This is the 10th edition (hooray, double digits!) 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. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (Last Week: 3)
It’s time for a changing of the guard. Maybe I’m a little biased. But Gordon’s performance last Saturday—408 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries—was the most dominating spectacle by an individual player I’ve ever seen in person.
The biggest knock on Gordon’s Heisman case is, unfortunately and unfairly, Wisconsin’s two losses. But it certainly wasn’t his fault that the Badgers lost those two games. He ran for 140 yards and a touchdown against LSU, then mysteriously got benched in the second half. And against Northwestern, he ran for 259 yards.
Where would Wisconsin be without Gordon? The quarterback problems have been well documented. Corey Clement is good, but he’s no Melvin. Without a world-class running back to bail them out on offense, the Badgers would arguably be around 6-4 instead of 8-2.
2. Marcus Mariota, Oregon QB (LW: 1)
Mariota has some incredible numbers, but he has yet to have an amazing game like Gordon last week. His best game of the year came against Washington State. Gordon’s career day was against a Nebraska team that came into the game ranked 19th in the country in rushing defense.
But Mariota is the quarterback of a team that should make the Playoff. That counts for something with Heisman voters, even though it shouldn’t. His 29 touchdowns and two interceptions are incredible, and he leads the country in both yards per pass attempt and efficiency rating.
Watch out for that Oregon State game, though. The Beavers just pulled off a fourth-quarter comeback to knock off No. 6 Arizona State. The Civil War rivalry has gone Oregon’s way the past six years, but the game is in Corvallis and is prone to funky endings. A loss to an unranked team right at the end of the season could really hurt Mariota.
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB (LW: 5)
Barrett has morphed into some kind of super freshman this year. To go from his nightmare game against Virginia Tech and get the Buckeyes on the verge of the Playoff is remarkable.
Barrett has thrown 29 touchdowns and eight picks, three of which were against the Hokies Sept. 6. He ranks third in efficiency rating and sixth in yards per attempt.
Last week against Minnesota, he threw for three touchdowns and 300 yards, and also added 189 yards on the ground. That included an 86-yard touchdown scamper on a read option, where he outran a herd of Gophers in the secondary to get to the house.
4. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB (LW: 2)
It didn’t have to end like this! It wasn’t that Mississippi State lost to Alabama. It was that Prescott had a terrible game, throwing three interceptions, all in Tide territory.
Prescott was exposed by Alabama, finally showing the warts on his pocket passing abilities. I’ve said all along that Mississippi State did not have to go undefeated for Prescott to win the Heisman. I still believe that, but the issue is that the Bulldogs probably have to at least win the SEC West for Prescott to win the Heisman.
They’re 5-1, a half-game behind the Crimson Tide. That means they have to win their remaining two games (home vs. Vanderbilt, away vs. Ole Miss) and have the Tide lose to Auburn at home in the season finale.
Prescott’s stats are not in the same category as any of three players above in these rankings, and having a dud in Mississippi State’s biggest game in years is a killer.
5. Brett Hundley, UCLA QB (LW: 4)
UCLA was on a bye last week, so even though I dropped Hundley one spot, it’s not a reflection of his play. He leads the country in completion percentage, ranks seventh in efficiency rating and a respectable 17th in yards per attempt. He’s only thrown four interceptions all season.
The biggest news from last week regarding Hundley’s Heisman chances was Arizona State’s loss to Oregon State. The Bruins, already owning the tiebreaker with both Arizona State and Arizona, are now in control of their own destiny for the Pac-12 South championship. They play current division leader USC next Saturday.
Wins always help a player’s Heisman chances. It’s why I finally had to take out Indiana’s Tevin Coleman a few weeks ago, thanks to the Hoosiers being the Hoosiers. If UCLA wins the South, it sets up a showdown in the conference title game with Oregon and fellow Heisman candidate Mariota.
6. Cody Kessler, USC QB (LW: 8)
Meanwhile, on the other side of next week’s USC-UCLA game is Cody “I’m More Than a Game Manager” Kessler. Last Thursday against Cal, Kessler ripped apart the Golden Bears for 371 yards and four touchdowns while completing nearly 75 percent of his passes.
Kessler has nearly matched Mariota’s fantastic 29:2 touchdown to interception ratio, with 29 scores and just three picks of his own. Kessler’s Heisman case is essentially the same as Hundley’s, with similar numbers and a similar record.
That’s why this weekend’s game against UCLA is so crucial. A win doesn’t clinch the division for the Trojans, but obviously it gets them that much closer to the Pac-12 title game.
7. Trevone Boykin, TCU QB (LW: 6)
Yeesh, that was ugly. TCU, a major Playoff contender, needed a second-half rally to beat Kansas last week, 34-30. The Jayhawks are a terrible program, having won exactly three Big 12 games since 2010.
Boykin actually had a pretty good game, though. He completed 72 percent of his passes and threw for 330 yards. But the struggle against Kansas puts a stop to Boykin’s Heisman momentum, something that was so high two weeks ago after the Horned Frogs whooped Kansas State.
TCU is on bye this week, but faces a stiff test on Thanksgiving against Texas. While the Longhorns are mediocre this season, they do have a superb defense, one that ranks 15th in passing yards allowed.
8. Blake Sims, Alabama QB (LW: 7)
Like pretty much every other Tide quarterback of the past decade, Sims is overlooked and underrated. While the defense and running backs have played key roles in Bama’s success this season, Sims has been a reliable presence under center and has helped the Tide become a Playoff contender.
I’ll admit Sims is pretty much a game manager that throws it up to Amari Cooper (more on him below), but his numbers have still been excellent. He’s tossed 18 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Thanks to the win over Mississippi State, Alabama is in great shape to win the SEC West and possibly make the Playoff. Don’t expect Sims to win the Heisman, but he at least deserves some votes.
9. Jameis Winston, Florida State QB (LW: 9)
I already said my piece about Winston last week. His numbers have been mediocre and not befitting of a Heisman winner, but he remains in the race simply because so many people value wins over anything else.
Winston is incredibly talented, but expectations are high for a player who dominated all of college football last season. It’s hard to live up to that, and no one should expect Winston to repeat last year’s success.
But he’s been totally human this season, and nothing about his stat line screams “Heisman” to me. He’s thrown 12 interceptions this season, one of the worst marks in the nation. However, Winston will get plenty of Heisman votes because the Seminoles are the only Power Five school still undefeated.
10. Amari Cooper, Alabama WR (LW: Not Ranked)
Cooper is the best receiver in the nation. He leads the country in receiving yards, ranks third in receptions and is fourth in touchdown catches.
So much of Blake Sims’ success has been thanks to Cooper, who has practically half the team’s receptions and receiving yards himself. But there’s positional bias here, considering only three wide receivers have ever won the Heisman.