A Heisman watch looking at the top 10 players heading into Week 8 of the college football season. Lamar Jackson could be losing steam while Jabrill Peppers is gaining ground.
Does anyone want this Heisman Trophy? None of this week’s top contenders delivered memorable performances, and offseason favorites Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette rested with injuries as their candidacies further faded. Who was the biggest beneficiary of a Week 7 light in Heisman moments? Yeah, that would be Michigan’s do-it-all Jabrill Peppers, who continues to surge despite his Wolverines being idle Saturday.
At the midway point of the 2016 season, we break down how the contenders are lining up for this season’s Heisman Trophy.
10. Baylor QB Seth Russell
The Bears reached their bye week with a perfect record and a healthy Russell, the basis of optimism for what lies ahead. The senior will need to elevate his accuracy against the better Big 12 teams on the schedule after completing less than 50 percent of his throws in the demolition of Kansas. Still, in a half of work, he accounted for four touchdowns, two on the ground and two through the air, as Baylor coasted to a 6-0 start under Jim Grobe.
9. Houston QB Greg Ward Jr.
Ward didn’t directly account for a score in the Cougars’ thrilling 38-31 victory over Tulsa, but he was instrumental in all but the final touchdown, which was a fumble return from linebacker Emeka Egbule. Ward led his team with well over 100 yards on the ground while completing 26-of-34 throws. For now, he’s sort of buried in the back half of the top 10 — the fallout from last week’s loss to Navy. Still, Houston hosts Louisville and quarterback Lamar Jackson in a month, so there’s a chance for some upward mobility.
8. Texas A&M QB Trevor Knight
At this time last year, Knight was buried on the bench, relegated to watching Baker Mayfield evolve into a Heisman contender at Oklahoma. Today, it’s Knight who’s better positioned to make a Heisman gallop in the second half of 2016. Is he the best passer in the discussion? Nope. He’s only completing 53.5 percent of his passes. But he’s rushed for 502 yards and nine scores, and he’s been the steady leader for one of the biggest surprises of 2016. If he leads the Aggies to an upset of Alabama this week, Knight will skyrocket into the Heisman penthouse.
7. Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey
McCaffrey remains on the radar for the time being because his ability is well known and respected by the voters. But this isn’t likely to be his year for the Heisman. McCaffrey has been a microcosm of his team so far in 2016, unable to duplicate last season’s performance or meet this season’s expectations. His Cardinal has struggled throughout the fall, and his all-purpose production is down from its usual level. Even worse, McCaffrey is banged up and was forced to miss Saturday’s game in South Bend.
6. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Sure, Cook went over 100 yards on Saturday, but he failed to score, was outplayed by teammate Travis Rudolph and was largely kept in check by the scrappy, underrated Wake Forest defense. The junior is one of college football’s undisputed elite running backs, but his production has actually been beneath his actual ability, the residue of inconsistent support from the players around him. Cook is still in this race, but he’ll need to ramp up his numbers, especially when the ‘Noles return to action in two weeks to host Clemson.
5. Washington QB Jake Browning
The Huskies were idle last week, the only thing that’s been able to slow them down in 2016. Browning has matured into the face of U-Dub’s rise into playoff contention, running the offense like a veteran in just his second season removed from Folsom (Calif.) High School. He’s ranked among the nation’s leaders in passing efficiency, having completed 104-of-144 passes for 1,418 yards, 23 touchdowns and just two picks. He’s also run for three more scores. With Stanford and Oregon in the rear view mirror, can Browning overcome a relative lack of notoriety compared to the other half-dozen or so primary Heisman threats?
4. Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers
Peppers and his Wolverines were off in Week 7, but that couldn’t stop his surrogates — in Ann Arbor and in the media — from outlining his Heisman status. Peppers is the rarest of college athletes, impacting all three phases of the game. He’s a playmaking safety with a team-high 10 stops for loss, yet he also takes direct snaps out of the wildcat and is one of the game’s scariest return men on special teams. And observers have really begun to take notice, especially as Jim Harbaugh begins stumping on his behalf.
3. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
The Wisconsin defense has a knack for humbling opposing skill players, and for a while, Barrett was no different in Madison. But when the Buckeyes needed their veteran quarterback to step up after halftime, he did just that in a 30-23 comeback win in overtime. Ohio State grinded out 17 second-half points, with Barrett rushing for two scores and throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Noah Brown in the extra session. It was a gutsy, all-around effort, exactly what Urban Meyer has grown accustomed to from his redshirt-junior quarterback.
2. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
The good news is that the Tigers somehow survived a gallant effort by NC State, aided by a missed Kyle Bambard field goal try late in regulation. A home loss to the unranked Pack would have had a crushing effect on Watson’s candidacy. The bad part, though, is that the quarterback delivered another so-so game, completing 39-of-52 passes for 378 yards, two scores and a pick. He did add a rushing touchdown, though. Watson’s accuracy and touch have slipped in 2016, but he’ll remain firmly in the hunt as long as the decline doesn’t cost Clemson a game.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Jackson was effective in last week’s win over Duke. He rushed for 144 yards and threw for 181 yards while accounting for a pair of scores. But he wasn’t the Jackson who caught the nation by storm in September with his eye-popping numbers and highlight-reel runs. The sophomore was spotty through the air, completing just 50 percent of his throws, as the Blue Devils hung around for all 60 minutes. The Jackson who struggled to get the Cards into the end zone Friday is vulnerable, particularly with the dearth of marquee games ahead.