This is the ninth edition of the Heisman Watch, a weekly feature tracking the candidates for college football’s most prestigious award. For last week’s rankings, click here.
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB (Last Week: 1)
Mariota survived what appeared to be his final regular season test last week when he went on the road and helped Oregon defeat a talented Utah team on the road. The Ducks just have to deal with Colorado and Oregon State, though things can get weird in the Civil War rivalry.
Oregon has clinched a spot in the Pac-12 title game, where the Ducks will have to face whoever comes out of the jumbled Pac-12 South. The conference championship takes place prior to the Heisman ceremony, so if Mariota drops a dud in that game, it could hurt his campaign at the most crucial point.
I know that’s looking way ahead, but when your remaining opponents have a combined record of 6-13 and cumulatively allow nearly 240 passing yards per game, you can do that a little bit.
Considering Oregon should win out (key word: should), there’s not much Mariota can do to enhance his campaign, but an unexpected loss would really hurt.
2. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB (LW: 2)
Now for a quarterback whose Heisman candidacy still has so much to gain. Unlike Mariota, Prescott has two ridiculously difficult road games left on the schedule: Alabama and Ole Miss.
Dak needs the challenge to surpass Mariota. There’s a large statistical gap between the two quarterbacks, something I mention pretty much every week.
If Prescott somehow leads typically moribund Mississippi State to an undefeated regular season, he will undoubtedly win the Heisman. Stats are important, but college sports tend to place a greater emphasis on Cinderella teams. Prescott’s stats are by no means bad, and if the Bulldogs go undefeated, there’s no reason not to reward him for being the face of a miracle season.
Losing a game will make it tougher, but if State emerges as the SEC West champs, Prescott will benefit from the conference’s prevalence in the media. There are probably voters who haven’t even stayed awake on a Saturday night to watch Mariota play.
Essentially, while Mariota has the amazing numbers and the amazing talent, Prescott has a number of warm and fuzzy factors that could catapult him to the Heisman podium come December.
3. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (LW: 3)
Oh, ya know, just another 200-yard game for Gordon last week against Purdue. He leads the nation in rushing, averaging a ridiculous 166 yards per game. Gordon also ranks second in the nation in total touchdowns, reaching pay dirt 21 total times this season.
He’ll outrun you, he’ll stiff arm you, he’ll hurdle you. He’s rushed for at least 100 yards in eight games, has averaged at least five yards per carry in eight games and has scored multiple touchdowns in each of his last four contests. Gordon is currently on pace for 2,000 yards on the ground, and that’s not even including the possibility of a Big Ten title appearance.
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA QB (LW: 8)
I like Hundley more than most people. He gets no love in the media as a potential Heisman candidate, yet has a higher completion percentage than anyone else in the nation and ranks ninth in efficiency rating. He’s only thrown four interceptions.
UCLA is quietly in the hunt for a New Year’s Day bowl, even after a slow start and losses to Oregon and Utah. Everyone loves Arizona State after their annihilation of Notre Dame last Saturday, but back in September, it was Hundley and the Bruins who obliterated the Sun Devils in a 62-27 pounding.
Hundley threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns in that game. He also ran for a touchdown, one of seven he’s had so far.
If they get a little help elsewhere and win the Pac-12 South, the Bruins will rematch Oregon in a potential shining moment for this dark horse Heisman candidate.
5. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB (LW: Not Ranked)
Remember back in Week 2, when Barrett looked like the second coming of Danny O’Brien? He completed a comical 31 percent of his passes and threw three interceptions as the Buckeyes lost to Virginia Tech.
Fast forward to early November, and Barrett has made himself into a Heisman candidate. He ranks second only to Mariota in efficiency rating, is tied for fifth with Prescott in yards per attempt, and has an outstanding 26:7 touchdown to interception ratio.
Last week, he went on the road to East Lansing and took down Michigan State to the tune of 300 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for two scores.
At this point I just want to know what happens to Braxton Miller. The former star quarterback will either have to take a shot at the NFL immediately following major injury or transfer, because the Ohio State job is Barrett’s for the foreseeable future.
6. Trevone Boykin, TCU QB (LW: NR)
This is the first time I’ve put Boykin in my rankings, and surely some would say I waited too long. Despite a fantastic 23:4 touchdown to interception ratio, Boykin ranks a mediocre 36th in both yards per attempt and efficiency rating, and is 75th in completion percentage.
In a crucial Big 12 matchup between TCU and Kansas State last week, Boykin ripped apart the Wildcat defense. He ran for 123 yards and three touchdowns, while also passing for a score.
If TCU wins out and sits on the fringe of the Playoff, expect Boykin to be a Heisman finalist. His campaign has a lot of momentum right now.
7. Blake Sims, Alabama QB (LW: 4)
It was not a good game last week for Sims, who completed less than 50 percent of his passes and averaged a putrid 4.6 yards per attempt last week in an overtime win over LSU. But hey, LSU ranks fifth nationally in passing defense, so Sims’ numbers become slightly less awful.
Most people are labeling wide receiver Amari Cooper as Alabama’s true Heisman candidate, but Sims ranks sixth in efficiency rating and is tied for seventh in yards per attempt. He’s very good. And remember that a wide receiver has only won the award three times.
8. Cody Kessler, USC QB (LW: 5)
Yeah, yeah, I know he won’t win. The book on Kessler is that he’s just a game manager, someone who’s best served taking the snap and handing it to Buck Allen or dumping it off to some receiver.
But that completely misses the boat on Kessler. Though the Trojans run the ball more than they throw it, Kessler has lit up the box score more than once this season. He threw for seven touchdowns and 319 yards against Colorado Oct. 18, and tossed five more scores and 400 yards two weeks ago against Washington State.
When you throw 25 touchdowns and only two interceptions and rank fourth in efficiency rating and completion percentage, you deserve a few Heisman votes.
9. Jameis Winston, Florida State QB (LW: 6)
I’m going to go on a little rant here.
Winston will be a Top 10 pick in next year’s NFL Draft. But can we please end talk of Winston’s 2014 Heisman candidacy? His mediocre 17:11 touchdown to interception ratio is not deserving of any major award.
While I was watching college football last Saturday, a graphic flashed showing potential Heisman candidates. Mariota. Prescott. Gordon. Winston? The analyst said something to the effect of, “All he does is win games.” Shut up.
10. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska RB (LW: 10)
I originally moved Marshall’s Rakeem Cato from No. 9 to this spot, but the only reason I’ve ever ranked Cato is because he has decent numbers and is the quarterback of a still-undefeated team.
I removed Cato entirely and kept Abdullah. Though his Heisman hopes are fading after missing an entire game against Purdue and having two bad games besides that, a duel with Gordon this Saturday will be a last-ditch attempt to get back in the race and claim positional supremacy.