In College Football America, our preview publication, I wrote about the Heisman frontrunners and sleepers, from my perspective. Here is my Week 12 update.
Four hundred and eight yards. Wow. Melvin Gordon had the biggest rushing game in FBS history against Nebraska, gaining 408 yards and scoring four touchdowns and the Badgers throttled the Cornhuskers in the snow, 59-24.
Oh, and did I mention that he didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter?
I checked the game periodically on my phone because I knew that it would have an impact on my weekly Heisman article. I honestly thought my Yahoo Sports app was broken.
Gordon is now the prohibitive favorite to be the only running back at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December. Note that I didn’t write “prohibitive favorite to win.” But he now deserves a prominent place in the conversation.
With two games remaining in the regular season Gordon is sitting on 1,909 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. Gordon should become the 17th player in NCAA history to rush for 2,000 yards in a season next week when the Badgers face Iowa. The Badgers must still win their final two games to win the Big Ten West, but if they can they’ll earn a berth in the Big Ten title game. Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the Badgers win out. They’ll be 12-1, Big Ten champs and Gordon will have had a great deal to do with it. That makes him an intriguing Wild Card right now.
But events in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday also altered the complexion of this race. We have a new front-runner now, at least on my opinion. After 12 weeks, if I had a Heisman ballot, this would be my Top 5:
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: I know there are many that have had Mariota as the No. 1 candidate for a couple of weeks now. Up until now I’ve had Dak Prescott of Mississippi State in the No. 1 spot for a couple of reasons. First, Prescott’s numbers are impressive when taken in their entirety. Second, he’s the quarterback for the No. 1 and undefeated team in the nation, and that means something when I assess this race. Well, naturally, MSU’s loss to Alabama alters the logic. With the loss the Bulldogs drop out of No. 1 and may drop out of the playoff race. That allows Mariota to ascend to the lead spot in this horse race. I find it hard to argue with it. The Ducks still have some work to do, and must play in the Pac-12 Championship game (they’ve already clinched the Pac-12 North), but if the Ducks win out and Mariota continues to play at this level he’ll probably win the award. But, just like last week I’ll say this — I don’t believe the gap between he and Prescott is significant.
QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Despite the loss to Alabama, Prescott put up substantial numbers — 290 yards passing and two touchdowns, along with 82 yards rushing. The number that will bite Prescott is the three interceptions, part of a disturbing trend that has seen him thrown eight picks in the last five games. That’s the clear difference between he and Mariota — the mistakes. Mariota has thrown just two interceptions this season.
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: As mentioned I believe Gordon will be in New York City now. There’s an outside chance he could overtake Barry Sanders’ all-time, single-season rushing record of 2,628 yards. But it won’t happen until the bowl game. And that should come with an asterisk too, as Sanders rushed for his record in 11 GAMES. Gordon would get 14.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: You have to love the consistency. Cooper caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown. I think he’ll be a finalist.
QB Trevone Boykin, TCU: I think all of the remaining players are on a significantly different tier than the first four on this list. Boykin loaded up on the passing numbers against Kansas, throwing for 330 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a game that the Horned Frogs had to rally to win. He’s having a brilliant season and with Ameer Abdullah dropping out of my Top 5, he’s the most likely to move into my Top 5. But that standing is in wet cement as opposed to concrete.
Players to track
QB T.J. Barrett, Ohio State: I had a real hard time determining if my No. 5 should be Boykin or Barrett. Did you see the game Barrett had against Minnesota in the snow? Two hundred yards passing and three touchdowns, and 189 yards rushing and another score. There’s a reason why head coach Urban Meyer is backtracking on whether or not Braxton Miller will be his starter in 2015. It’s because Barrett is playing out of his mind.
QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: The Bears were off this weekend. Oklahoma State is up next. He’s still on the outside looking in.
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: He threw for 304 yards and a touchdown against Miami (FL). He led yet another second-half comeback. You have to love the moxie. But his numbers and his play are clearly less than they were a year ago. Plus, there’s all the other off-the-field stuff. But I keep him on the track list because voters can be unpredictable.
Off the list
Here are players that are dropping off my list entirely this week:
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: He rushed for less than 100 yards against Wisconsin in a game where Gordon rushed for 408. Gordon left him in the dust. Abdullah had a fine season but he’s out.
QB Rakeem Cato, Marshall: Threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns against Rice. He’s having his usual great season. But I don’t think there’s room at the table for him now.