A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 9 of the college football season. Jalen Hurts and Baker Mayfield enter the race, replacing Trevor Knight and Greg Ward Jr.
Apparently, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson heard his critics following the Oct. 14 close call with Duke. And the NC State defense paid the price over the weekend. Jackson maintained his lead by torching the Wolfpack on the ground and especially through the air. In fact, he padded it, because Deshaun Watson and Dalvin Cook were idle, J.T. Barrett lost and Jabrill Peppers failed to deliver any highlight-reel moments.
Through eight weeks of the 2016 season, we break down how the contenders are lining up for this season’s Heisman Trophy.
10. Baylor QB Seth Russell
Following an offseason of turbulence and rolling heads in Waco, Russell was exactly what the Bears needed him to be in the first half—steady, healthy, and at times, prolific. The numbers are sufficient to contend, including 16 passing touchdowns and five rushing scores. However, Russell has yet to face a quality defense this season, which explains his inability to elevate any higher. He’ll be more closely scrutinized in the second half, when Texas, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and West Virginia pop up on the Baylor schedule.
9. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey returned to action after missing last week’s Notre Dame game, but he remains hamstrung by an offense that’s providing no help up front or in the passing game. He toughed out 92 yards on 21 carries in a 10-5 loss to visiting Colorado, adding a couple of receptions for 26 yards. In other words, the likelihood that McCaffrey will join Jim Plunkett as the only Cardinal players to win the Heisman has all but evaporated. In fact, the junior undoubtedly peaked by finishing as the runner-up in 2015.
8. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
Every season produces at least one out-of-leftfield Heisman contender. Hurts is one those kids in 2016. Despite being a true freshman, he’s brought a new dimension to the top-ranked team, a zone-read option that’s never existed under Nick Saban. And Hurts has exhibited uncommon poise in the spotlight, the byproduct of being a coach’s son. He threw two picks, but he also accounted for three scores in the win over No. 6 Texas A&M. Hurts is generating enough buzz to be considered a top-10 candidate.
7. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield has done his penance following a slow start, and he’s back on the Heisman short list. One of the favorites entering the season has been the spark plug for the Sooners, who’ve ridden a four-game winning streak back into the Top 25 and Big 12 prominence. During the winning streak, Mayfield has thrown 16 touchdown passes, including a single-game, school-record seven this past Saturday night to outgun Patrick Mahomes in Lubbock. Mayfield is having fun again, and it’s become infectious throughout the OU program.
6. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Among Heisman-caliber tailbacks, no one has been better than Cook, who’s rushed for 900 yards and seven scores on 159 carries. He’s also caught 21 passes for 356 yards and another touchdown, a testament to his versatility. Still, he’s yet to gain traction, because the Noles have lost twice and he was kept in check in marquee games with Ole Miss and Louisville. If Cook has any hopes of ascending into the top tier of contenders, he has to be the MVP of a Florida State win over Clemson this upcoming Saturday.
5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Barrett had an opportunity to pilot a come-from-behind victory in Happy Valley, but he and his Buckeyes fell short, losing for the first time in 2016. And for a player whose candidacy is tied more to his leadership and team success than his individual numbers, Saturday’s loss to Penn State is a crushing setback. Barrett was average in defeat and routinely pummeled in the second half, so he’ll need to rally Ohio State back into playoff contention to have a shot of returning to the thick of the Heisman hunt.
4. Washington QB Jake Browning
Another week, another crisp outing from Browning, who’s become a model of consistency for Washington. He helped lead the Huskies to an uncontested win over Oregon State, completing 14-of-28 passes for 291 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, while adding a score on the ground. Browning remains one of the nation’s most efficient passers, and he just keeps churning out wins for the Pac-12 frontrunners. Plus, he still has multiple showcase opportunities ahead, including this week’s trip to Utah and the USC game on Nov. 12.
3. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
The Wolverines easily disposed of Illinois, 41-8, in Week 8, but Peppers had an uncharacteristically small role in the rout. On defense, he chipped in just a pair of tackles. On offense, he carried the ball five times for nine yards and caught a short pass. And on special teams, he was held in check in the return game. Peppers is exactly where he needs to be in terms of national notoriety, but every quiet weekend increases the importance of starring in the Ohio State game a month from now.
2. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Is this the same player as last season? No. And it’s obvious to anyone who’s watched Clemson games with a discriminating eye. Watson hasn’t been as crisp as a passer, and his rushing numbers are down. He just hasn’t been as confident, surprising since he has even more weapons than a year ago. Still, he’s thrown for 20 scores, is one of the game’s most recognizable players, and is the leader of a title contender. So, he isn’t going anywhere. And this week’s trip to Tallahassee affords him an opportunity to make a much-needed splash in front of voters.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Deshaun Watson’s Clemson offense struggled with the NC State defense last Saturday. Jackson’s Cardinals? Not a chance. Louisville blitzed the Pack with a 44-point first half, fueled by the run-pass heroics of Jackson. Silencing chatter that his Heisman lead was narrowing, the sophomore torched a solid Wolfpack defense for well over 400 total yards and four touchdowns, including three through the air on a good day throwing.