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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, March 28, 2023
Jim Dayton

Heisman Watch: Week 7

This is the fourth 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 (Last Week: 1)

Despite Oregon losing last week to previously unranked Arizona at home, Mariota deserves to remain the Heisman frontrunner, at least for now. The numbers speak for themselves: a 71.1 percent completion rate (fourth in the nation), 11 yards per pass attempt (second), an efficiency rating of 202.35 (first), and 15 touchdowns (the most by anyone who has yet to throw an interception).

That being said, Mariota will be lucky to survive the year without injury. His offensive line is garbage. He’s been sacked 15 times, the fourth-most among Power Five quarterbacks (I guess we’ll count Wake Forest’s John Wolford as a Power Five quarterback).

The Ducks face No. 18 UCLA on the road Saturday in a battle of Pac-12 teams that shouldn’t have lost last weekend. The Bruins have a soft pass defense that ranks 107th in the country and are 102nd in sacks per game, so consider this a healthy matchup for Mariota.

2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB (LW: 8)

It’s time to believe! Yes, Mississippi State faces a superb Auburn pass defense this Saturday, as well as Alabama and Ole Miss down the line. But the Bulldogs also get to play Kentucky, Arkansas (Bielema please), Tennessee-Martin and Vanderbilt. Gasp. That’s about the easiest remaining schedule you could dream up in the SEC West.

Dak (why refer to him as Prescott when his first name is so much cooler?) is a true dual-threat quarterback who ranks sixth in efficiency rating and eighth in yards per pass attempt. He has also posted three 100-yard rushing games and six touchdowns on the ground.

Mississippi State is the feel-good story of the year and Dak is the face of the program. Even if the Bulldogs falter, considering this success is so unexpected, he could have a Heisman campaign similar to Robert Griffin III in 2011.

3. Everett Golson, Notre Dame QB (LW: 5)

OK, so Golson had a pretty crappy game last week. Disclaimer: It came against Stanford, arguably the nation’s best pass defense. But with the Irish trailing 14-10, Golson faced a fourth-and-11 at the Stanford 23 with just over a minute left. He calmly found a wide-open Ben Koyack in the back of the end zone for the winning touchdown.

The Irish are now 5-0 and ranked No. 6 in the nation. Golson gets a tune-up game this week against North Carolina before going on the road to face current No. 1 Florida State Oct. 18. His overall numbers aren’t the best, but Golson’s performance in that game will either legitimize his Heisman candidacy or kill it.

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4. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (LW: Not Ranked)

You have to dig deep into Webster’s Dictionary to find a superlative that accurately depicts Gordon’s 2014 season. He has been nothing short of spectacular.

Two games in, it looked like you could stick a fork in Gordon’s Heisman campaign after he had a mere 38 yards on 17 carries against FCS Western Illinois. Three games later, he’s the nation’s leader in rushing yards per game with 174.

As the Badger offense has disintegrated around him, Gordon has posted two 250-yard games and scored 10 of Wisconsin’s 22 touchdowns. Despite defenses knowing that Gordon is the only proven offensive weapon the Badgers have, he simply continues to impress.

5. Kenny Hill, Texas A&M QB (LW: 4)

Some publications still rank Hill as the No. 2 Heisman candidate in the land.

And they are wrong, per usual.

Hill’s star has taken a hit in the Aggies’ past two games, completing less than 60 percent of his passes and tossing four interceptions while squeaking by Arkansas and getting blown out by Mississippi State.

Hill still has some pretty impressive overall numbers, ranking third in the country in passing yards while tossing 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. But in A&M’s showdown with Mississippi State last week, he was thoroughly average and was severely outplayed by the Dak Attack.

6. Nick Marshall, Auburn QB (LW: NR)

Marshall is the second of our four newcomers to this week’s Heisman Watch. While his passing numbers aren’t that great—58 percent completion rate, eight yards per pass attempt, eight touchdowns and one interception—Marshall makes the ranking thanks to his running ability. He’s averaged 78 yards per game on the ground while scoring four rushing touchdowns.

Marshall is still a ways off from being a serious candidate, but with Auburn trailing No. 1 Florida State by just two points in the AP Poll (a remarkably slim margin), he deserves to be ranked.

7. Tevin Coleman, Indiana RB (LW: 7)

Coleman’s stats (105 carries, 841 yards, eight touchdowns) are practically identical to Gordon’s (105 carries, 871 yards, nine touchdowns). Among players with at least 50 rushing attempts, Coleman has the sixth-highest yards-per-carry average with 8.01. He also hasn’t had a bad game yet, rushing for over 100 yards and scoring at least one touchdown in all five of Indiana’s contests so far.

But things are about to get dicey with the Hoosiers facing Iowa and Michigan State in consecutive weeks. The Hawkeyes currently rank seventh in rushing defense and the Spartans rank fourth. Both of those teams hold opponents to less than three yards per carry. If Coleman can somehow stay afloat through those two games and Indiana pulls an upset in one of them, then his Heisman candidacy will really get a boost.

8. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (LW: 4)

That’s now two terrible rushing performances from Abdullah. The first one came Sept. 6 against McNeese State when he ran 17 times for just 54 yards and a touchdown. The second one came last week against Michigan State: 24 carries for 45 yards and two touchdowns, though like I said, the Spartans are fantastic.

To combine for 99 yards on 41 carries (that’s less than 2.5 yards per carry) in two games and still be a potential Heisman winner is testament to the fact Abdullah has three 200-yard games this year. Yes, three, the only player to do that so far. He’s also tied with Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin for the national lead in touchdowns with 12. Even if he’s had a few poor games that bring his ranking down, he remains an undisputed Top 10 candidate.

9. Brett Hundley, UCLA QB (LW: NR)

Hundley is kind of like Diet Marcus Mariota—fantastic Pac-12 quarterback whose team was just upset by an unranked team at home, with excellent stats and an awful offensive line. I’m concerned that Hundley won’t stay healthy all year. He’s been sacked 21 times, the second-highest among Power Five quarterbacks (again, there's that Wolford guy reminding me that Wake Forest is still technically a Power Five school). He already missed most of the Texas game earlier this season when he departed with an injury to his non-throwing elbow.

But Hundley leads the nation with a 72.8 percent completion rate, is fourth in yards per pass attempt with 10.1, is fifth in efficiency rating and has tossed just two interceptions. He shouldn’t be judged on hypothetical injuries until they actually happen.

Hundley and the Bruins get a nice matchup this weekend against No. 12 Oregon at home. Though the Ducks are a high-profile team, they have the 122nd-ranked pass defense (out of 128 FBS schools).

10. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB (LW: NR)

Watson enters the Heisman Watch thanks to the Todd Gurley corollary (see below). A true freshman, Watson has appeared in all five games while starting only two. He took command of the quarterback job midway through the first quarter against No. 1 Florida State and hasn’t relinquished it since.

Watson leads the country in yards per pass attempt, is second in efficiency rating and has a touchdown to interception ratio of 12:1. He’ll need a bigger sample size to prove his candidacy, however. Though he’s a long shot for the Heisman this season, he might begin 2015 as a preseason favorite.

Wild Card: Todd Gurley, Georgia RB (LW: 2)

Originally I had Gurley ranked No. 3 this week. But in the process of writing this story, the news broke that Gurley is suspended indefinitely for violation of NCAA rules. According to an ESPN article, the investigation revolves around whether Gurley received compensation for autographs, memorabilia or the use of his likeness.

Right now, that sounds a lot like the Johnny Manziel ordeal from last season. Ultimately, Manziel was only suspended for the first half of a win over Rice.

If the allegations are resolved quickly and Gurley escapes with a relative slap on the wrist, then his Heisman candidacy will stay afloat. However, the Manziel saga took over three weeks to play out before he was given the first-half suspension. Never expect punctuality in an NCAA legal process.

If Gurley misses more than one game, R.I.P. to his Heisman hopes. But for now, we’ll keep the nation’s third-highest yards-per-game rusher in the rankings as a wild card.

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