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How Arizona Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey rates nationally

Ka'Deem Carey

Ka’Deem Carey runs the ball in the New Mexico Bowl against Nevada. Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Ka’Deem Carey’s legal problems have been resolved — misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct charges were dropped Friday — it’s safe to take a closer look at how the Arizona Wildcats junior running back fits into the national scene.

Some college football magazines have Carey as a preseason second-team All-American, but I’m responsible for the ratings for Lindy’s College Football Annuals, and I had no trouble ranking him as the No. 1 running back in the country.

(ESPN’s Danny Kannell agrees with me, in a segment that aired on the network Friday. See embedded video below.)

It’s all perfectly logical. Carey is returning after leading the nation in rushing last season with 1,929 yards, averaging 6.37 per carry, and running for a school-record 23 touchdowns. He led the nation in rushes of 10-plus yards (58) and 20-plus yards (23).

He was a consensus All-American last season; there’s little reason to downgrade him.

Yes, he does play in Rich Rodriguez’s space-creating, running-back friendly offense, but Carey is not simply a product of the system. Others have noticed. Carey is popping up as first-round talent in early 2014 NFL Draft projections, including this one from Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com/CBS Sports.

Rang, who lists Carey at No. 26 overall, told me this recently:

“From what I’ve seen, I think he’s the whole package. I see speed; I see elusiveness; I see enough power out of him. Physically speaking, he looks like he has everything you’re looking for. But he has to demonstrate he has the work ethic, the maturity to be successful.”

That last part is true. Carey spent the early part of this offseason being a knucklehead, but now he has sidestepped his legal difficulties and can focus on the beginning of camp in several weeks.

After I ranked Carey at No. 1 among running backs for Lindy’s, I went with Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk (nearly as dominant as Carey down the stretch last season) and then a pair of SEC sophomores — Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon.

Gurley and Yeldon might project as the best pro prospects among that quartet — and they will have the largest say about the national championship race — but Carey doesn’t have to take a backseat … and his production should continue to out-pace everyone.

(Others will include Oregon junior De’Anthony Thomas among the best running backs in the nation, but I think it’s best to just say the Black Mamba is the top all-purpose player in the country and leave it at that. He still has to prove his durability as more of an every-down back.)

None of this, however, is to suggest that Carey is a very good Heisman candidate.

That’s an entirely different argument.

The Heisman has become, almost exclusively, an award for quarterbacks on Top 10 teams. Even more specifically, the award has trended toward dual-purpose quarterbacks (Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton) in the past three seasons.

A quarterback has won every year since 2000, except in 2005 (now vacated by USC’s Reggie Bush) and in 2009 (Alabama’s Mark Ingram). Both candidacies were boosted by the fact they played on elite teams. Arizona won’t be one of those in 2013.

Here’s a more-detailed look at what the Heisman has become. Here are the past 11 QB winners and their team’s record before the bowls:

Year Winner, school Record
2000 Chris Weinke, Florida State 11-1
2001 Eric Crouch, Nebraska 11-1
2002 Carson Palmer, USC 10-2
2003 Jason White, Oklahoma 12-1
2004 Matt Leinart, USC 12-0
2006 Troy Smith, Ohio State 12-0
2007 Tim Tebow, Florida 9-3
2008 Sam Bradford, Oklahoma 12-1
2010 Cam Newton, Auburn 13-0
2011 Robert Griffin III, Baylor 9-3
2012 Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M 10-2

That’s a hard trend to buck.

Not saying it’s right, but I find it hard to believe that Carey, even with slight improvement on his excellent 2012 numbers, is going to be a legitimate Heisman candidate, given that the Wildcats are expected to have only modest success this season.

But should he be a preseason first-team All-American? Absolutely.

He has the talent and the production, and you would he’s learned some lessons this offseason. Enjoy him while you can.

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