In College Football America, our preview publication, I wrote about the Heisman frontrunners and sleepers, from my perspective. While no one is out of the race yet, four weeks into the season we can who the legitimate candidates are and the ones that are on the outside but closing in. In addition, I found one player you should really be paying attention to right now. I’ll be back in a month with a new update.
Hard to believe Jameis Winston has a worse handle on public opinion this year than Johnny Manziel did last year. Of course, Manziel didn’t pull any shenanigans during the season. He was kind enough to get all of his out of the way before the season began.
What happened last week matters not for football reasons but for societal reasons. Men simply shouldn’t speak like that about women. That’s how I was raised and what I was taught. That’s what I believe. I felt for his teammates. I mean, Winston should be grown up enough to know what he shouldn’t say in public. That’s not a football reason or a Heisman reason. That’s a man reason. His inability to filter that nearly cost his team a win and certainly cost him in reputation. Winston walking out in full shoulder pads before the game was just plain boneheaded, as the picture-perfect reaction of head coach Jimbo Fisher illustrated.
This article isn’t about the societal issues that apparently led Winston to believe that what he did was appropriate, nor is it a piece on how good or how bad a person Winston might be because of it. I don’t know him; therefore it isn’t my place to judge. But after one month of the college football season, as I check in on the Heisman race for College Football America and RattleandHumSports.com, it’s clear Winston shouldn’t be in anyone’s Top 5 ballot. And not because of what he did last week.
Winston’s passing numbers entering this weekend’s games are not in the Top 40 in the NCAA. He has not looked like the same player he was a year ago. His suspension last week robbed him of perhaps Florida State’s best “statement” game until their matchup with Notre Dame on Oct. 18. Maybe then Winston gets his Heisman moment, and perhaps he catches up in the stats department. But for now, based on his on-field resume, I couldn’t put him in my Top 5, even if I had a ballot. I just don’t feel like he’s among the Top 5 players in the country right now, and in truth that’s what the Heisman is about. Who’s the best? Right not it’s not Winston. But he has another two months to change my mind.
After a month, if I had a Heisman ballot, this would be my Top 5:
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: No one has a better or more balanced resume right now. He’s thrown for 1,135 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s rushed for 214 yards and another three touchdowns. His first month of the season includes a big win over Michigan State and a steely road win against an improving Washington State team. Plus, when was the last time you heard about Mariota doing anything remotely boneheaded? After the past two years, that is going to start mattering more and more to voters. I have no qualms making him my leader in the clubhouse.
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Abdullah is on pace to rush for nearly 1,900 yards and score 15 touchdowns. He saved his best game for the Huskers’ first significant test of 2014, a 41-31 win over Miami (FL) in which he rushed for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Nebraska looks resurgent and appears to be banking on Abdullah’s sturdy shoulders to get them through Big Ten play, so expect him to get plenty of chances to make his case. Oh, and he has the best Twitter hashtag of them all — #fearameer.
QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: You can’t ignore this guy, not after his eye-popping performance to open the season against South Carolina. From there he’s compiled huge numbers against less-than-stellar opponents. He carries 1,359 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception into this weekend’s contest against Arkansas. In fact, the next four games will probably determine the legitimacy of Hill’s candidacy this year. After the Razorbacks the Aggies travel to Mississippi State, host Ole Miss and travel to Alabama. As of now, MSU, Ole Miss and Alabama are undefeated and have a month’s worth of game tape of Hill to game plan with. This should be real interesting, especially if Hill rises to the occasion the way Manziel did two years ago.
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Gordon may have saved his candidacy with his eye-popping 253-yard, five-touchdown performance against Bowling Green. Of course it was against Bowling Green. I saw that defense in person a month ago. Not exactly stellar. But remember that Gordon put up 140 yards in the loss to LSU, even though the Badgers, inexplicably, stopped feeding him the rock for long stretches of that game. That is unlikely to happen as Big Ten play begins. Plus, the Badgers are a game behind most teams, as they’ve only played three games so far. Gordon has plenty of time to make his case.
QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: If there is a player in the nation that can overcome missing basically two games and stay in this race, it’s Petty. He missed the second half of the opener against SMU, and the following game against Northwestern State, due to a back injury. In his return against Buffalo he missed the second half after he put a hurt on Buffalo to the tune of 416 passing yards and four touchdowns. He only has 577 passing yards so far this season, but that’s bound to improve quickly. Plus, like Gordon and the Badgers, the Bears have only played three games. So, barring injury, Petty has nine games remaining. The next five games include Iowa State, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas, so there’s plenty of opportunity to reclaim a foothold in this race.
A half-dozen to track
Here are six guys worth tracking:
QB Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: The Nittany Lions are now bowl-eligible and Big Ten championship eligible, and they’re 4-0. Hackenberg has more than 1,200 yards passing. He has to five the touchdown-to-interception ratio (4 TDs to 5 INTs), but if the Nittany Lions keep winning he’ll get some traction.
Winston: Let’s not forget this guy can put up statistics in bushels and that the Seminoles are capable of winning every game on their schedule. Voters also have short memories. If he starts playing more like the Winston we’re used to seeing, he’ll pry his way right back into this race. Beating — and playing well — against Notre Dame is key, in my opinion. That game could make him or break him if you’re looking at his chances to repeat.
RB James Conner, Pittsburgh: He leads FBS with 699 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. Last year’s leading rusher in FBS, Boston College’s Andre Williams, was a finalist but didn’t gain traction until the final month of last season. Conner is doing things at Pitt that only Tony Dorsett has done. Time to pay attention.
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia: I haven’t given up on Gurley. The value he brings as a kickoff returner will help. So will being productive in the heart of the SEC schedule.
QB Shane Carden, East Carolina: The upset over North Carolina puts the Pirates — and Carden — on the map. In truth Carden had a huge 2013 and is off to a terrific start with 1,469 yards passing, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions this season. For now, he supplants Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato as the “Group of Five” player with the best chance to be in New York City. But Cato isn’t going anywhere. What separates the pair, frankly, is that ECU has a tougher schedule. Cato can’t do anything about that fact.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: Did you know that Cooper has 43 catches in four games this season? Did you know that he had 45 catches all of last season? He’s also already caught more touchdowns in 2014 (5) than he did in 2013 (4). He has four straight 100-yard receiving games and three games of 10 catches or more. It’s hard to win this award as a pure receiver. But Cooper might have the goods to do it, as he certainly won’t be overshadowed by either of Alabama’s quarterbacks.
And why not this guy?
QB Vernon Adams Jr., Eastern Washington: Don’t look at me like that. FCS (or Division I-AA) players have made waves in the Heisman race before. Holy Cross running back Gordie Lockbaum was a two-time Heisman finalist in 1986 and 1987, the latter of which was Holy Cross’ first season in I-AA. There was also Alcorn State’s Steve McNair (1993). Both players finished third in voting. So you have to be a special player to break into that club. I contend that Adams is that type of player. Through four games he’s thrown for 1,505 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions. Need more food for thought? Well, against Washington Adams nearly led the Eagles to an upset before losing 59-52. Adams threw for 475 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in that game. Yes, the Eagles have no defense (and for that matter neither do the Huskies). Yes, Adams is worth keeping an eye on as the season unfolds. He’ll benefit from playing in one of the toughest conferences in FCS (the Big Sky). The Eagles have beaten two ranked teams (Sam Houston State, Montana State), has a meeting with No. 7 Montana at the end of the season and another opponent, Northern Arizona, sits just outside the Top 25. Go ahead and pokes holes in it. All I ask is that you keep an open mind.