Despite lingering in the background for much of the offseason, it didn’t take long for Louisville quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson to race back to the forefront of national consciousness.
Just one week did the trick.
In a prime-time opener against Purdue, Lamar Jackson went off for 378 yards passing and two touchdowns with 107 yards rushing.
The Heisman Top 10 fluctuates wildly over the opening few weeks. That’s evident in the huge drop Sam Darnold took, from the media’s preseason favorite to No. 5 following a not-terrible debut against Western Michigan. Hence is the plight of entering a season the odds-on favorite for the award, making Marcus Mariota’s win in 2014 all the more impressive in retrospect. Of course, Darnold could leap right back to the forefront with an impressive performance Saturday against Stanford — in which case, the wild swings will show quite clearly a week from now.
Meanwhile, some of the names various outlets researched to tabulate the Week 1 standings are…surprising. Among those to receive nominations but fall outside of the Top 10: Ole Miss quarterback Shea Patterson, Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and Alabama running back Bo Scarbrough. Patterson and Fitzgerald put up big numbers against overmatched opponents, while Scarbrough averaged 2.7 yards per carry for 40 total against Florida State.
No one ever said voters were informed *awkwardly clears throat*
Onto the Top 10 heading into Week 2.
10. Ronald Jones II, USC
When one Heisman candidacy suffers, another has opportunity to emerge. Preseason favorite Sam Darnold didn’t light up the box score in Week 1 against Western Michigan, but he didn’t need to with Ronald Jones II erupting for 159 yards on just 18 carries with three touchdowns — just his second three-plus touchdown game in his USC career.
Mama there goes Ronald Jones pic.twitter.com/tnsAXT9u2T
— Jack McGuire (@JackMacCFB) September 3, 2017
Stanford head coach David Shaw, who compared Jones II to Jamaal Charles, was asked about the USC running back being overlooked. Jones’ appearance on a handful of Heisman rankings suggests his play didn’t go completely unappreciated, but the ceiling for USC’s best back since Reggie Bush is still much higher.
Should Jones duplicate his Week 1 line against the Cardinal in Week 2, there will be no overlooking him.
9. Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins
Quite a debut for Mr. Dobbins in Week 1, eh? One-hundred, eighty-one yards rushing and a couple of receptions for 24 yards, J.K. Dobbins looked like Ohio State’s version of Christian McCaffrey or Reggie Bush — and the peak version of Curtis Samuel.
One of the most intriguing questions around Ohio State football in Urban Meyer’s successful tenure is just how much more explosive the Buckeyes could be with that kind of multifaceted player. Inserting Dobbins into this lineup just might take the Ohio State offense to a whole other level.
8. LSU RB Derrius Guice
Quietly, Derrius Guice put together one of the most impressive Week 1 performances anywhere in college football. I write “quietly” because, despite scoring two touchdowns and racking up 122 yards on a quality BYU defense, not a single source researched to compile the Heisman Top 10 ranked Guice above No. 6.
<2>7. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
#FirstQuarterTweets were not kind to J.T. Barrett in Week 1. It’s remarkable how short memories are; J.T. Barrett produced some of the most eye-popping numbers in college football as Ohio State’s surprise starter in the 2014 season.
Various setbacks prevented Barrett from replicating that level the last two seasons, and his performance early against Indiana further obfuscated his past success. The second half should serve as a reminder.
Barrett’s 304 yards passing, 61 yards rushing and four total touchdowns earned him love in the past week’s various Heisman projections. He had to split the shine with Dobbins, and obviously still has some skepticism to disprove, but he started on the right path to contending for the Heisman in 2017.
6. Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph
I don’t allow my own sentiment to dictate these rankings, but if I might editorialize for a moment: The relative paltry buzz surrounding Mason Rudolph’s 303-yard, three-touchdown performance in what amounted to one half vs. Tulsa shows the short memory of college football pundits collectively, and the significance exposure plays on generating that all-important Heisman buzz.
Oklahoma State was relegated to FS1 last Thursday night, drawing 382,000 viewers. In contrast, ESPN’s broadcast of Ohio State vs. Indiana garnered a 3.6 rating.
Voters actually seeing a Heisman candidate’s play and not relying on box scores is crucial to his campaign, and the middling ranking for Rudolph demonstrates that. If you only saw his final stat line, it’s not eye-popping. His actual showing, on the other hand?
— Cowboy Football (@CowboyFB) September 1, 2017
5. USC QB Sam Darnold
Carrying front-runner status for the Heisman into a season is quite a burden, and assessments of Sam Darnold’s debut speak to that.
Darnold passed for 289 yards in a win over Western Michigan and rushed for a touchdown on a bootleg. He also threw a couple of interceptions, which, again, looks ugly on a box score. However, both the interceptions and his overall unimpressive passing stats were largely the result of still building chemistry with a new-look wide receiving corps.
Does that mean Darnold should rank higher? Based exclusively on 2017 performance — and the Heisman is indeed to be evaluated entirely on that season’s play — the answer is a resounding no. To that end, wearing the top preseason designation is a blessing.
4. UCLA QB Josh Rosen
In the Heisman race, it’s often more about how you finish than how you start, Lamar Jackson’s win last year being a noteworthy exception. For UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, his Week 1 performance against UCLA was the essence of that adage condensed into a single game.
The UCLA offense was dismal for two quarters and change against Texas A&M, going without a first down for six straight possessions in the first half. But really, how many viewers, including Heisman voters, will mention that when remembering Rosen’s night?
He passed for almost 500 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner, in a comeback that came just one point shy of tying the all-time FBS record.
This isn’t the first time a Week 1 performance thrust Josh Rosen into the early Heisman conversation. Unlike his freshman campaign, however, Rosen may be better equipped to continue at the same pace.
3. Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield
A Heisman finalist in 2016 and worthy of an invitation to New York in 2015, Baker Mayfield’s knocked on the door for two years now. He didn’t stop knocking in the start of a third campaign with the Sooners, going 19-for-20 for 329 yards and three touchdowns. Moreover, that was in a single half.
It's half time and Baker Mayfield is 19-for-20 with 329 passing yards and 3 TDs. WOW.pic.twitter.com/nMwF5rRSQf
— LeadingNCAA ™ (@LeadingNCAA) September 2, 2017
Sure, Mayfield did his work against UTEP, but most quarterbacks fail to go 19-of-20 in practice, say nothing of facing live competition. Bob Stoops may be gone, but Lincoln Riley and his muse Mayfield are still slingin’ it all over Norman.
Should Mayfield put in work against Ohio State in Week 2, he’ll presumably move to the head of the Heisman line.
2. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley
In much the same vein as preseason Heisman favorite Sam Darnold, Saquon Barkley used a monster performance in January’s Rose Bowl to launch into 2017. Unlike Darnold, Barkley built on his summertime praise with a dominant showing against an opponent out of the MAC: 172 yards on just 14 carries with two touchdowns, and a kickoff return.
Is Barkley working on special teams a transparent pandering for Heisman attention? More than likely. Is it effective? Well, just check out Barkley’s ranking heading into Week 2.
1. Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Well, this is familiar. Lamar Jackson went from relative obscurity heading into the 2016 season to the top of the Heisman heap by Week 3, a spot he never relinquished despite some late-season struggles.
Those struggles, combined with the rapid ascent of USC’s Sam Darnold, pushed Jackson to the background. September’s here, and Lamar Jackson is back at full strength.
Just another day at the office for Lamar Jackson vs. Purdue | 30-of-46 passing, 378 yards & tied school mark with 14 100-yd rushing game. pic.twitter.com/IlCwP5GM9e
— LouisvilleFootball (@UofLFootball) September 5, 2017