A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 14 of the college football season. The race gets even tighter as Lamar Jackson suffers through a second straight rocky performance in a Louisville loss.
Lamar Jackson is doing everything possible to make this year’s Heisman race intriguing right down to the final weekend. It’s now just a matter of who’ll be the biggest beneficiary of his gaffes.
The 2016 Heisman Trophy is there for the taking, and is no longer “Lamar and the race to see who finishes runner-up.” Jackson, when voters are just now beginning to pay close attention, has had his two worst games of his sophomore year, including four turnovers during Saturday’s loss to Kentucky. And next week, three of his closest competitors, quarterbacks Jake Browning, Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson, are all playing for league titles, playoff berths and possibly the most prized individual award in American sports on the line.
Through 13 weeks of the 2016 season, we handicap how the contenders are lining up for this season’s Heisman Trophy.
10. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey won’t win this year’s Heisman or be invited to New York City as a finalist, but he didn’t go down without a fight, and a handful of voters could notice it. The junior, who was briefly derailed by an injury and tepid support in October, rallied back to rush for at least 135 yards and a score in each of his last five games. McCaffrey is going to wind up winning the Pac-12 rushing title, too, after snapping off almost 500 yards on the ground in the last two weeks with Cal and Rice.
9. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
Sure, Hurts looked like a true freshman at times in the Iron Bowl, throwing a pair of picks in a game for the second time this season. However, he also continued to be the top-ranked team’s most consistent and productive offensive option, accounting for three scores and more than 300 total yards against a very good Auburn defense. Bama became the first team all year to score 30 on the Tigers, with Hurts having a hand in every scoring drive.
8. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois struggled through the air, so Cook carried the Seminole offense against the formidable Florida D. He rushed for 153 yards and a score, the third time in as many years that he’s perforated the Gator defense for well over 100 yards. Cook is going to win the regular season ACC rushing crown, and he’s still one of the most gifted backs in the country. But he’s slipped off the Heisman radar ever since Florida State lost to Clemson on Oct. 29 to become an also-ran in the conference and playoff title chases.
7. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Barrett was the winning quarterback in an epic overtime showdown with Michigan that will instantly be filed as a classic. And there is certainly a subsector of voters who champion steady quarterbacks that win big games, especially when they grind out more than 100 rushing yards in a game dominated by the defenses. However, Barrett struggled all afternoon through the air, completing less than 50% of his passes and generally looking skittish in the pocket. He was average in his biggest game of the year, which likely won’t be enough to get him to New York City.
6. Texas RB D’Onta Foreman
Three straight losing seasons. But at least Longhorn fans had No. 33 to cheer for this fall. Foreman did his part in Texas’ 31-9 loss to TCU on Friday, surpassing 100 yards for a 13th consecutive game and eclipsing 2,000 yards for the season. Breaking the 2,000-yard threshold is an especially important and catchy nugget that the sports information department can pitch to voters over the next 10 days. Foreman is one of three Doak Walker Award finalists along with Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and San Diego State’s Donnel Pumphrey.
5. Washington QB Jake Browning
In one of his highest profile games of the season, Browning was on point against rival Washington State, calmly dissecting the Cougars for three touchdowns and almost 300 yards in a road rout that wrapped up the Pac-12 North. Browning has now thrown 40 scoring strikes and only seven interceptions for a team that’s likely one win away from a playoff berth. He has a another marquee Friday affair next week in the league title game.
4. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield is finally catching a tailwind, getting named one of three Maxwell Award finalists last week. He has the numbers to get to New York City, including 41 total touchdowns and one of the best completion percentages in the country. However, it’s been Mayfield’s leadership and overall impact on the Sooners’ rise from 1-2 to the top 10 that his him rising up the ranks. He’ll have one more high-profile shot to impress voters in this week’s de facto Big 12 championship game with Oklahoma State.
3. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
The conventional wisdom all year was that Peppers had to be the story in Columbus to leapfrog Jackson and make a serious run at winning the Heisman Trophy. Peppers wasn’t the star on Saturday afternoon, and his Wolverines didn’t even get the W. Sure, he had a pick off of a tip, a few carries and a nice kick return, but nothing that’ll run on a loop over the next few days. While Peppers is a special all-around talent, he may be fighting for No. 2 when ballots are released.
2. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
At long last, Watson did an impersonation of his 2015 self, and just in the nick of time. The junior delivered his sharpest passing effort of the year, carving up a pretty good South Carolina secondary in the annual Palmetto Bowl. Watson had as many touchdown passes—six—as incompletions, finishing 26-of-32 for 347 yards. He also has another outing left, opposite Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, to impress voters by guiding his Tigers to back-to-back league titles and playoff berths.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Yeah, it remains Jackson’s Heisman to lose, but he was unable to put away the competition the past two games, when voters were watching with heightened interest. Two weeks ago, he was sacked 11 times in a blowout loss to Houston, and this past Saturday he turned the ball over in an even worse loss to in-state rival Kentucky. Now, it was another day at the office for Jackson, four scores and more than 450 yards of total offense, but the door is open for someone to mount a challenge.