A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 13 of the college football season. Lamar Jackson is coming off a brutal outing in Houston, but he will remain the leader until someone mounts a serious challenge.
It’s the Heisman Trophy. Doesn’t anyone want it?
Lamar Jackson is mortal. Wake Forest proved it two weeks ago, and Houston certainly did last Thursday night at TDECU Stadium. Still, it’s hard to tell if his lead has shrunk by even a small margin.
He built an enormous cushion in the first two months, gobbling up name recognition and voter respect. And no one else has really stepped up to take advantage of the opening. Yeah, trendy candidates emerge every week, but their support will be fractured among a handful of kids. Jackson is a fixture in the minds of voters, even after being sacked 11 times last week. So, as long as he doesn’t implode Saturday versus Kentucky, it’s going to take a special effort for him to be knocked from his perch.
Through 12 weeks of the 2016 season, here’s how the top 10 Heisman Trophy candidates shake out heading into Week 13.
10. Alabama QB Jalen Hurts
On a night the Crimson Tide appeared completely uninspired by the prospect of hosting Chattanooga, Hurts sparked the offense much the way a veteran leader might. Big plays were scarce against the Mocs, but the true freshman had nearly as many touchdown throws (thee) as incompletions (six), while adding a couple of nifty scampers outside the pocket. While Hurts remains a long shot, he’s virtually locked down the honor of getting the most votes among freshmen — first-year or the redshirt variety.
9. Texas RB D’Onta Foreman
Foreman literally put his Horns—and Kansas defenders—on his back Saturday, rushing for 250 yards and two touchdowns on an exhausting, career-high 51 carries. It still wasn’t enough, as Texas somehow bowed to the Jayhawks. Foreman has a legitimate shot to surpass 2,000 yards rushing this Friday versus TCU, despite sitting out Week 2 and sharing a backfield with a true freshman. Unfortunately, and arguably unfairly, many voters have tuned out all things Texas, which still hasn’t achieved bowl-eligibility.
8. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey is one of the 10 best players in college football, regardless of position. He’s used the past month reminding everyone of his ability, as his amateur career likely winds to an end. It’s been shades of the 2015 McCaffrey over the past four games, highlighted by Heisman-caliber numbers and the open-field cuts that helped transform him into a household name a year ago. He took over Saturday’s rivalry game with Cal. McCaffrey compiled more than 300 all-purpose yards, including a career-best 284 yards on the ground and three touchdowns to spark Stanford to its fourth straight win.
7. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
At the Carrier Dome Saturday, it was vintage Cook, who rushed for more than 200 yards and scored four times to smash Warrick Dunn’s school career rushing mark. Cook also tied Greg Allen’s school career touchdown record. The Seminoles’ three losses and exit from the national spotlight have hindered Cook’s chances for the Heisman. Still, after a slow start, he’s gone for at least 100 yards in seven of his last eight games, and savvy voters recognize his standing among the country’s premier backs.
6. Washington QB Jake Browning
Browning and his Huskies bounced back from last week’s deflating loss to USC to remain in the Pac-12 North race with Washington State. The sophomore burned Arizona State for two touchdowns and more than 300 yards through the air, but two picks in a second straight game is not an ideal trend at this time of the evaluation process. Browning has the potential for two more marquee games. He’ll take on Wazzu in the Apple Cup to decide the division. And a win over the Cougars will lead to either Colorado or the Trojans in the conference title game. The realistic goal now is to get to New York City and become the highest Husky finisher since Steve Emtman was fourth in 1991.
5. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield has had better nights, taking a backseat to the downhill running of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. But he accounted for four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air, in a 56-28 road rout of West Virginia. Mayfield is the face of Oklahoma’s eight-game winning streak, and he has the requisite numbers. Mayfield is nicely positioned to finish in the top five for a second straight year.
4. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Lamar Jackson left the door open on Thursday night. Barrett is not one of the candidates who was able to take advantage. He once again struggled in the face of the Michigan State defense, fortunate to be a part of the winning side. Barrett completed less than 50 percent of his throws for less than 100 yards, but he was one of two Ohio State players to rush for more than 100 yards. He’ll need to be the star of this week’s Michigan game to make a surge in what has been a solid year.
3. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Like so many of his 2016 performances, Watson did just enough to remain in the top five, yet he didn’t do enough to really put pressure on the top couple of candidates. The Tigers defeated Wake Forest, 35-13, to wrap up the ACC Atlantic a week later than expected. Watson accounted for three scores, a pair coming from his legs, but he was just fair through the air, generating 202 yards and a touchdown on 33 attempts. With South Carolina and likely Virginia Tech up next before all ballots must be in, Watson lacks the high-profile opponents to engineer a sudden shift north.
2. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
If Peppers doesn’t go all Desmond Howard this week in a Wolverine win over Ohio State, he’s unlikely to attract enough votes to top Jackson, who amassed such an early cushion in this race. Hey, Peppers is a one-of-a-kind athlete, which plenty of voters are going to recognize. But many others are looking for those highlight-reel, Heisman-esque moments that catapult contenders into frontrunners. Peppers was solid in Saturday’s 20-10 win over Indiana, collecting five tackles, two stops for loss and 49 all-purpose yards, but running back De’Veon Smith was the biggest reason Michigan is still a one-loss team.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson left the Heisman door open Thursday night. To put it more accurately, Houston blew it open by sacking him 11 times and harassing him countless other times in an upset blowout. Superman became Clark Kent in the face of the Cougars’ front seven. Jackson rushed for a season-low 33 yards, though it was 116 before the sacks. He also completed 20-of-43 passes for 211 yards, one touchdown and no picks. The optics were awful, particularly on a nationally televised game in mid-November. There’s finally a lane to challenge Jackson, but which contender has that resume?