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.
This week represents a bit of separation on my Heisman list, starting with a player that I saw in person last weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich., Indiana running back Tevin Coleman.
I came away disappointed. Against a clearly wounded Michigan team, just a day after the resignation of their athletic director, the Wolverines limited Coleman to 107 yards rushing. Sure, Coleman has now cleared 100 yards every game this season. But the Wolverines rendered him a non-factor in that contest, and when you’re playing for a sub-.500 team you have be practically super-human to win this award. I had hoped that would come out of Coleman against the Wolverines. But it didn’t happen.
The good news? Coleman is a junior and if he comes back for his senior year he’s going to be on my short list of players to watch. Hopefully Indiana is a little better in the bargain.
After 10 weeks, if I had a Heisman ballot, this would be my Top 10 (in no particular order):
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Some Heisman polls are punishing Prescott because he and the Bulldogs ONLY beat Arkansas by seven points. Sorry, but the Hogs are a tough out this year, even if they’re not winning SEC games. Prescott actually had a career-high 331 yards passing in the game, but threw one touchdown against two interceptions. He also rushed for 61 yards. From my perspective, he’s the best player on the best team in the country and his numbers match up with everyone on this list. If the Bulldogs lose a game that changes how I look at the race. But for now, Prescott remains my leader. This week should be no issue for the Bulldogs, who host UT-Martin. Then the Bulldogs face Alabama and Ole Miss in two of their final three games.
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: How much do you punish a player for one loss? That’s the question with Mariota at the moment. He finally exorcised that Stanford demon on Saturday, passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw his second interception of the season. He had one of his best rushing games of the year, too, gaining 85 yards and scoring twice. I don’t think the gap between he and Prescott is significant. The Ducks have another game against a ranked team this weekend against Utah and then follow that with contests against Colorado and Oregon State. Mariota and the Ducks just need to keep winning at this point. But, as I mentioned before, I’m not as ready to drop Prescott out of the driver’s seat as others are at this point. That loss to Michigan State has to be factored into the equation.
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Bad news for Abdullah. He left the game with Purdue after just six carries for 1 yard after suffering a sprained MCL in his knee. His status for the Wisconsin game is in question. The good news is that the Huskers are off this coming weekend, so the timing couldn’t be better. Right now he remains in my Top 5 and I won’t punish him for the injury. But he has to be on his game when they play the Badgers or he’ll likely slide off.
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Gordon had another steady, productive game against Rutgers last Saturday, rushing for 128 yards and scoring twice. But like Abdullah he left the game with a knee injury after a teammate’s helmet hit it. Some are questioning why Gordon was in the game in the fourth quarter as the game was already in hand. But it’s clear he and the Badgers dodged a bullet because, unlike Nebraska, the Badgers have a game this weekend against Purdue. I still like Gordon’s odds a bit better than Abdullah’s, just because Gordon has four games left to Abdullah’s three. But their Nov. 15 showdown feels like a Heisman — and Big Ten West Division — elimination game.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: Alabama was off last weekend, but after re-examining the race I felt I had to move Cooper into my Top 5. Stacked up against the players below, Cooper’s odds of reaching New York City as a finalist are much better. First, he’s among the top players at his position (you could argue there is no better receiver in the country). There is no quarterback in Tuscaloosa to overshadow him. He’s already crushed his career bests, with the exception of touchdowns (9). And he has three games remaining against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn. How better to burnish your Heisman candidacy than to blow up against those three teams? With a non-conference game against Western Carolina sandwiched into all of this, I could see him ending up with 90-95 catches for a team that could make the College Football Playoff and win the SEC. That’s hard to ignore.
Players to track
QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame: Golson had a solid game against Navy (315 yards passing, three touchdowns), but that was expected. Now the fun begins as the Fighting Irish play Arizona State, Louisville and USC in three of their final four games. ND still has a shot at the playoff and Golson still has a shot at the Heisman. If either falters both go out the window.
QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: I’m not giving up on him just yet. But he needs big games against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State — and Baylor wins — to stay in the hunt to get in my final five.
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: I think he’s made a deal with the devil, frankly. How he’s able to rescue the Seminoles week after week is just amazing. Winston threw for 401 yards against Louisville, but his three interceptions also put the Seminoles in the hole that Winston rescued them from. He’s not outside my Top 5 due to numbers. It’s due to all of the other stuff surrounding him at the moment. That’s a shame, because with the numbers he’s put up and the fact that the Seminoles are undefeated he’d be right there with Prescott at the top of this list.
QB Rakeem Cato, Marshall: Cato now seems like the lone “Group of 5” player that could challenge for a spot at the ceremony. The Thundering Herd is still undefeated and Cato has set plenty of career records this season. He’s also a Maxwell semifinalist. He’s not putting up huge numbers, but they are comparable to some of the other quarterbacks on this list. If Marshall goes undefeated I could see Cato making an appearance, though it would be more of a nod to his career achievement, akin to Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch making it to NYC last year.
LB Shaq Thompson, Washington: I topped my piece with Thompson a couple of weeks ago and he’s now making things interesting out west. After 98 yards rushing against Arizona State he gained 215 all-purpose yards against Colorado last Saturday, with a touchdown rushing and a touchdown receiving. So it’s looking like Thompson will play one-half of the season on defense — where he accounted for four touchdowns — and the rest of the way on offense, where he’s already scored twice. This week he and the Huskies play UCLA, who have their own two-way stud in Myles Jack. Thompson probably won’t win this award, but it would be great to see him get to New York City as a finalist.
QB Trevone Boykin, TCU: Boykin’s game numbers took a serious dip against West Virginia — just 166 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception. But his overall numbers — 2,472 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions — are certainly comparable to the others on this list. If the Horned Frogs keep winning, I think he worms his way into the Top 5. It should be interesting because Kansas State has a great defense and the Horned Frogs play the Wildcats this weekend.
Off the list
Here are players that are dropping off my list entirely this week:
QB Shane Carden, East Carolina: A quarterback for a mid-major school can’t lose two games in a season and come close to sniffing this award. I love this guy, but that won’t track, especially when one of those losses is to Temple.
RB Tevin Coleman, Indiana: As mentioned earlier, Coleman is off my list now. You have to play at an extraordinarily high level every week to stay in the race. The Michigan game removes him from my list.
QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: He lost the starting job and you have to play to win this award.