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Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, and Leonard Fournette against a common opponent

All three played vs. Florida. What do the numbers reveal?

Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Heisman Trophy talk has reached a zenith of late, as Championship Saturday wraps up and we look toward the bowls. While some quarterbacks have certainly gained recognition, this could well be the year of the running back, three of whom star for powerhouse programs in the southeast. Of course, comparing players can be tricky, as they tend to face a number of different defenses. The College Football Playoff committee utilizes teams' performances against common opponents to formulate its rankings-- and this year, three of the top running backs in the country share a common foe: the University of Florida.

Examining the performance of each against the Gators is particularly relevant because it demonstrates just how well they perform against a top-ten rushing defense. LSU's Leonard Fournette had the first shot at UF when the Tigers beat Florida in October. He rushed 31 times for 180 yards, an average of 5.8 yards per carry. He scored two touchdowns, and also had a catch for 15 yards. His longest run was a 25-yarder.

Next up to defeat Florida were the Seminoles, led by Dalvin Cook, who had the most efficient game of the three against the Gators. He went for 183 yards on 26 totes, an average of 7.0 YPC. He also found pay dirt on a pair of occasions, and snagged three receptions for 11 yards. Cook was also the most explosive of the trio against UF, with a long rush of 32 yards.

Derrick Henry finished with the most rushing yards against Florida in the Crimson Tide's SEC Championship Game win, but that was largely a product of volume (as is much of Henry's success this season, frankly). He edged Cook and Fournette with 189 rushing yards-- but needed 44 carries to get there, an average of just 4.3 YPC. It took Henry 28 carries -- two more than Cook had all game against UF -- just to reach 100 yards. Henry got into the end zone just once, didn't register a reception, and lost a fumble, too. His longest rush from scrimmage: 21 yards.

Of course, the common-opponent metric purports to examine players on a level playing field-- but that isn't really the case here, as these players didn't all face the UF defense in the same situation: Fournette got the Gators at home, Henry played them at a neutral site in Atlanta, while Cook did his damage in front of the most fans to ever watch a game in The Swamp.