A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 12 of the college football season. Lamar Jackson left the door open, but no one was able to walk through and tighten the race at the top.
The frontrunner, Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, was mortal against Wake Forest. However, his lead atop the Heisman rankings remains safe. He’s been so good for so long, and the majority of his closest contenders were even worse in Week 11. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Washington’s Jake Browning struggled in losses, and Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers failed to deliver splashy moments in the Wolverines’ first loss of 2016.
Everyone is still looking up at Jackson, but there are openings for finalist spots in New York City for the kids that heat up at the right time over the next three weekends.
Through 11 weeks of the 2016 season, here are the top 10 contenders lining up for this season’s Heisman Trophy.
10. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
Well, that didn’t take very long. Just a week after leaving the top 10, Hurts is back after posting the best statistical game of his true freshman season. He not only rushed for 100 yards in the blowout of Mississippi State, but he also showcased his arm by throwing for four scores — three to ArDarius Stewart — and well over 300 yards. And the mere threat of Hurts as a passer is going to help everyone around him in the running game. He gets a high-profile opportunity versus Auburn in two weeks to further make his case.
9. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
Nah, this season did not go as planned for McCaffrey, the byproduct of an injury and tepid support. But since regaining his health a few weeks ago, the junior has reminded the nation why he began the year as one of the top contenders for the 2016 Heisman. McCaffrey, who leads the Pac-12 in rushing, has run for at least 125 yards in each of the last three games, scoring three times and amassing more than 200 all-purpose yards in this past Saturday’s demolition of Oregon.
8. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Cook is going to leave Tallahassee as the most prolific running back in Florida State history, an honor that should officially be bestowed upon him next Saturday in the Carrier Dome. But he won’t head to the NFL with a Heisman Trophy beneath his arm, in part because his team left the national spotlight earlier than expected. While Cook is one of the game’s elite players, accounting for 1,642 yards and 14 scores, winning today’s Heisman becomes increasingly tougher when your team isn’t competing for titles. Like it or not, that is the reality with this award.
7. Texas RB D’Onta Foreman
Foreman faced one of the tougher Big 12 defenses, and it sort of showed in the end results. Yeah, he rushed for more than 100 yards for the 11th straight game to tie Earl Campbell’s school record. But he also needed 35 carries to amass 167 yards, an average of just 4.8 yards, and failed to reach the end zone for just the second time all year. Plus, the Horns lost at home, bad news for a player who’s already playing form behind in terms of national notoriety.
6. Washington QB Jake Browning
Browning has had a phenomenal second season in Seattle. But it’s not going to end with a Heisman Trophy speech. With the nation watching his biggest game of the year, hosting No. 20 USC, the sophomore was mediocre at best. He and his Huskies were no match for the Trojans defense, which made him look silly at times. Browning completed less than 50 percent of his throws, threw two interceptions and might need to lead Washington to a Pac-12 title to finish the season in the top five.
5. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Reeling Baylor was in no position to slow down Mayfield, who was rejoined in the backfield this week by his two top tailbacks, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. Mayfield had his way with the Bears, completing 20-of-25 passes for 300 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, while adding a scoring run. He’s been the architect of the Sooners’ seven-game winning streak, and he has the equivalent of upcoming Big 12 playoff games with West Virginia and Oklahoma State that’ll afford him a wide lens to gain more Heisman ground.
4. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Week 11 will go down as the time that Watson stopped being a serious contender for the 2016 Heisman Trophy. Sure, he’ll be in the team photo, and absolutely can be a finalist based on numbers and name recognition if he finishes strong. But after throwing three critical picks in a shocking loss to Pittsburgh, Watson is no longer a threat to Lamar Jackson. Yeah, Watson tore up the Panthers secondary for almost 600 passing yards, but voters will most remember the costly mistakes, accuracy issues and home loss to an average opponent.
3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Barrett is not going away, and he’s going to be a fringe factor in this race right through the mega-showdown with Michigan in a couple of weeks. While his play hasn’t always been pristine, and Curtis Samuel is arguably the most exciting Buckeye on offense, Barrett remains within striking distance of at least getting to New York City. He accounted for four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air, Saturday as Ohio State obliterated Maryland.
2. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
It’s not hard to make the case that Peppers is the most complete — and certainly the most versatile — player in college football. The junior impacts the game in so many different ways, from offense and defense to special teams. But are there enough discerning voters in the Heisman pool to understand Peppers’ value, even when his stats don’t jump off the box score, such as Saturday’s Iowa game? He’s a special all-around athlete, but he has an uphill climb to jump Lamar Jackson because so many voters base this decision on numbers and highlight-reel moments.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Against Wake Forest, Jackson played his worst game of the season, certainly as a passer, yet he still remains atop the rankings. He built enough of a cushion through the first 10 weeks, and nobody else seized the opportunity to narrow the gap Saturday. In fact, Jackson is safe as long as no one else is consistently grabbing voters’ attention. Running back Brandon Radcliff was the offensive star, but, to be fair, Jackson did rush for more than 150 yards and helped engineer the comeback to get past the Demon Deacons and remain in the playoff chase.