This is the 11th 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: 2)
Sigh. As cool as it would be to see Melvin Gordon win the Heisman, realistically the award is going to Mariota. The Oregon quarterback has posted a ridiculous 32:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. No Heisman-winning quarterback has ever equaled something like that.
I said this a few weeks ago, but the one hindrance for Mariota is that his campaign has a lot to lose and little to gain. The Ducks have a trap game on the road this weekend against rival Oregon State before the Pac-12 championship.
Mariota’s amazing statistical resume is solidified, but a random loss to the Beavers would knock the Ducks out of Playoff contention. Oregon’s record would then be on par with Wisconsin, and then we could see hung voters between Mariota and Gordon. For suspense’s sake, I hope it happens.
2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin RB (LW: 1)
I’m mad at Kansas and Samaje Perine. After the Jayhawks’ joke defense allowed Perine to break Gordon’s week-old rushing record, I’m afraid that dumb voters who only look at raw numbers will say that the 408-yard game against Nebraska is less impressive if somebody can top it so quickly.
But when one considers other factors that require intelligence, Gordon’s demolition of the Huskers is easily the better performance—more yards per carry against a good team in a game that actually mattered.
He topped the 2,000-yard mark last week against Iowa, becoming the 17th player in FBS history to officially do so (there’s actually been 23, but there’s a disconnect over whether to include bowl stats in official totals because the NCAA is janky as hell). However, this is no guarantee for his Heisman candidacy, considering only five of the official 17 have gone on to win the Heisman.
Gordon has an outside shot at breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season rushing record. If he’s on pace to do so before the bowl game and Wisconsin wins the Big Ten, then man, will this be a split vote.
3. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB (LW: 3)
Let’s make one thing clear: At this point, it’s a two-horse race between Mariota and Gordon, and everybody else is just sort of there. But Barrett is deserving of being the top candidate of the second tier.
Barrett, a redshirt freshman, has done a fantastic job filling in for injured superstar Braxton Miller. He ranks second in passing touchdowns with 33, is third in efficiency rating and is tied for fourth in yards per attempt. He’s also pushing 1,000 rushing yards on the season.
In order for Barrett to actually leapfrog the two leaders and win the Heisman, he’s going to need to dominate in the Big Ten title game, have Oregon and Wisconsin both implode and have Mariota and Gordon replaced with Joey Harrington and Brian Calhoun, respectively. In other words, this isn’t happening.
4. Brett Hundley, UCLA QB (LW: 5)
I could have put Hundley at No. 3, but for right now, Barrett has better numbers and Ohio State also has a better shot at making the Playoff. UCLA is a dark horse Playoff team who would need to upset Oregon in the Pac-12 title game to actually get there.
I’ve been a supporter of Hundley for a while now even though he doesn’t get much national love. His offensive line is a sieve, yet he still leads the nation in completion percentage. In the primetime matchup last week against USC, the Bruins walloped the Trojans while Hundley shined, throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
5. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State QB (LW: 4)
Dak is still a fringe Heisman candidate, perhaps more so than both Barrett and Hundley, because if Mississippi State somehow makes it into the Playoff (still a real possibility), Prescott will have the distinction of being the most surprising player this season.
Barrett is still a pretty big shock, but the other three players above Prescott on this list all had preseason Heisman hype. Though Mississippi State had a promotional campaign for Dak, nobody took his candidacy seriously until the Bulldogs whooped Texas A&M (a win that, in retrospect, doesn’t seem too impressive).
So essentially, it’s all about Mississippi State making the Playoff to help Prescott overcome the existing statistical chasm between him and the other prime Heisman candidates. Even still, consider Prescott’s Heisman campaign to be on life support.
6. Trevone Boykin, TCU QB (LW: 7)
TCU was on a bye last week, so what remains fresh in my head is the Horned Frogs almost losing to Kansas. You know, the same Kansas team that I bashed in Melvin Gordon’s blurb.
Boykin still has two opportunities to make up for that dismal Kansas game, with a Thanksgiving road date with Texas and a matchup with Iowa State the following week. The Longhorns actually have a pretty good defense, ranking 14th nationally in passing defense, so that’s not exactly a cupcake matchup.
I’m not as high on Boykin as most people are, and I include him in these rankings primarily because TCU remains in the Playoff hunt and he’s their star player. He ranks 56th in completion percentage, 32nd in yards per pass attempt and 30th in efficiency rating. Not exactly Mariota-like numbers.
7. Blake Sims, Alabama QB (LW: 8)
When I recap my Heisman Watch series after the award is handed out, surely Sims is going to be the biggest outlier. I can envision a scenario where he doesn’t even get a vote. He’s really overlooked.
But I’ve stuck with Sims because he has routinely made key plays for Alabama all season long. His numbers aren’t amazing, but they’re better than Boykin’s. And yet Boykin has gotten all the hype.
Maybe we’re just programmed into thinking that the typical Alabama quarterback is just a placeholder, one who defers to a strong run game and a smothering defense. But Sims has been key to the Tide’s success all season long, even though the star power on this team is at other positions.
8. Jameis Winston, Florida State QB (LW: 9)
Another week, another Winston blurb where I tell you I only have him ranked because everyone else in the media is in love. Seriously, when did 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions become Heisman-worthy?
It seems most media members are infatuated with Winston simply because he hasn’t lost a game yet in his career. While this is to be applauded, the Seminoles have looked vulnerable in practically every game this season. Hell, Will Muschamp and Florida could knock off FSU this Saturday. Don’t rule it out.
9. Amari Cooper, Alabama WR (LW: 10)
Cooper and the three players directly above him on this list all moved up one spot thanks to USC getting destroyed by UCLA last week, effectively ending the microscopic chances of Cody Kessler being considered for the Heisman.
I figured I needed to mention that as a justification for moving Cooper up after he got injured last week against Western Carolina. Because of that, he had one of his poorest games of the season, finishing with three catches and 46 yards against an FCS defense that he could have teed off on.
Most people love Cooper as a dark horse Heisman candidate. And I get it—he’s really talented and will probably be the first wide receiver taken in next year’s draft. But there are several wide receivers whose stats are better than Cooper’s. Because of that, I really can’t rank him any higher than No. 9.
10. Bryce Petty, Baylor QB (LW: Not Ranked)
Well hello again. I haven’t had Petty ranked in the Heisman Watch since Week 6. The issue is that his 58.3 percent completion rate is garbage. He’s actually had two games with a completion percentage below 50 percent. How can someone realistically be considered for the Heisman if he is susceptible to such bad performances?
But Baylor is a fringe Playoff team. Consider it the Trevone Boykin/Big 12 quarterback proposition. One of those two is going to garner serious regional love even though neither is really deserving of the award.