It’s hard to ignore 408 rushing yards. Four hundred and eight rushing yards in a single game has a deep, abiding meaning in the American psyche. It’s irresistible. It’s astronomical.

It’s understandable, that the first press-conference question to Wisconsin Coach Gary Andersen and running back Melvin Gordon went like this: “Is the Heisman race settled, do you think now?”

No, it most certainly is not — or should not be — but the whole three-month appraisal did incur some tremors on Saturday in the great Madison. It got a good reshaping as Nebraska’s 17-3 lead vanished and Gordon’s numbers mushroomed. By the time he got to 408 and Wisconsin got to 59-24, you almost wished Nebraska could have pitched in a few quick scores so Andersen wouldn’t have to remove Gordon after the third quarter.

Could he have made 500?

Four-oh-eight is so powerful that it wrought shame among Nebraska’s former players and current tweeters. You imagine some of the more wrinkled fans who traveled the 400 miles from Lincoln, stood in the frigidity of Camp-Randall Stadium and watched a UFO (unidentified football object): a football program they once knew as a capital of brawn letting somebody, even a talented somebody, go to 408 in three quarters. You hope they flew. Driving back from that would be harsh.

There’s already a discussion of whether the Nebraska defense’s honored nickname, “Blackshirts,” should cease.

Maybe, for it was actually worse than 408. As a team, it was 581. Gordon averaged 16.3 yards per carry, Dare Ogunbowale 6.2, Tanner McEvoy 9.3, Kenzel Doe 18.5 on two carries. Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini called the tackling “atrocious” and said, “The thing that was very disappointing was when it got to the second level, in my opinion plays that should’ve been an eight- or 10-yard play turned into 40 or 50. That can’t happen.”

Actually, Nebraska-wise, eight or 10 shouldn’t happen all that much either.

All of that should factor into how we measure the 408, even as a 408 can be only whopping. Gordon has had a monster-number season, up to 1,909 yards now with 190.9 per game. Some of us have ignored him, though, because previous 200-yard games against Bowling Green, Northwestern and Purdue just didn’t grab the mind. In FBS games before Saturday, Wisconsin had faced rushing defenses ranked Nos. 49, 90, 86, 73, 124, 99, 101 and 91.

Obviously, those challenged defenses are statistically worse because of playing Wisconsin. Nebraska stood 20th before Saturday, then tumbled — and tumbled, and tumbled, and tumbled — to 75th. But it will be interesting to see how much Gordon’s vote total suffers from playing in the fifth-place conference, the Big Ten, a burden unimaginable last century. (He did gain 140 in a loss to LSU in late August.) And it will be interesting to see whether an anti-Big Ten bias based on quality still has less influence than an age-old anti-West Coast bias based on geography. One past case: LaDainian Tomlinson, whose single-game record Gordon surpassed, did not finish in the top 10 in the 1999 Heisman voting while rushing for 406 in one game — and 1,850 yards total — for then-overlooked TCU.

At very least, 408 and 1,909 and probably three games left surely have combined already to book Gordon to New York among the finalists. Anyone should relish being booked to New York in December.

Other contenders:

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: The front-runner should continue to be the front-runner although he did not play on Saturday. His touchdowns-to-interceptions remained 29-to-2, his docket includes three wins over ranked teams (two on the road), his completion percentage remains 67.1, and he still has those 656 rushing yards (subtracting for sacks) and eight touchdowns.

Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama: Even in a game when some Alabama fans lamented his two drops, this great football player finished with eight receptions for 88 yards, moving to 87 and 1,303 with 11 touchdowns for the season. Alabama’s 25-20 win over Mississippi State also restated that his presence is, of course, something for which other receivers should include in Thanksgiving prayers.

Shaq Thompson, RB/LB, Washington: It’s unique when a linebacker makes three solo tackles and recovers one fumble in a 27-26 loss, as Thompson just did, yet remains on this list. But when the player is such a player that he just moved back to linebacker after three weeks, 372 yards and 7.2 yards per carry as a running back just helping out his injury-depleted team, that too remains unique.

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: There’s probably a scenario where he could star against Ole Miss in two Saturdays and get back into the fray he has occupied all season, but those three interceptions in Alabama territory on the biggest stage at Alabama really, really hurt.

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