This is the third edition of the Heisman Watch, a weekly feature tracking the candidates for college football’s most prestigious award. To read last week’s piece, click here.
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB (LW: 1)
Oregon was off last week, so my reasoning to keep Mariota at No. 1 remains unchanged. He has completed 74 percent of his passes and leads the FBS in passer efficiency rating. With 13 touchdowns, Mariota has the most TD passes among players who have yet to throw an interception.
Mariota has the best cumulative stats in college football this season while playing the most premium position, making him a clear choice for Heisman leader right now. Mariota has a great matchup Thursday against undefeated Arizona, a team that ranks 116th nationally in pass defense.
2. Todd Gurley, Georgia RB (LW: 3)
Gurley is such a frustrating player solely thanks to his offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo. Search his name on Twitter during a Georgia game and you’ll understand why—fans hate when the coaches insist on establishing the pass when Gurley and a host of other talented runners are in the backfield.
Still, Gurley carried the ball 28 times last week against Tennessee, two shy of his career high, and actually set a career high with 208 rushing yards while scoring twice. The best running back in college football gets SEC whipping boy Vanderbilt this Saturday.
3. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (LW: 4)
In five games, Abdullah has rushed for 200 yards three times. That is insane.
Why Gurley over Abdullah? I’ll admit there’s some voter inertia here—Gurley was No. 2 in the first edition of this column while Abdullah was unranked.
Abdullah does have more touchdowns than Gurley and more yards per game, but he’s had an extra game to do that. Not to mention, Gurley essentially sat out the Troy game since he only got six carries.
Gurley is averaging a full 1.5 yards per carry more than Abdullah, and he has yet to have a stinker game yet like his Nebraska counterpart. Abdullah had just 54 yards on 17 carries against McNeese State, but made up for it with a devastating catch-and-run receiving touchdown.
Abdullah faces the nation’s sixth-best rush defense this week in Michigan State. Expectations for another 200-yard game should be tempered.
4. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M QB (LW: 2)
Hill finally had a mediocre game last week against Arkansas, completing just over 50 percent of his passes with an interception. However, Hill led the comeback effort against Ol’ Biels and the Razorbacks, erasing a 14-point fourth quarter deficit to keep the Aggies perfect.
Hill’s two fourth quarter touchdowns went for 86 and 59 yards to force overtime. After Arkansas failed on a fourth-and-1, Hill threw a 25-yard strike on the Aggies’ first play to end the game.
Here’s where things get interesting: the Aggies have seven games left and six of those are against currently ranked teams. That unenviable schedule gets underway this week against upstart Mississippi State.
5. Everett Golson, Notre Dame QB (LW: 7)
Though his peerless interception mark ended last week when he threw two against Syracuse, Golson still had 362 yards and four touchdowns while completing 82 percent of his passes.
Golson’s peripheral stats aren’t that impressive—he ranks 11th nationally in completion percentage and 18th in passer efficiency rating—but he’s the face of one of college football’s most notable programs. Undefeated Notre Dame sits at No. 9 and faces the vaunted Stanford defense Saturday.
6. Bryce Petty, Baylor QB (LW: 9)
Petty had an underwhelming performance last week against Iowa State, but he moves up on this list thanks to some bye weeks and poor games from the players ahead of him.
Petty missed the second game of the year with a back injury and he still may be working out the kinks. Baylor’s toughest games come in November, so Petty still has time to regain his full capabilities under center. The Bears face a Texas team that features the No. 8 pass defense in the nation this weekend.
7. Tevin Coleman, Indiana RB (LW: 5)
The nation’s leader in rushing yards per game had a solid outing last week with 122 yards and a touchdown, but the Hoosiers got smacked by Maryland following an upset win over Missouri on the road.
A lot of these blurbs focus on team performance rather than solely on the player. There’s a reason for that. You need to be on a nationally relevant team to win the Heisman.
Since 2000, only one Heisman winner’s team has finished with less than 10 wins—Tim Tebow and 2007 Florida, and they went 9-4. At 2-2, it’s probably safe to say that Indiana won’t reach 10 wins this season.
8. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB (LW: 8)
9. Amari Cooper, Alabama WR (LW: 10)
Both of these guys were on a bye last week. Prescott rocketed into national recognition two weeks ago when Mississippi State went into Death Valley and whooped LSU. In that upset win, Prescott averaged a stellar 11.2 yards per pass attempt, tallied 105 rushing yards and accounted for three total touchdowns.
Cooper, meanwhile, leads the country in receiving yards per game with 163.8 and is second in catches per game with 10.8. Those are remarkable numbers for a wide receiver.
The Heisman candidacies of both these players will face a stiff test this weekend. Mississippi State gets No. 6 Texas A&M at home and Alabama goes on the road to play No. 11 Mississippi.
10. Connor Cook, Michigan State QB (LW: Not Ranked)
Because Mississippi’s Bo Wallace had an uninspiring game last week against Memphis and now has an unimpressive 11:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio, somebody new had to supplant him. Cook was the best of an ordinary bunch of second-tier Heisman candidates.
Cook has a long way to go before he can be considered a serious candidate. With Michigan State blowing out all of its opponents not named Oregon, Cook has routinely been lifted early in the game, hurting his overall stats.
Still, Cook is third in passer efficiency rating, tied for fifth in yards per attempt and tied for 14th in completion percentage. Those numbers are pretty good, but it’s certainly worth noting that his lone mediocre game was against Oregon, the only good team on the Spartans’ schedule so far.