name became a headline-grabbing title in the betting odds for the 2021 Heisman Trophy. For now, the sophomore's focus is elsewhere than hoisting the hardware.
“I know there’s a lot of hype around the Heisman Trophy, but I don’t really pay attention to that stuff, because if you start paying attention, then you start getting a big head, and you won’t work as hard," Robinson said Tuesday.
There are reasons to back the indication that Robinson could be a finalist for the league's best player in 2021. All he did he did during his freshman season was torch defenses in the Big 12 as the team's lead runner.
In 2020, he averaged 8.2 yards per carry and recorded 703 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Those first-year numbers were better than the likes of Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles, Priest Holmes, Ricky Williams and even Earl Campbell.
The two latter names are already members of the elite fraternity, having won the award in 1977 (Campbell) and 1998 (Williams), respectively. In Robinson's future, having his name on the list one day would great.
As of today, it's about prepping for the start of the new campaign under a different coaching staff.
“Me and the coaches talk all the time about just keep staying focused," Robinson said. "God’s blessed me, but I’m still a young player. I’ve got so much to work on. I’m just trying to develop at the right pace, at the right speed. I’ve just got to keep trying to be the best I can be each day. Those things are down the line.”
As College Football becomes primarily a passing game, the attention to turns to wide receivers in the race for the Heisman over running backs. In fact, the past two non-quarterbacks to join the club both came from Alabama, with running back Derrick Henry winning the award in 2015 and wide receiver DeVonta Smith taking home the trophy this past January.
For Robinson, his role is expected to flourish under new coach Steve Sarkisian. The Alabama offensive coordinator made it a factor to utilize his running backs not just on the ground, but also in the passing game.
Najee Harris proved to be an asset in Sarkisian's system with a total of 729 receiving yards off 70 catches and scored 11 touchdowns in two years. He finished fifth in Heisman voting after tallying near 1,900 yards of offense and 28 total touchdowns.
Last season, Robinson showed the potential he can bring as a pass-catcher with 15 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
"They used him in a lot of different ways from either swings out of the backfield, getting in open space, running through the tackles," Robinson said of the Alabama offense. "Ever since Sark came here, we've been doing the exact same stuff. Getting us in opening space, running the ball efficiently in counters, outside zone, whatever it is to make the best decision for this offense.
"It's been a good look ever since he's been here."
Heisman hype will always be formed from a marquee moment from the season before. It's was Robinson's finish to the 2020 season that lit the flame entering January. In the season finale against Kansas State and in the Alamo Bowl, the Tucson native recorded 19 carries for 355 yards (18.7 ypc) and four touchdowns, along with five receptions for 88 yards and two more scores.
Games like that will do wonders for the confidence of a player. For Robinson, it's a reminder that the surface has been scratched for what could be in years to come.
"It just shows what we can do, especially with coach Sark coming here," Robinson said. "As an offense, when we start doing the right thing and start attacking defenses, we can do anything."
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