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

Heisman Watch: Week 8

This is the fifth 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. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB (Last Week: 2)

Finally, a change at the top in the fifth edition of these rankings. Prescott is the face of the nation’s surprising new No. 1 team.

He’s this season’s poster child for dual-threat quarterbacks. In four of State’s six games, Prescott has recorded both 200 yards passing and 100 yards rushing.

At the same time, however, he’s prone to mistakes. At one point in last week’s game against Auburn, the Bulldogs turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions, two of which were Prescott picks.

That’s what scares me about Dak and this team. I hate to dismiss his Heisman chances because of State’s inexperience in big games, but the fact is this is the first time the Bulldogs have played relevant games in years. They’ve finished ranked in the final AP Poll three times in the past 19 years and won 10 games in a season once since 1940.

This is all very unscientific conjecture, but in a season already full of chaos, it would seem baffling if upstart Mississippi State remains at the top. For now, though, Prescott deserves to be the Heisman favorite going into the second half.

2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB (LW: 1)

Mariota remains far and away the best passer in college football. He leads the nation in efficiency rating with 193.72, third in yards per pass attempt with 10.5 and has an astounding 17:0 touchdown to interception ratio. He’s also seventh in completion percentage.

Mariota, a redshirt junior, is just expounding upon an amazing sophomore season in which he threw 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions and finished seventh in efficiency rating.

Like I touched on last week, I’m still concerned about his offensive line and the amount of times he’s been hit, but those concerns have lessened after the Ducks did not allow a sack last week and got starting tackle Jake Fisher back from injury. Mariota will be in this race until the end.

3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (LW: 4)

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Gordon just continues to amaze, torching the Illinois defense last week for 175 yards and four touchdowns. He’s now rushed for at least that many yards in four of six games and scored multiple touchdowns in three contests.

He’s second in the nation in rushing touchdowns (13) and second in yards per game with 174.3. With six games remaining, Gordon is set to face only two teams whose rushing defenses currently rank in the top 40 of college football—Nebraska and Minnesota.

With no return for Georgia’s Todd Gurley in sight, Gordon instantly becomes the nation’s best running back in terms of public perception. Statistically, he may have already been.

4. Bo Wallace, Mississippi QB (LW: Not Ranked)

The case for Wallace is similar to Prescott’s—the quarterback of an unfamiliar title contender. Wallace has better passing numbers than Prescott in regards to completion percentage, touchdowns and efficiency rating. Wallace has thrown six interceptions, a rather high total so far, but this total is trending in a positive direction. He hasn’t thrown a pick since the Memphis game Sept. 27. Since then, he’s taken down Alabama and Texas A&M and gotten the Rebels to No. 3 in the polls.

There’s a clear separation right now between the Prescott-Mariota-Gordon trio and Wallace. Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the nation, so Wallace’s Heisman outlook has a very good chance to improve if the Rebels remain in the Playoff hunt.

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

The only running back right now currently outdueling Gordon is Coleman. The Indiana tailback boasts a higher yards-per-carry average than Gordon and is rushing for more yards per game.

Last week against a very good Iowa rush defense, Coleman tallied 219 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries. The Hawkeyes hadn’t allowed more than 200 rushing yards total all season, and Coleman reached that on his own.

Still, this is Indiana we’re talking about. At 3-3, the Hoosiers are fighting just to become bowl eligible. They still have to play Michigan State this weekend and Ohio State in November. Coleman’s outstanding season will be victimized by the mediocre team around him.

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

Whether Golson is a viable Heisman candidate will be determined this weekend when No. 5 Notre Dame goes on the road to play No. 2 Florida State. Nobody really knows if the Irish are national title threats—they just happen to still be undefeated.

Golson’s numbers are actually pretty unremarkable, with a 62.5 percent completion rate, 7.8 yards per pass attempt and an efficiency rating that ranks 29th in the country. He does, however, have 16 touchdowns versus just four interceptions.

Last week, Golson completed just 55 percent of his passes against a North Carolina secondary that ranks 125th in the nation. Those are not Heisman numbers. As much as everyone is waiting for the Seminoles to lose, I’m not seeing it here, and a lopsided defeat would practically kill Golson’s candidacy.

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

Hill used to be everyone’s favorite unexpected starting quarterback in College Station. Now, whispers are circulating about replacing him with freshman phenom and swag demon Kyle Allen.

The Aggies have gotten desecrated by Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the last two weeks and have fallen out of the Playoff picture. In those two losses, Hill has thrown five picks and lost a fumble.

Hill gets an unrelenting Alabama defense this Saturday that basically makes or breaks his Heisman campaign. The Crimson Tide rank third in total defense and have allowed a stifling 4.57 yards per play, the 11th-best mark in the nation.

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

So UCLA lost last week in a game that wasn’t all that competitive and Hundley wasn’t exactly fantastic, but I swap him with Abdullah purely because he’s a quarterback with impressive stats. Recent history tells us that quarterbacks get the edge over running backs, and if I’m not sold on Hundley or Abdullah, I’ll give the advantage to the signal caller.

Hundley leads the nation with a 72.2 percent completion rate. He’s sixth in efficiency rating and boasts a healthy 11:3 touchdown to interception ratio. The Bruins get Cal and Colorado in consecutive weeks. With those teams ranking 128th (dead last) and 82nd, respectively, in pass defense, expect some monster numbers from Hundley going forward.

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

First, the good. Abdullah still ranks fourth in the nation in yards per game with 146.3 and is seventh with 10 touchdowns. He is an exceptional talent. OK? Great.

Now, the bad. Among players who average more than 10 rush attempts per game, Abdullah ranks a not very Heisman-like 21st in yards per carry with 6.36. He’s had two awful rushing performances, one against the superb Michigan State defense (acceptable) and FCS McNeese State (not acceptable).

Nebraska had a bye last week, so Abdullah had plenty of time to put his putrid 24-carries, 45-yards day against the Spartans behind him. The Huskers get Northwestern, Rutgers and Purdue in their next three games, none of whom rank in the top 40 in rush defense.

10. Rakeem Cato, Marshall QB (LW: NR)

This is the second mid-major player I’ve ranked in the Heisman Watch, the first one being BYU’s Taysom Hill (who broke his leg Oct. 3) in the inaugural edition back in Week 4. I felt it was time to acknowledge the unknowns once again, and I had two choices: Cato or East Carolina’s Shane Carden.

Carden has gotten more attention this season, since East Carolina played then-No. 21 South Carolina close on the road and defeated then-No. 17 Virginia Tech a week later.

Carden and Cato have pretty similar stats, with Carden having the edge in completion percentage and touchdown to interception ratio. Cato has more yards per pass attempt and a higher efficiency rating.

I could have picked either one of these players, but Marshall, at 6-0, is poised to run the table and finish undefeated. The Thundering Herd’s (what a nickname!) closest game so far was 15 points in the opener against Miami (Ohio). Marshall’s remaining opponents have a 16-20 combined record.

I’m not saying Marshall is going to make the Playoff, especially not with a terrible strength of schedule as part of being in Conference USA, but they’ll probably get into one of the New Year’s bowls. In this scenario, Cato inevitably garners a few Heisman votes.

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