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Heisman Watch: Week 3

Brad Prenner-USA Today

It’s never too early to take a look at the Heisman race.

College football fans have been treated to a great start to the 2017 season. Games like Alabama-FSU, Ohio State-Oklahoma, and Clemson-Louisville have showcased the great talent around the country as teams fight for early positioning in the CFP race. 

While the national championship is the main goal for every team, there is no greater reward for individual players than the Heisman Trophy. Experts put together Heisman watch lists in the preseason but those don’t always pan out as they hope. Players rise and fall quickly and Week 3 is still too early to predict who exactly will win. However, it’s never too early to see who’s rising up and gaining attention. 

Baker Mayfield QB, Oklahoma 

Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield is no stranger to being in the Heisman hunt. After leaving Texas Tech to play for Oklahoma, Mayfield has been a Heisman finalist twice, finishing fourth in 2015 and third last season. This may be his best shot at finally winning the coveted award. In 2016 Mayfield shared the spotlight with a dynamic running back duo and star receiver Dede Westbrook, who also finished in the top five of the Heisman race. Mayfield won’t have to compete for attention this season as he leads the Sooners to new heights. 

The Heisman is a numbers-driven award and Mayfield certainly has the numbers to back up the hype. After three games, Mayfield finds himself ranked in the top-10 in nearly every major category. He’s thrown for 1,046 yards (eighth), 10 touchdowns (fifth), no interceptions, and a 224.2 rating (second). These impressive numbers don’t do Mayfield justice in just how good he really is.

How Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield stacks up against the other top draft-eligible QBs.

PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 20, 2017

Heisman voters always look for a player’s “Heisman Moment”. Mayfield had his first chance at this moment when traveling to Columbus to take on Ohio State. In 2016, the Buckeyes got the best of Oklahoma but the 2017 matchup was a completely different story. The Sooners outscored the Buckeyes by 15 points in the second half, led by Mayfield’s three touchdown passes in a 31-16 victory. Mayfield himself said they should have won by more, and this game will be seen as his shining moment, at least for now. 

Mason Rudolph QB, Oklahoma State

When it comes to Big 12 quarterbacks, it used to be talked about as Mayfield and the rest of the conference, but not anymore. Cowboy’s gunslinger Mason Rudolph is quickly threatening Mayfield’s spot as the top thrower in the conference.

Typical of most Big 12 offenses, Oklahoma State is all about high-octane scoring, and through three weeks, only three teams have averaged more points than the Pokes at 54 per game. While the receiving core is one of the best in the country, this offense isn’t the same without Rudolph. He currently ranks fifth in passing yards (1,135), third in touchdowns (11), and second in Total QBR (92.7).  

Rudolph was able to show off for a national audience this past week in an early-afternoon matchup with Pittsburgh. He certainly cemented his place in the Heisman conversation with 497 passing yards and five touchdowns; oh, and he only played two-and-a-half quarters. Rudolph did throw his first interception, but that’s just a small blot on his impressive resume. TCU is a much better test compared to Tulsa, South Alabama, and Pitt, but the Pokes and Rudolph should continue to dominate. 

Mason Rudolph:
423 Yards
5 TD

And yes, that’s just in the FIRST HALF.

CBS Sports CFB (@CBSSportsCFB) September 16, 2017

A win over Pitt doesn’t have the same impact as a win against Ohio State, so Rudolph’s Heisman moment may have to come later in the season against rival Oklahoma. That game could also determine if Mayfield or Rudolph goes home with the Heisman.

Saquon Barkley RB, Penn State

If someone is looking at Saquon Barkley’s stats at face value, they would question why he is considered a Heisman contender. One has to dig a little further to know the truth, and know just what Barkley means to Penn State and their Big Ten contention.  

Barkley currently ranks 23rd in rushing yards with 307 and tied for 42nd with three rushing touchdowns. However, Barkley is involved in every aspect of the Nittany Lion offense also accounting for two receiving touchdowns and 241 yards.

Penn State RB Saquon Barkley is averaging 11.2 yards per offensive touch through 3 games. He is scoring on more than 10% of those touches.

— Tyler Donohue (@TDsTake) September 22, 2017

Because Penn State has outscored opponents by 42.3 points per game, Barkley only has 38 carries, which gives him an average of 8.1 yards per carry. His YPC ranks seventh among running backs that have 30 or more carries. Barkley has some work to do, but once he gets more than 10 carries a game, the numbers should reflect just how dynamic and dominant he truly is.

Lamar Jackson QB, Louisville 

There wouldn’t be a Heisman list without last year’s winner. Lamar Jackson burst onto the scene in 2016 with his flashy style of play that had opposing teams scrambling to figure how to contain him. Far from being a polished NFL-ready thrower, Jackson has proven time and time again that he can take over a game by himself, especially with his legs.

How Louisville QB Lamar Jackson stacks up against the other top draft-eligible QBs.

PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 21, 2017

In trying to become only the second player ever to win the Heisman twice, Jackson has started off hot. He ranks seventh in the country in passing yards with 1,088 and tied for 11th with eight touchdowns. Running the ball he also ranks among the best in the country with 303 yards (29th) and has added three touchdowns. 

Even while totaling over 450 total yards against both Purdue and North Carolina, Louisville’s matchup against Clemson was Jackson’s chance to prove himself against an elite defense. Unfortunately, the game did not go so well. Jackson still totaled 381 total yards with three touchdowns but struggled in the process. He completed only 50% of his passes and his one interception was returned for a touchdown to start the second half.

The narrative that Jackson struggles against top-level defenses has reared its ugly head and that could hold him back from repeating as Heisman. There is still a chance, but with other guys consistently putting up big numbers, Jackson will have to do even more to remain in the conversation. A matchup against Florida State in late October will be his best chance to gain back voters with a big performance. 

Names To Keep An Eye On

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA: 1,283 yards, 13 touchdowns, 2 interceptions 

Rashaad Penny, RB, San Diego State: 588 yards, 4 touchdowns

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon: 460 rushing yards, 190 receiving yards, 9 touchdowns

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

What was the first year the Heisman Trophy was presented?
Created 9/20/17
  1. 1920
  2. 1935
  3. 1942
  4. 1951

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