Let’s make it official: No one can catch Arizona Wildcats sophomore running back Ka’Deem Carey from behind when it comes to the national rushing title.
He set the benchmark in the first bowl game of the season, rushing for 172 yards against Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl, to put his national-leading average at 148.38 yards per game.
Somebody then needed to post a big game to surpass Carey; it didn’t happen.
Oregon’s Kenjon Barner was the last guy to have a sliver of a chance. He needed 306 yards in the Fiesta Bowl on Thursday night; he finished with 143.
Now, with only four bowl games left, the rushing race is over.
Carey’s closest competition is Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. He’s had an amazing season, becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, but he’s not going to run for 749 yards against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night to pass Carey.
Carey, a consensus All-American, will become the first Arizona player to lead the nation in rushing since Art Luppino in 1955. That was the second of the Cactus Comet’s consecutive rushing titles, something Carey can shoot for in 2013.
“I think the biggest thing for Ka’Deem is to keep the same attitude he had this year as far as his eagerness to learn and his hunger to prove himself,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez told TucsonCitizen.com the week after the Dec. 15 New Mexico Bowl.
“And I think that is how he is made up. His mentality is that he loves football and he’s got great enthusiasm in practice and in games. He works hard in the weight room; he works hard in getting ready.
“We have to keep him hungry and keep him humble. But knowing Ka’Deem, I think he’s going to be that way anyway. And there are other goals we will push him to get to.”
Carey won the rushing title and All-America accolades on the strength of the second half of the season, especially the Pac-12 record 366 yards he had against Colorado on Nov. 10.
According to cfbstats.com, Carey was tied for 17th nationally in rushing for games in August and September (107.6 yards per game), was seventh in October (141.0) and first in November (199.0). His 172 yards in the bowl game ranks as the fifth-best total for December/January.
In addition to all that, Carey will end up leading the nation in most runs of 10-plus yards (58) and 20-plus yards (23).
There can be little doubt that Carey will be a preseason All-American in 2013 and could very well be rated the No. 1 running back in the nation when magazines and websites produce such lists.
Considering the running backs who are graduating and who already have declared early for the draft — such as Nevada’s Stefphon Jefferson, Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell and North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard (with more likely to come) — few big-school running backs will be close to Carey in terms of returning stats.
Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle (112.58 yards per game) is still mulling his decision to turn pro. After him, the next highest-ranked running back from a BCS automatic-qualifying school is Washington sophomore Bishop Sankey (110.69).
“We’ve had players on the cover on Sports Illustrated and who’ve had Heisman hype and all that,” Rodriguez said.
“It doesn’t bother me that a guy like Ka’Deem gets individual accolades as long as they don’t lose the team concept. We’ll do some promotional things that will help the program and help him get recognition, but not stray away from the team concept.”
It won’t be long before we start talking about Carey’s pro potential.
Rob Rang, a senior analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, hasn’t spent a lot of time breaking down film on Carey, but he did begin to form an opinion after watching the New Mexico Bowl.
“I was impressed to see him consistently make people miss and consistently turn nothing into 5, 8-plus yard gains,” Rang said.
“I mean, he’s dynamic. My first thought was he was making No. 25 proud. He looked like (the Philadelphia Eagles’) LeSean McCoy out there, bouncing back and forth.
“There is no doubt that Rich Rodriguez’s offense helps running backs, but the elusiveness Carey has — the starts and stops — he is fun to watch.”