College Football America’s 2014 Heisman update: Week 8

Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson.

Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson.

In College Football America, our preview publication, I wrote about the Heisman frontrunners and sleepers, from my perspective. Seven weeks into the season we start to see who the legitimate candidates are and the ones that are on the outside. I’ll be back in a few weeks with a new update.

Remember a few years ago when Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh made a late push for the Heisman Trophy and actually made it to New York City for the ceremony? These were Suh’s numbers in 2009 —85 tackles, 12 quarterback sacks, 28 quarterback hurries, 24 tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, three blocked kicks, and one interception.

Suh had an incredible impact on the field that season, including the Big 12 Championship game. Even though the Cornhuskers lost to Texas, Suh had 4 1/2 sacks in a nationally-televised game that allowed him to make that late push. Defensive players — make that purely defensive players — rarely make a push for the Heisman. But we now live in an era where players that weren’t on the radar in August end up winning the award (witness the last three award winners, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston).

So why can’t Shaq Thompson win the award? Wait, who’s Shaq Thompson?

He’s a junior linebacker at the University of Washington, and if you’re not paying attention you’re missing out.

Here are Thompson’s numbers through six games: 49 tackles (30 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 pass-breakups, four passes defended, three fumble returns for 184 yards and three forced fumbles. Plus, he’s doing something Suh didn’t do consistently — score. Thompson had five touchdowns in six games, one as a running back and four as a defender.

In Game 7 against Oregon Thompson had a pedestrian outing by his standards — just seven tackles. But his impact on Washington’s defense is undeniable. He’s drawing comparisons to LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu, the mythical “Honey Badger,” who parlayed his exquisite play-making ability into a trip to New York City.

Is Thompson truly under the radar? Yes. But if he can continue to keep scoring and impact the Huskies’ run to a bowl game in unconventional ways, he’ll keep getting attention. In the crazy Pac-12, anything can happen.

I love watching this guy play and he probably won’t get to NYC in December. But give him a look if you’re up late on a Saturday night. He’s worth the time.

After eight weeks, if I had a Heisman ballot, this would be my Top 5 (in no particular order):

QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: The best part of being off this past weekend? Your Heisman stock can’t go down. Prescott still looks like the favorite at this moment, as the starting quarterback for the nation’s No. 1 team. With 1,478 yards and 14 touchdowns passing, and four 100-yard rushing games and eight touchdowns rushing, Only Marcus Mariota can match Prescott’s dual production. There’s a good chance MSU wins its next three games heading to Alabama on Nov. 15, though that Arkansas game on Nov. 1 looks dangerous.

QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: No interceptions in seven games? That’s just unfair. Add to that 19 touchdown passes and nearly 2,000 yards passing and you have one of the most productive quarterbacks in the country. He’s rushed for at least 40 yards in five of those games and has five rushing scores. The one thing that separates he and Prescott is one loss — Oregon’s loss to Arizona. The Ducks have back-to-back games against ranked teams on Nov. 1 (Stanford) and Nov. 8 (Utah). Plus, the Civil War against Oregon State ends the regular season. Don’t sleep on next week’s game at Cal, either. The Golden Bears are giving everyone fits right now, especially in Berkeley. Oregon might have a slightly more difficult schedule than Mississippi State down the stretch.

RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Abdullah has cleared 1,000 yards rushing for the season (1,024 yards) and has 14 touchdowns, four of which came in his 146-yard performance against Northwestern on Saturday. He has five 100-yard rushing games, with three of those games going for more than 200 yards. I’m starting to think that a couple of things might work against him. First, his production seems binge-like. Second, his 45-yard game against Michigan State looks like a sore thumb compared to the rest of his season. He should have two more productive games against Rutgers and Purdue before a Nov. 15 showdown with Wisconsin, which might prove to be an elimination game with …

RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Gordon has rushed for 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns in six games and his stock wasn’t damaged as the Badgers were off. What sticks out with Gordon as compared to Abdullah is that Gordon’s only non-100-yard rushing game came against FCS program Western Illinois, a game where Gordon played only a half. Gordon has more than 100 yards in each of his FBS games thus far. In fact, his “worst” performance came against LSU in the season opener (140 yards), a game where the Badgers inexplicably stopped using him in the second half. It’s a heavy dose of the Big Ten from here on in, and the Badgers drew a great schedule this year — no Michigan State, no Michigan and no Ohio State. Before the Badgers face the Cornhuskers the Badgers get Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue. They’re all winnable games and all games where Gordon could go off.

QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame: He’s the new guy in my Top 5 this week. I know they lost to Florida State, but one loss doesn’t kill a Heisman candidate. What I saw Saturday night impressed me. Golson was productive, focused and tough under pressure (for the most part). Plus, his numbers match up nicely with other quarterbacks on this list (1,996 yards passing, 19 touchdowns, six interceptions; 242 yards rushing, 4 touchdowns). In some ways, a Golson candidacy has its advantages. Every game is on national television. There are two ranked teams remaining on the schedule (Arizona State and USC) and both are road games. Plus, Louisville is no slouch. He can’t afford a bad performance and his Irish can’t afford a second loss.

A half-dozen to track

Here are six guys worth tracking:

RB Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Remember how I mentioned that Ameer Abdullah managed just 45 yards rushing against Michigan State? Coleman torched the Spartans for 132 last weekend, pushing him to nearly 1,200 yards rushing this season. And before you start thinking it was in garbage time against the second-string in a blowout loss, Coleman hit the Spartans for a 65-yard run in the first quarter. I think he has to get to 2,000 yards for people to pay attention. Or, maybe remaining games against Michigan (a game I’m attending), Penn State and Ohio State will help.

WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: Yep, he bounced back. Eight catches, 140 yards, two touchdowns. Welcome back, Amari. He already has 1,000 yards receiving and 11 scores, both career highs. And he has five games left. He’s the only pure receiver worth considering.

QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: I suspected the crucible of the SEC might expose Hill’s inexperience and that seems to have played out. The Aggies have lost three straight and their 59-0 loss against Alabama may spell the end of Hill’s candidacy. He threw for 138 yards, failed to throw a touchdown for the first time this season and was benched. The only reason I’m not taking him off the track list yet is that the Alabama game is his only truly bad game of the season.

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: Petty followed up his 510-yard passing performance against TCU with a 223-yard, two-touchdown performance against West Virginia. He’s just been too inconsistent this season to win this award. He’ll blow up against Kansas, but back-to-back games with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will make or break any potential candidacy.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: The numbers are there —1,878 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and leading an undefeated team. He has thrown for at least 250 yards in every game this season. The problem? Everything else. Fox Sports’ Charles Davis made a good point Saturday afternoon. He has a Heisman vote and believes voters are looking for an alternative. If I had a vote, I would be looking, too. There’s too much off-the-field stuff right now to trust that Winston will even be on the field at the end of the season at this point.

QBs Shane Carden, East Carolina, and Rakeem Cato, Marshall: Only one player from a “Group of 5” school is going to get a shot at going to New York City and these are the two guys left standing. Carden has thrown for 2,129 yards and 16 touchdowns. Cato has thrown for 1,912 yards and 19 touchdowns. Conveniently, they don’t play each other. But the two schools seem the most likely candidates to claim the at-large berth afforded the “Group of 5” in the New Year’s Eve/Day bowls. Someone is going to have to do something flashy between now and December to get on the map.

Guys I’m taking off the track list from Week 7:

RB James Conner, Pittsburgh: Coming off his third straight game under 100 yards. Pit that against Abdullah and Gordon and it doesn’t work.

RB Todd Gurley, Georgia: Had he made the trip to Arkansas, he might have worked his way back on the track list.

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