As the college football season progresses deeper and deeper into conference play, the playoff race is heating up along with the Heisman race.
The early preseason favorites for this award were USC’s QB Sam Darnold after an impressive second half of the 2016 season when he took over the starting job and Louisville’s QB Lamar Jackson, the reigning Heisman winner. Jackson started hot out of the gate and seemed to have the lead heading into his matchup with Clemson. However, Clemson didn’t let Jackson explode for a big day and Jackson lost his edge on the race. Jackson currently ranks #2 in yards this season with 2808 but only has 18 passing touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Sam Darnold did not get off to a great Heisman-worthy start and his campaign for the award fizzled out early in the year. He has struggled with turning the ball over this year with 10 interceptions and 6 lost fumbles, which is tied for worst in the NCAA.
Both Louisville and USC have struggled as teams this year, with USC standing at 7-2 after starting out the year as #4 in the country and Louisville with a record of 5-4. Jackson still has a chance for the Heisman if he can recreate last year’s magic in Louisville’s final games but Darnold has excluded himself from the race with his turnover-riddled season. However, Darnold has expressed interest in returning to USC for his junior season.
Here are a look at my top 5 Heisman candidates through Week 9 of the college football season:
- Baker Mayfield’s season started off strong with a win in their second game against the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes. He marched into Columbus and brought down a strong preseason title favorite. He went 27-35 with 386 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Oklahoma cruised to a 31-16 victory in the Shoe and showed college football fans all over the country what he can do. He has continued to impress this season by throwing for 2,628 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions. He ranks 8th in passing yards, tied for 5th in touchdowns, and 2nd in completion percentage at a rate of 72.5%. He has eclipsed 300 yards in all but 2 of Oklahoma’s games this season and tossed for over 400 yards in the win against Kansas State.
Pro: Mayfield is close to the top in almost every statistical category for quarterbacks and has that huge win against Ohio State in Columbus. He should be a finalist if he continues to throw for over 300 yards per game and Oklahoma wins the Big 12 title. He has the Sooners averaging 42.9 points per game in their 8 games this year and has them in good position to return to the playoffs.
Con: The biggest argument against Baker at the moment is Oklahoma’s loss to Iowa State. Although the loss looked bad at the time, it doesn’t look so bad now with Iowa State winning two ranked games this year and being placed in the AP Top 25. Also, that Iowa State loss was not on Mayfield. He threw for 306 yards and 2 touchdowns without turning the ball over. Mayfield has a legitimate chance to be the next Heisman winner.
- Stanford RB Bryce Love has surprised everyone this season after being virtually unknown before the season. Most college football fans knew about the explosiveness of Christian McCaffrey but didn’t know that there was someone just as explosive waiting in the rings, anxious for his time. Love has easily been the top running back in college football this season. He ranks #1 in rushing yards, slightly edging out Rashaad Penny of San Diego State. This is even more impressive when you learn that Love has played 2 less games than Penny and still has the advantage on him in yards. He has 11 rushing touchdowns this season and he has ripped off a run of at least 53 yards in every game. That is the only game where he did not have a 60+ yard run. He is averaging over 10 yards per carry and has helped Stanford to a 6-2 record, which they are unlikely to have if he is not playing.
Pro: Love has been absolutely unstoppable this season when he has played. His worst game was a 147-yard performance, which any back in college football would love to have. He has a 263-yard game and a 301-yard game this season, where it didn’t seem like he could even be tackled. His stats are clearly good enough for a Heisman and he will certainly bring home some hardware this season, even if it is not the Heisman Trophy.
Con: Right now, the only hindrance to Love’s Heisman campaign is his ankle. He was hurt last week with an ankle injury and missed the game against Oregon State. Stanford survived the Beavers, but Love’s absence was clearly felt. A terrible Oregon State team held Stanford to 15 points in a 15-14 win for the Cardinal. The duration of this injury is unknown and Love is questionable for Stanford’s matchup with #25 Washington State this weekend.
- Mason Rudolph has been a man on a mission this season, and his numbers reflect it. He is the best quarterback in college football in passing yards this season with 2866 and he has done that on only 276 attempts, which is the second-lowest of quarterbacks in the top 10 for passing yards. He has thrown for 22 touchdowns and limited his turnovers to just 5 interceptions. Rudolph has only played in 8 games this season, one less than the next two quarterbacks in passing ranks: Lamar Jackson of Louisville and Nick Stevens of Colorado State. His numbers often look like Madden numbers if you were playing on “Rookie.”
Pro: To begin the season, Rudolph’s first half numbers could have been interpreted as whole game numbers, sometimes even 2- game numbers, if someone didn’t know any better. His lowest output of passing yards through the first 6 games was 303 and that was because he was benched due to their commanding lead against Tulsa. Against Pittsburgh, Rudolph threw for 497 yards and 5 touchdowns. Against Baylor, he threw for 459 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 59-16 thrashing. Rudolph should end the year with the most passing yards unless an injury or the apocalypse occurs.
Con: Rudolph’s biggest hurdle to the Heisman is his lack of rushing yards. Although not necessary for a Heisman-winning QB, most recent winners have had great rushing seasons. Lamar Jackson, Marcus Mariota, Johnny Manziel, and Robert Griffin III were all dual threats who could have big rushing games if the passing game wasn’t there. However, Rudolph doesn’t have that and it could hurt him if the passing game falters in the last few weeks of the season.
- JT Barrett wasn’t even on most people’s Heisman radar before last week. Then came the game against Penn State. Most fans think of Barrett as the guy who doesn’t show up in big games and can’t hit a man downfield to save his life. They think of the 31-0 embarrassment against Clemson or the 31-16 loss to Oklahoma this season. That reputation of choker might have ended last Saturday in The Shoe. He went 33-39 for 328 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions against Penn State’s stingy defense. He threw 3 touchdowns in the 4th quarter to lead Ohio State to an 18-point comeback against the #2 team in the nation. Barrett’s heroism will never be forgotten by Buckeye fans like myself. I will always feel a sense of gratitude for what JT did on Saturday October 28.
Pro: The game against Penn State will be the “Heisman moment” for the committee if they decide to choose him. Barrett proved to himself that he had the ability to lead the Buckeyes in a big game when called upon. Every one of his games since the Oklahoma disaster has been outstanding. He has the Buckeyes offense averaging over 50 points per game since then and has 22 touchdowns and 0 interceptions since that game.
Con: Barrett can’t revert to his old habits. He needs to finish off the year strong and continue to avoid turnovers. Barrett can’t afford to have another game like the Oklahoma one for the rest of this season. He has a tough stretch to end the season, going against Iowa on the road, Michigan State at home, and Michigan in Ann Arbor. This is tough but Barrett proved last weekend what he can in the face of adversity.
1. Saquon Barkley seemed to have the Heisman wrapped up in a nice little bow entering last week. Then, he went up against the formidable Ohio State defense. He struggled to put together anything against the Buckeyes front seven and ended up with 44 yards on 21 carries and only 23 yards on 4 catches. The Buckeyes effectively shut him down on defense. However, Barkley still had his Heisman-worthy moments in that game including a 97-yard kickoff return and a 36-yard rush that quieted the raucous crowd in Columbus.
Pro: Barkley has had magnificent games all season long. He ranks 23rd in rushing yards but this fails to matter when you can catch the ball out of the backfield like Barkley can. He had 142 receiving yards in a game against Georgia State this season and has had other big games in the air. He also is the biggest threat returning kickoffs and punts as he showed last week. He is 4th in kick return yards and tied for 2nd in kickoff returns for touchdowns this season with 2. He has had his share of Heisman moments like the bobbled grab against Michigan for a touchdown, the 85-yard touchdown reception against Georgia State, or the kickoff return against Ohio State on the first play of the game. Barkley is easily my favorite to win the Heisman and I think he will get it unless Barrett continues to dominate throughout the rest of the season.
Con: Barkley finally was shut down on the ground against the Buckeyes and this definitely closed up his lead on the Heisman Trophy. If any other team on Penn State’s schedule can shut him down again like Ohio State did, which is almost impossible, Barkley might lose his lead for the most prestigious trophy in college football.