In College Football America, our preview publication, I wrote about the Heisman frontrunners and sleepers, from my perspective.
This is my first update in which I eliminate candidates. I had 30 players on my last update and we’re whittling it down to 25. We have a frontrunner now and tiers of players that have legitimate and not-so-legitimate chances to win the trophy. I tell you why below.
In two weeks we’ll update again and whittle the field down to 20. But, before we do that, we have one addition:
Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: Time to add him to the list. Do you realize that he’s already thrown for 2,018 yards this season? He has 21 touchdowns and two interceptions. The Beavers have only lost one game. So he has to be on this list. We won’t tier him yet. We’ll give him a couple of weeks before we do that. Chances are, he’ll make the next cut.
In the meantime…
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon: He has the numbers. 1,489 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s in the Top 9 in total offense. He also has the record. The Ducks are undefeated. Now, they seem to lose a game each year, so they may not remain undefeated forever. But Mariota is doing everything one would expect from a Heisman frontrunner. Now the Ducks are hitting a part of their schedule in which Mariota can makes his case. Next week they’re at Washington and ESPN Gameday is in town. Two weeks after that it’s UCLA. Then it’s the traditional first-weekend-in-November game with Stanford. Emerge from that undefeated and being the primary reason the Ducks win and Mariota might be the frontrunner by some distance.
These guys should be in New York City in December. They’re legitimate candidates to win the award now and have the ability to overtake the frontrunner.
Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia: I admit it. I’m a fan of this guy. I saw him in Athens two weeks ago and he came to play, torching the LSU secondary and leading the Bulldogs to a last-minute victory. He just took over the SEC career record for passing yards. It’ll look like he had a down game against Tennessee. But he threw for 198 yards and 3 scores, and didn’t throw a pick. The Bulldogs emerged from their tough September in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. All they have to do is keep winning and they’ll be in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. To me, that’s where Murray’s candidacy can be won or lost. If he goes into Atlanta, has a great game and leads the Bulldogs to a win, then he can give Mariota a real run. But that’s IF the Bulldogs keep winning.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville: He’s fighting the whole “You haven’t played anyone” battle. So let’s be clear – the Cardinals have not played a ranked team. But you can’t ignore Bridgewater’s pure efficiency. 1,562 yards, 16 touchdowns, 1 interception. The perception that he’s the No. 1 pocket passing prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft helps him as well. He’s completed at least 71 percent of his passes four times. The Rugters game next week will be interesting because the Scarlet Knights have a great pass rush. But outside of Rutgers and Cincinnati it’s not a scary schedule. His numbers will have to be pretty hefty to compete with Mariota and Murray.
Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson: He at least benefits from playing in the ACC. After a couple of rather benign performances Boyd went off on Syracuse, throwing for 455 yards and 5 scores. That’s exactly what his candidacy needed. He barely ran the football vs. the Orange, but that’s not likely to last. Boyd’s legs are as big a weapon as his arm. To me he’s on the shakiest ground of the players on this tier. But he also has great chances to make up ground. The Tigers face Florida State, Maryland and South Carolina later this season. If Boyd can put up big numbers in all three and lead the Tigers to victories, we might be talking about an undefeated Clemson team led by a Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M: You realize that if he hadn’t acted like such a bonehead this offseason that we’d be talking about a Heisman repeat, right? I mean his numbers are legit – 1,489 yards passing, 14 touchdowns, 4 interceptions. Then you throw in the 314 yards rushing and three scores and nothing has really changed. Yes, they lost to Alabama but did you see what he did in that game? He had 562 yards in total offense on a well-respected Alabama defense. But the feeling is that Manziel tweeted that chance away … right? Well, he still has all his SEC West games remaining, including LSU. You never know what happens during a football season and voters, like the general populace, can be real forgiving.
These players could be in New York come December. They have the numbers and the exposure to do it. What do they lack? Perhaps it’s that “Heisman Moment” we all hear about at the end of the season.
Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor: The numbers the Bears are putting up are ridiculous and Petty is the triggerman. 1,348 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, 1 interception. Doesn’t look like a big deal? He’s done that on 67 completions. In a wide open Big 12 where no one is dominant, Petty may end up with some of the best numbers in the nation. And thanks to Robert Griffin III, we’re willing to pay attention to that school on the Brazos.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State: Head coach Jimbo Fisher played down expectations at the start of the season. Why? 1,441 yards passing, 17 touchdowns, 2 interceptions and an undefeated record all spell Heisman candidate to me. Yes, there is the matter of that game with Clemson in a few weeks. Heck, it could be a Heisman elimination game with Boyd.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington: Sankey has an exposure problem. ESPN did a feature on quarterback Keith Price on Saturday. Really? Sankey is averaging nearly 150 yards per game and has scored 7 times. He put up 125 yards and scored twice on a tough Stanford defense in a three-point loss. I can’t punish him for that. He’s the running back that is the most capable of reaching the Heisman ceremony in New York City.
Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (FL): He’s a running back name only. He’s one of the nation’s most versatile players, as he can rush, receive and return. The Hurricanes are undefeated and Johnson is getting plenty of work. His profile needs a little more help, though. He’s more of a thinking man’s player at this point. He hasn’t had the explosive, “Hey look at me game” that every Heisman candidate seems to have. Yet. It could certainly still happen.
Odell Beckham, WR, LSU: We added him to our list last time and he’s now the nation’s leader in all-purpose yardage. Like Johnson he does everything for the Tigers and he does it well. I saw him against Georgia two weeks ago and I was thoroughly impressed. He may be in this for the long haul, thanks to the season Zach Mettenberger is having. Plus, he has an offensive coordinator in Cam Cameron who knows how to use players with Beckham’s talent.
These players are gaining on the Top 10. The one thing they have in common is that they are all players from BCS conferences. That helps. The things keeping them out of the Top 10 are minor … for now.
Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: He averages nearly 144 yards per game and he has 8 touchdowns through five games. Baylor has the nation’s top offense. But one has to wonder – just 8 touchdowns? This is a Bears team that has scored at least 60 points in each game this season. Seastrunk has to overcome the fact that this is a QB-led offense, and that may be impossible.
A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama: He’s in the Top 10 in straw polls. He may well end up in my Top 10 at some point. But for now he’s just outside because, well, didn’t we expect Alabama to be undefeated at this point? Another big win over LSU might help. But it’s a crowded QB field in the SEC and the fact that McCarron isn’t showy about it – which really doesn’t matter in the long run – doesn’t help.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU: Mettenberger has some of the best numbers in the nation – 1,738 yards passing, 15 touchdowns, 2 interceptions. But he also has that loss to Georgia, which there is little shame in these days. If the Tigers lose to Alabama, though, his candidacy is DOA. Like McCarron he suffers under the largesse of QB talent in the SEC.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Yes, he was on a bye this past weekend and he’s coming off a 74-yard game against Ohio State. But he left the game with an injury, so he was probably going to get his fifth straight 100-yard game. Let’s see if he picks it back up against Northwestern. I’m betting he does and that will keep him in the hunt.
Brandon Cooks, WR, Oregon State: His numbers are ridiculous – 52 receptions, 807 yards, 9 touchdowns. So ridiculous it’s almost hard to take them seriously. Almost. It would help if he had a hand in the return game. Wide receivers don’t win this award often without that value added. But, geez, if he keeps this up he’s going to shatter every NCAA record. So let’s keep an eye on him.
These are players that I can see staying in the race entering November. But they have one major thing going against them, whether it is statistics, the team they play for or lack of exposure.
Marion Grice, RB, Arizona State: Grice leads the nation in scoring and touchdowns scored. Grice is a versatile player who can run and catch, but Notre Dame found a way to slow him down in Week 6. Let’s see if he gets back on pace once the Sun Devils are back in the Pac-12.
Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois: He’s back among the Top 20 in total offense and the Huskies are undefeated with two wins over Big Ten teams. Lynch needs to kick it into overdrive, but the more the Huskies win the more he stays relevant longer.
Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: The suspension didn’t help. But he’s picked up where he left off last year averaging 143 yards per game. Still, Grice is overshadowing him now and he may not even be the best back in the Pac-12 anymore.
Taysom Hill, QB, BYU: He’s slowed down considerably since putting it on Texas. But he had a solid night against Utah State, throwing three touchdown passes. BYU’s unique schedule allows him to get national showcases more than most players in this tier. But consistency is key now.
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA: The reason he’s so low is because of his overall statistics. They just don’t measure up with the Top 10. But, the Bruins are undefeated and he’s a big reason why. If they keep winning, voters might overlook the numbers, to a point.
These are players that are nearly out of the race and need to act now if they want to stay in the hunt, or they’ll be dropped from this list when I update again after Week 8:
De’Anthony Thomas, RB, Oregon: Thomas missed last week with an ankle injury. He has solid numbers, but Mariota overshadows him. If he doesn’t get back on the field in the next two weeks he’ll have to wait until next year – if he comes back at all.
Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The Buckeyes kept him on the bench due to injury for part of the non-conference slate. Then, from a Heisman standpoint, he laid an egg against Northwestern. The numbers aren’t there. But we’ll give him two more weeks to get it together.
Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado: Despite 32 receptions, his numbers pale in comparison to other receivers higher on this list. The good news – the Buffs are pretty bad and have to pass to stay in games.
Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan: It’s nearly time to start planning his 2014 campaign. But the Wolverines are undefeated and that could keep Garnder relevant a little longer.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC: The disarray around him will probably doom him from a national spotlight this season.
These are the players that, at this point, I feel are out of the Heisman race:
Christion Jones, WR, Alabama: Had a nice splash play against Georgia State, but against stiffer competition he’s disappearing and not being used as much. Keep him on your list for 2014 because he has dynamite versatility.
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia: I saw him get hurt against LSU and he didn’t play against Tennessee. He’s now overshadowed completely by Murray. The good news? He’ll be the top dog in Athens in 2014.
Chuckie Keeton, QB, Utah State: I hate to eliminate him. But the Aggies have already lost three games and, while Keeton is putting up great numbers, players from non-BCS teams have to be on teams that have no fewer than one loss to win this award. So he’s out.
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern: Another player I hate to drop. But Mark missed three games due to injury and has just 89 yards rushing so far this season. He’ll make a good pro, though.
DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: I was hopeful Clowney could make a good run at the Heisman. But injuries and keeping him off the field. He’ll likely head to the NFL next season.