In the College Football America Yearbook I pointed out 25 candidates for the Heisman Trophy. To me, the list I provided was one of legitimate contenders going into the season.
Naturally, a month into the season, things have changed. Some have lived up to that status. Some have not. And, as is always the case, people none of us considered to be contenders have stepped forward.
So, now a month into the season, I present my first Heisman update. These are my Top 5 players if the season ended today. After that, you’ll find the remainder of my Top 25 list from the yearbook, along with any new additions that I feel have a legitimate shot.
Follow RoadTripSports.com’s Heisman Trophy page for our updates on the Heisman race along with other relevant news pertaining to college football’s top individual trophy.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State.
This was easy. I mean, how could it not be him? He’s had two of the most remarkable games in recent memory. First, against Iowa he ended up 358 all-purpose yards — 211 rushing, 94 receiving and 53 returning. Plus, he scored once. Then, last weekend against Indiana, he only managed 56 rushing yards. But, he returned the game’s opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown, had four receptions for 51 yards and threw his first career touchdown pass. Right now, he is No. 1 in all-purpose yardage and No. 9 in total rushing yards. I mean, this is what we want in a Heisman winner, right? A guy that can do it all? Barkley can. He’s fueling Penn State’s potential run to a Big Ten title and the College Football Playoff (still a long way to go on both those counts). But all the ingredients are there for a Heisman run — high-profile player, high-profile team and high-profile games ahead.
By the way, I pointed out in the Yearbook that Barkley was the top candidate among backs for the Heisman and wrote this note: “Barkley is coming off a fantastic season. The Nittany Lions are national title contenders and if they get to the Final Four it will be on Barkley’s back.”
2. Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma.
Voters are familiar with Mayfield and that helps (he finished third in Heisman voting last year behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson). Voters are familiar with his story and you can spin it like this — the former Texas Tech walk-on left for Oklahoma after failing to get a scholarship, waited a year to play, fought to get his last year of eligibility restored and after his terrific 2016 decided to stay in college one final year instead of going to the NFL. Voters eat that stuff up with a spoon. Mayfield’s 2016 was tremendous. He set the national record for quarterback rating and led the Sooners to an undefeated run in the Big 12. This year the Sooners are undefeated and Mayfield has 1,329 yards, 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in four games. Mayfield also has something he didn’t have at this time last year —a win over a Top 5 team after leading the Sooners to a road win over Ohio State. Voters will look upon that favorably. Barkley’s incredible start is working against Mayfield, much like Jackson’s start a year ago, but he has more than enough time and opportunity to change that. November will be critical for Mayfield in respect to the Heisman, with games against Oklahoma State and TCU. Plus, if he can lead the Sooners to a Big 12 title game berth, he’ll have a national stage to impress voters one last time.
3. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville.
Let’s not forget about the defending champ, but the road ahead is a tough one. As I pointed out in the Yearbook, young Heisman winners of recent vintage typically suffer from a drop-off in production statistically speaking and that hurts their chances of repeating. But, perhaps more than that, you can only surprise Heisman voters once. Jackson did that last year with his electrifying September. Even though his numbers did track a bit down in November, he had already accumulated more than enough statistics and credibility to keep voters on his side (it helped that none of the other contenders really stepped forward to eclipse Jackson late). You can’t dismiss Jackson because he’s off to a fine start (1,636 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, three 100-yard passing games and five rushing touchdowns). But I think voters are looking for Jackson to show that he can make his team better than a year ago, and with a loss already in the bag to Clemson (and a blowout loss at home at that), I think that’s going to be a hard case for him to make. Still, as the defending winner, he’s tracking as a player that could get enough votes to earn an invite to New York City, even if he’ll be there anyway.
4. Luke Falk, QB, Washington State.
Falk has been on my list for a couple of years now and he’s a statistical juggernaut. Most quarterbacks are in a Mike Leach-coached offense. But he’s never had a game like he had against USC on Friday night. The statistics are great — 340 yards passing and two touchdowns, along with one interception. But what is more important is the win. The Cougars beat the Trojans, 30-27, keeping them undefeated at 5-0 and making them a part of the national conversation because, after all, the Trojans were ranked No. 5 at the time. Falk will put up the numbers. He’s already sitting on 1,718 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 2 interceptions in five games. He should approach 4,500 yards passing and at least 35 touchdowns (and that’s what he has averaged the past two seasons). If the Cougars can remain undefeated going into November Falk will become a focal part of the Heisman conversation. The mind boggles at an Apple Cup matchup between an undefeated Washington and Washington State on Thanksgiving weekend. The state of Washington might explode. But he needs his team to remain undefeated and he needs the attention to stay in the Heisman race.
5. Bryce Love, RB, Stanford.
Who is this guy? He’s the only player in Division I with more than 1,000 yards. He’s done it in five games and his “worst” game was a 160-yard effort. Last weekend Love burst onto the scene with a 301-yard rushing game against Arizona State. With 1,088 yards and 8 touchdowns so far, Love moves into my No. 5 spot, but there is a caveat. Those two losses hurt. The one to USC was expected. The one to San Diego State was not. He can’t afford for the Cardinal to lose another game and that means running a gauntlet of Oregon, Washington, Washington State and Notre Dame the next two months. That may be too much for Stanford to handle. But if it can, it will be because of Love and he’ll become a credible candidate as a result.
These are players I pointed out were contenders in our Yearbook. In my next edition, players that I feel have dropped out of the race will be listed at the bottom.
Shane Buechele, So., Texas: Out of the race at this point. He missed two games due to injury and he’s not producing the numbers necessary to be a contender.
Sam Darnold, So., USC: A loss doesn’t kill anyone’s Heisman hopes. But Darnold’s numbers haven’t quite been there, either. But he’s not out of the race yet.
Quinton Flowers, Sr., USF: The Bulls are undefeated and as long USF is undefeated Flowers will be on the periphery of the race.
Deondre Francois, So., Florida State: Injured in the season’s opening game and will not return in 2017.
Jalen Hurts, So., Alabama: Not out, but not a high statistical producer. He’s dependent on the Tide remaining undefeated. He’ll remain on the periphery for now because the Tide are, well, the Tide.
Jake Browning, Jr., Washington: He’s not producing at quite the rate he was a year ago, but he’s still the quarterback for an undefeated defending Pac-12 champion that has a clear path to the College Football Playoff if it remains undefeated. Can’t eliminate him yet.
Trace McSorley, So., Penn State: He’s completely overshadowed by Saquon Barkley at this point. So he’s out. But he’ll be a top contender next year.
Josh Rosen, Jr., UCLA: The losses hurt, but the numbers are definitely there — 2,135 yards passing, 17 touchdowns and 5 interceptions in five games. He’ll remain on the list for now, but he could be eliminated in our next update.
Mason Rudolph, Sr., Oklahoma State: Still in it, thanks to that win over Texas Tech. But Rudolph suffers from being in Baker Mayfield’s shadow. He’ll have a chance to change that at Bedlam vs. Oklahoma. He plays in an offense built to his skills and his five rushing touchdowns are a nice value-add.
Nick Chubb, Sr., Georgia: The stats say no. But the undefeated record in Athens, Ga., requires you to keep an eye on him. He’s also in a committee and that could end up eliminating him in our next update.
Royce Freeman, Sr., Oregon: With QB Justin Herbert out 4-6 weeks, it’s now or never for Freeman. But he’s also hurt, but it’s unclear if he’ll miss time. If Freeman ends up missing any time, he’s out in our next update.
Myles Gaskin, Jr., Washington: He’s started producing like the back he is in league play with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, including 202 yards against Colorado. We’ll keep him in the update one more time.
Derrius Guice, Jr., LSU: Out, though you could make the argument that the reason LSU lost to Troy is because Guice missed the game with an injury. But he failed to reach 100 yards in the two games before missing the Troy game and with SEC play looming he isn’t going to make up the ground.
Justin Jackson, Sr., Northwestern: Out. Two of his games this season went for 18 yards and 25 yards. That won’t keep him in the race.
Bo Scarborough, Jr., Alabama: Out. I thought he was in for a larger role in Alabama’s offense this season. Turns out that hasn’t been the case.
Mike Weber, So., Ohio State: Out. Like Scarborough, a player I thought would play a larger role for his team but clearly hasn’t through the first month.
Quadree Henderson, Jr., Pitt: Out. He’s one of the best return men in the game, but I thought his receiving numbers needed a clear charge upward to contend. He has 8 catches this season.
Christian Kirk, Jr., Texas A&M: He’s behind his production from a year ago, but he can make up the space fast. Plus, he’s an electric return man. With some big games coming up, we’ll leave him in one more update to see if he can capitalize on the spotlight.
James Washington, Sr., Oklahoma State: Out. He’s having a very good season, but he’s taking a back seat to Rudolph at this point.
S Derwin James, So., Florida State: Out. The two games missed aren’t his fault (that’s on Hurricane Irma). But in three games he’s defended one pass. He hasn’t had the impact I expected.
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Jr., Alabama: Out. He hasn’t been productive enough to get noticed after one month.
NEW PLAYERS TO TRACK
These are players that were not listed in our Yearbook but, based on their play the first month, are worth tracking.
QB Kelly Bryant, Jr., Clemson: His numbers aren’t pinball, but he’s winning games as the replacement to Deshaun Watson. He’s led the Tigers to three wins over Top 15 teams in September, which has never happened, and some easier ACC games lie ahead. He’s not Top 5 yet, but let’s see where he is on my next update.
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