A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 6 of the college football season. Lamar Jackson stays on top despite having fallen to Clemson and Deshaun Watson.
Louisville QB Lamar Jackson left an opening in Week 5 by failing to manufacture the game-winning drive at Clemson or, well, accounting for his usual seven or eight-touchdown output. But he’s still the Heisman contender to catch, as many of the preseason favorites, such as Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette, were held in check or were unable to suit up.
With five weekends now finished, we break down how the contenders are lining up for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
10. Baylor QB Seth Russell
On four separate occasions, the Bears trailed by two touchdowns in Ames. But Russell was not about to let Baylor’s perfect season end in Week 5. He calmly engineered a fourth-quarter comeback, with the Bears outscoring Iowa State, 21-0, over the final 12 minutes. Running backs Shock Linwood and Terence Williams were the statistical stars, but Russell did account for three touchdowns and more than 250 total yards while exhibiting the veteran leadership needed to escape a potentially disastrous defeat.
9. North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky
This is as good a time as any to begin talking up Trubisky as a Heisman contender. Yeah, there’s the problem of name recognition, but the Carolina sports information department will hop on that shortcoming. Trubisky, though, has been spectacular the past two weeks, throwing five touchdown passes and the game-winner in the final seconds two Saturdays ago and then piloting another dramatic win in Tallahassee to snap Florida State’s 22-game home winning streak. Through five games, Trubisky has accounted for 17 touchdowns and not a single pick.
8. Tennessee QB Joshua Dobbs
Evidently, anything is possible this year in Knoxville. And Dobbs has been the head prestidigitator for the magical Volunteers, which are 5-0, with four double-digit comeback wins. Yeah, Dobbs can be a little erratic as a passer, but he led the second-half charge as Tennessee snapped its 11-game losing streak to Florida. And he uncorked the Hail Mary this past Saturday to shock Georgia, 34-31, his fourth touchdown of a most memorable day.
7. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
Hey, Peppers is one of the most complete players at this level, which few observers would dispute. But as a primary defensive player, he’s going to have quiet games, like this past Saturday versus Wisconsin, that take him off voters’ radar for a spell. Peppers had just three defensive stops and no moments-gone-viral. In fact, he took a backseat to two of his teammates, Channing Stribling, who had two interceptions, and Jourdan Lewis, whose one-handed pick toward the end of the game was a contortion of athletic beauty.
6. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Cook did about all he could to carry the Noles past Carolina, but it wasn’t enough. He rushed for 140 yards and three scores, added six more receptions for 106 yards, but the Heels still won a thriller on a last-second Nick Weiler field goal from 54 yards out. Cook is one of the two or three best running backs in the country. However, now that the Seminoles are 3-2 and likely out of the ACC Atlantic Division race, it’ll become easier for voters to pay less attention to the team and its star playmaker over the next two months.
5. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.
Ward served a crisp reminder to a national audience Thursday night why he still belongs in the Heisman discussion. Playing through shoulder pain, Ward connected on 32-of-38 passes for a career-high 389 yards, three touchdowns and no picks against a talented UConn secondary. He also rushed for a team-high 65 yards and two more scores to exact revenge on the Huskies, who were the only program to defeat Houston in 2015 in a game Ward was unable to play.
4. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
In his biggest game of the year so far, McCaffrey was a complete non-factor. And it’s going to directly impact his quest of winning the Heisman Trophy down the road. McCaffrey was limited by Washington to just 49 rushing yards, his lowest output on the ground since being held to 19 yards on three carries as a rookie in 2014. The Huskies were manhandled at the point of attack, and quarterback play remains a question mark, both of which could dampen McCaffrey’s production against the tougher defenses on the schedule.
3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Barrett picked up where he left off two weeks in Norman, throwing four touchdown passes for a second consecutive game in a whitewash of Rutgers. Against Oklahoma, Barrett teamed up with wide receiver Noah Brown four times. Against the Scarlet Knights, he found four different receivers in the end zone to smash Bobby Hoying’s Buckeye career record for touchdown passes. Through four games, Barrett has accounted for 17 scores and only two interceptions.
2. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
No, Watson wasn’t perfect against Louisville in the game of the week in college football. But he was victorious, and he did offset three interceptions with five touchdown passes, including the game-winner to tight end Jordan Leggett late in the fourth. And because of that clutch effort, Watson will likely spend the rest of the regular season jockeying somewhere near the top spot in a Heisman race that’s become much tighter. He’s still not as precise in the passing game as he was in 2015, but he gained ground by engineering a pivotal 42-36 win over No.3-ranked Louisville.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson and his Cardinals didn’t get the win at Clemson Saturday night, falling just short in a thriller, but the sophomore didn’t cede his lead in the Heisman race either. He did about all he could to carry his team back from an early deficit in hostile territory, accounting for more than 450 yards and three scores against the best defense he’ll see all year. Jackson remains the most dangerous and prolific player in college football, and there’s not a defense left on the schedule that can keep him from piling up record-approaching numbers in the second half of the year.