Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor joined an exclusive group against Illinois on Saturday.
The Badgers running back became one of just a few running backs to rush for over 5,000 yards in less than three seasons of college football. Taylor surpassed the mark with a seven-yard carry on his second rushing attempt of the game.
Depending on how you want to quantify it, Taylor is one of three or four running backs who have broken the 5,000-yard mark in their first three seasons of college football because of a statistical quirk. The NCAA didn’t start counting bowl game stats as official statistics until 2002. And it isn’t doing so retroactively.
So Taylor’s 5,000-yard total includes his two bowl game appearances while the official career rushing total of Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne doesn’t. Dayne, considered the greatest Badger running back ever (or at least before Taylor is done), officially has 6,397 rushing yards. But when you count Dayne’s bowl game statistics in that total, Dayne has over 7,000 career rushing yards and broke the 5,000-yard barrier in his junior season.
The first running back to break the 5,000-yard mark — bowl games or not — was Georgia great Herschel Walker. The Bulldogs RB ran for 5,259 yards in 33 games from 1980-1982. He’s officially the fastest to 5,000 yards as well. Saturday’s game against Illinois was Taylor’s 34th game.
The other running back to break 5,000 yards before the end of his junior season was former Oregon running back LaMichael James, who surpassed 5,000 yards in Oregon’s Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin in January of 2012. Former Northern Illinois running back Garrett Wolfe also accumulated over 5,000 rushing yards in three seasons, but Wolfe’s first rushing attempt came as a sophomore.
While the Heisman Trophy discussion centers around quarterbacks like LSU’s Joe Burrow, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, Taylor deserves to be in the conversation, though his role in that conversation is now likely diminished. The No. 6 Badgers lost 24-23 and fell from the ranks of the unbeaten.
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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