To date, Kenjon Barner's biggest hurdle to a Heisman Trophy-worthy senior season has been a lack of playing time.
Second-ranked Oregon has blown out each of its first seven opponents to start the 2012 season, meaning Barner has seen relatively few second-half snaps.
But the Ducks' starting running back has been piling up the stats nonetheless, and coming off his third game of the season with at least three touchdowns, Barner has once again proven that he belongs in the Heisman conversation.
Oregon's speedy, shifty tailback carried the ball 16 times for 143 yards and three touchdowns in Thursday night's 43-21 blowout of Arizona State. Like most of his fellow starters, Barner watched the majority of the second half from the sideline, after the Ducks blazed their way to a 43-7 lead with more than 11 minutes left in the second quarter.
That lead came courtesy of Barner's third TD of the game, giving him 13 overall this season -- 12 rushing, one receiving. He put the Ducks on the board early in the first with a 71-yard touchdown run through the middle of ASU's defense that kicked off the Ducks' rout after the Sun Devils had taken a 7-0 lead just 23 seconds prior.
Two one-yard touchdown runs from Barner in the second quarter helped Oregon put away the game, his last one providing the Ducks' final score and allowing coach Chip Kelly to begin resting his starters with more than 41 minutes left to play.
The 143 yards at ASU gives Barner 870 on the season -- eighth-best in the NCAA. Most impressive about Barner's output thus far is that he's done it on pretty limited playing time. He has 132 carries, and has rushed more than 20 times in a game only once this season, in a workhorse effort against Fresno State, when he had 34 attempts for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
But that followed an opener in which Barner played just seven series, carrying nine times for 66 yards and two TDs, and it preceded a game in which he carried just 13 times for 57 yards and a TD while sitting all but one series of the second half.
Barner has done a lot of damage in the Ducks' past three games, though, scoring seven touchdowns and rushing for 460 yards and six touchdowns on 56 carries, and catching three passes for 37 yards and another TD. He had 195 rushing yards and four total touchdowns in the Ducks' 51-26 win at Washington State, and totaled 122 yards on 20 carries in a 52-21 win over Washington.
If Barner is going to make a serious push for the Heisman, he's going to have to do it in November while helping the Ducks overcome a challenging slate of games.
Oregon's next opponent is Colorado, at Autzen Stadium next Saturday, and it doesn't seem likely Barner would see much second-half playing time in that one. But a week later, the Ducks are at USC, followed by a trip to Cal, a home game against Stanford and the regular-season finale at Oregon State.
Those games figure to make or break Oregon's season, and they will most certainly make or break Barner's Heisman hopes, as well.
Sources:2012 Oregon football statistics
Adam Sparks has been following Oregon Ducks football since 1990, and has written about the team as a freelancer since 2009.
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