Gator Bowl, Nebraska vs. Georgia, 01.01.2014

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) breaks free of Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera (52) during the first half of the Gator Bowl on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla.

My heavens, the Heisman Trophy fraternity would adore this guy as a standard-bearer.

Ameer Abdullah is team-oriented, degree-oriented, family-oriented, big-yardage-oriented and media-oriented.

Nary a hint of scandal follows Nebraska's hard-charging senior running back.

Cold-water alert: I'm skeptical of his chances to claim the Heisman. You have to be. He's a curiosity at this ridiculously early point in the discussion. In the eyes of many, he takes a backseat to players such as Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Braxton Miller and Bryce Petty, if only because quarterbacks have won seven of the past eight trophies.

Oh, but things could change. Quickly.

Auburn running back Tre Mason suddenly became prominent in the 2013 equation only after two mega-performances in late November and early December.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron shot to the forefront of Heisman discourse with a 99-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the Iron Bowl. Alas, it took merely 10 minutes, and an improbable Auburn comeback, for McCarron to fade back into the pack.

Yeah, it can be that fickle.

At any rate, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is comfortable promoting Abdullah, such is Ameer's maturity as a person and value as a  representative of the program.

Husker officials set up a news conference Thursday, ostensibly for Abdullah to address his decision to return to school instead of entering the NFL Draft. Perhaps it was a subtle start to a 2014 promotional campaign.

Abdullah clearly likes being mentioned with 2013 Heisman winner Winston, the supremely precocious Florida State quarterback. Abdullah said he's "good friends" with Winston, a fellow Alabama native.

"At the end of the day, you have to take it with a grain of salt and understand there are going to be a lot of high expectations now," Abdullah said of being mentioned as an early Heisman contender. "You have to stay humble and stay focused on what matters at this point.

"The Heisman doesn't matter at this point. It's about getting stronger, getting faster, getting back up to speed and getting prepared for next year."

Abdullah's candidacy could gain serious momentum in September, when Nebraska travels to Fresno State and plays Miami in Lincoln. Then comes a potentially defining moment Oct. 4 at Michigan State.

To wit: Note the third of 10 "Heismandments" listed by heismanpundit.com. "The winner must put up good numbers in big games on TV."

No. 4: "The winner must have some prior name recognition." That works in Abdullah's favor.

No. 7: "If you're a quarterback, running back or multi-purpose athlete at one of the following schools -- Notre Dame, USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami, Florida and Florida State -- you have a good chance to win if you have a very good statistical season, are an upperclassman and your team wins at least nine games." Attainable, right?

Abdullah this past season rushed for 1,690 yards (6.0 per carry) and scored 11 touchdowns as Nebraska finished 9-4. He could use a few more TDs and far fewer fumbles. A few more wins really would help matters.

Oh, by the way, Heismandment No. 10: "The winner must be likeable."

Abdullah is a prince. He's become savvy and at ease in front of a media horde. What's more, he's a hit with many female fans, if ya' know what I mean.

He said he hasn't scratched the surface of his full potential. I beg to differ. But who am I to say?

And who would I be to count him out of the Heisman chase? I'm just skeptical. But also very curious.

Reach Steven M. Sipple at 402-473-7440 or ssipple@journalstar.com.


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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