By Troy Phillips
FORT WORTH, Texas (Dec. 19, 2017) – The wider narrative will say Rashaad Penny was snubbed by not being invited to the Heisman Trophy party in New York a few weeks back.
Pending the result of today’s 15th Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl that pairs Army West Point (9-3) against San Diego State (10-2) and running back Penny, the snub is either good or bad news.
Good news for the Aztecs to have a quietly motivated back? Bad for Army that it has to stop one? We’ll see.
“He’s not the kind of guy that really cares,” SDSU coach Rocky Long said. “He would like those kinds of things to happen, but it’s not a big deal. He really got snubbed for the Doak Walker [Award for the top college back]. It bothered his teammates a lot. He’s a driven guy anyway. He wants to be good for them, and that’s what makes him so special.”
Penny was special to the tune of 2,027 yards and 19 touchdowns this season, and he scored three more TDs on kickoff or punt returns and had a pair of touchdown catches as well.
Penny’s yardage led FBS, and his lowest output in any of the Aztecs’ victories was 108 yards. Fresno State held him to 69 and Boise State to 53 (both losses), which might or might not have tempered his Heisman finalist chances.
Still, SDSU beat a pair of Pac-12 teams in Stanford (the league runner up) and Arizona State, and Penny torched those two for 175 and 216 yards, respectively.
Perhaps it’s increasingly difficult for non-Power Five conference players to receive national recognition or be considered for such awards. Penny’s team plays in the Mountain West, a Group of Five conference fighting uphill for respect.
“He should be a Heisman finalist no matter where he plays,” Army coach Jeff Monken said. “He’s proven he’s one of the best backs in the nation, if not the best one. I saw a little of him when we prepared for Air Force, our only common opponent.
“I will lose enough sleep preparing for him. A lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief they didn’t draw San Diego State in a bowl.”
SDSU could have its hands full on defense with Army’s running game that led FBS with more than 4,000 yards. Penny is Army’s chief concern on defense and special teams (he has nearly 2,700 all-purpose yards, which also is tops in the nation).
The Aztecs’ other back, Juwan Washington, has 715 rushing yards and seven TDs. SDSU is also comfortable in the passing game with quarterback Christian Chapman (1,847 yards, 13 TDs).
Air Force’s Jared Tew set the current Armed Forces Bowl rushing record in 2009 with 173 yards, a mark at which Penny could take aim.
“He’s big and strong, can break tackles, make you miss and outrun you, and he has good vision,” said Long, pretty much covering Penny’s attributes. “But he’s a humble team guy, and that’s what stands out to us.”