Simple math cannot be debated. Numbers are numbers, and numbers never lie. Two plus two will always equal four. But then there is math, and then there are statistics. While math never lies, statistics tell a story and can often be used to bend the truth. With the right statistics I could convince you the moon is square.
In the purest mathematical sense, Evan Royster is the greatest running back to ever wear a Penn State uniform. This was cemented in the history books when he passed the great Curt Warner against Michigan two weeks ago. Currently, Royster has 3652 career rushing yards, which is greater than the 3398 yards Warner amassed in his career. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and Royster deserves credit and accolades for staying healthy and consistent for four years.
That being said, Royster is not on the same level as Curt Warner. For that matter, he's not on the same level as many of the great Penn State running backs in Penn State history. Not when you compare his performance in big games to the performances of guys like Lenny Moore, Lydell Mitchell, John Cappelletti, Ki-Jana Carter, and Curtis Enis.
Looking at Warner's performance in big games is truly staggering. In 1980 he rushed for 146 yards against Miami and 155 yards against No. 11 ranked Ohio State. In 1981 he rushed for 238 yards against No. 15 ranked Nebraska, 104 yards against No. 1 ranked Pitt, and 145 yards against No. 7 ranked USC outgaining the Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Allen in the Fiesta Bowl. In 1982 Warner rushed for 143 yards against No. 13 Notre Dame and 118 yards against No. 5 Pitt. And then he outgained Heisman winner Herschel Walker in the national championship game with 117 yards and 2 TD. (Note that three of these games were bowl games which were not counted in player stats back then. If you included Warner's bowl game stats he actually rushed for over 3800 yards for his career. And he didn't have the benefit of a 12th regular season game like Royster does.)
Looking at the other great running backs of Penn State lore, they all gave us moments that made them legends. Lenny Moore's battles with Syracuse and Jim Brown are legendary. John Cappelletti won a Heisman and gave the most moving speech in the history of the award. Curtis Enis owned Ohio State rushing for 357 yards in two games. Blair Thomas dropped 214 yards and a TD in a huge upset of No. 7 ranked Notre Dame in 1987. Carter broke 100 yards against USC, Michigan, Ohio State, and Oregon in 1994 and should have won the Heisman that year. Both Enis and Carter would have smashed Warner's record if they had come back for their senior years.
Now let's look at Royster's performance in big games. In three games against Ohio State he has a total of 129 yards and no touchdowns. In the last two games against Iowa he has a total of 124 yards and no touchdowns. He went down with an injury and didn't play most of the game against USC in the 2009 Rose Bowl. He only managed 65 yards against LSU in the Capital One Bowl, and again, no touchdowns. Yeah, he's put some impressive numbers up against Michigan the past three years, but those have been Wolverine teams with horrible defenses and losing records.
Every time Evan Royster has been on the big stage, he flopped. Ten years from now when my kids are going through my sports memorabilia and they pull out my Penn State hat with Evan Royster's autograph on it they're going to ask me, "Dad, tell me about some of the great games Evan Royster had." Honestly, at this point I don't know what I'm going to tell them.
That's why tomorrow night is so important for Evan Royster. He's a man with a record, but he's a man with no legacy. People will recite the stats and they will sound impressive, but when pressed to come up with a "Royster moment" they will come up empty.
I acknowledge that this post will probably piss off a lot of people. That comes with the territory of being a blogger and I'm okay with it. Maybe this post will get passed along to Evan himself. If so, good. I hope it pissed him off and motivates him because time is running out. His college career is quickly coming to an end. A big game against Indiana, Michigan State, or some fourth place team in the Big XII isn't going to cut it. Saturday night is the most important game of Evan Royster's career, and his legacy.