Heisman Top 10: Khalil Tate on the Move, Baker Mayfield in the Lead

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Remember how Saquon Barkley was definitely winning the Heisman? Baker Mayfield moved so far ahead of the Penn State running back, so fast, Barkley’s time atop the weekly Heisman forecast feels like a lifetime ago. 

Things certainly can change dramatically in just a few Saturdays. Tracking outlets’ rankings and general voter sentiment these last few seasons has been an eye-opening exercise, because the snapshot from week-to-week can change profoundly. 

As it currently stands, Baker Mayfield would either need to completely implode in the Sooners’ final three games, or one of the other contenders would have to go Super Saiyan. The window of opportunity may have closed on Saquon Barkley, Penn State having exhausted its most important three-game stretch already. Should the Nittany Lions get back into the Big Ten Championship Game picture, on the other hand? Barkley has some upward mobility. 

Khalil Tate is an interesting case. From not playing through the first month of the season, to top three with just three weeks to go, his is the most remarkable ascension I have followed in three years doing this. And Bryce Love might end up being the most impressive runner-up since…well, the last time a Stanford running back was the Heisman runner-up. 

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES

USC QB Sam Darnold

USC RB Ronald Jones II

Iowa State LB Joel Lanning

UCF QB McKenzie Milton

San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny

10. NOTRE DAME RB JOSH ADAMS

Heisman voting is a fickle mistress. Look no further than Josh Adams, the fastest rising contender just a few weeks ago, coming off the strength of games with 191 yards rushing and three touchdowns against USC, and 202 yards rushing against NC State.

In the two weeks since, Adams rushed for a combined 62 yards. His struggles underscore the difficulty running backs have had maintaining a Heisman pace in recent years, as the two contests this month that likely DQ’d Adams — against Wake Forest and Miami — he totaled 21 carries. That’s six fewer than the NC State game alone.

9. OHIO STATE QB J.T. BARRETT

At some point in your life, you knew a couple that routinely broke up, often in ugly and melodramatic fashion, only to reunite shortly later. Said reunions typically involve stomach-turning PDA and a burning passion certain to flame out more quickly than the last time.

Well…that’s the 2017 Heisman race and J.T. Barrett.

Barrett entered the season one of the top 5 or so candidates, soared with a strong Week 1 performance, than disappeared about as quickly as any legitimate contender I have witnessed in my time conducting this research. The Nebraska blowout last month didn’t just land Barrett back on the Heisman radar: He immediately returned to the Top 5, and the Penn State comeback positioned him as perhaps the top contender to Baker Mayfield heading into November.

Then came Iowa and a vitriolic break-up, only for Barrett’s name to resurface after a four-touchdown performance against Michigan State.

8. OKLAHOMA STATE QB MASON RUDOLPH

Mason Rudolph’s Heisman candidacy has not been as volatile as that of J.T. Barrett, but the Oklahoma State quarterback has gone through waves of outlets being really high on him — he peaked at No. 2, just behind Baker Mayfield ahead of Saquon Barkley’s midseason-surge — to falling out of favor altogether.

His fourth-quarter heroics against a good Iowa State team served notice that Rudolph is indeed still one of the best quarterbacks in the country. He finished 25-of-31 with three touchdowns in a win that keeps the Cowboys in the hunt for the Big 12 Championship Game. A Bedlam rematch with Baker Mayfield and the Sooners is probably a must for Rudolph to have any realistic shot of reaching New York City.

7. ALABAMA QB JALEN HURTS

Jalen Hurts’ place among the Top 10 for the better part of the past month felt like the Gold Watch inclusion of this year’s Heisman class. Voters have a tendency to show support for players as recognition of the team’s excellence — which isn’t to downplay Hurts’ impressive two-way play. Take away Alabama’s overall dominance, however, and Hurts would not appear anywhere near the Heisman Top 10.

Well, for better or worse, voting does reflect team success, but Jalen Hurts did his best to capitalize on that truth last week at Mississippi State. Thrust into his first Heisman Moment of the season, Hurts delivered.

Calvin Ridley for 15 yards; Calvin Ridley for 31 yards, the biggie that set up a game-winning strike to DeVonta Smith. Alabama escaped with a 31-24 win on a drive in which Hurts showed off his play-making ability.

6. WISCONSIN RB JONATHAN TAYLOR

Skepticism about Wisconsin’s College Football Playoff bonafides seeps into the Heisman perception of one Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers’ stagnation in the Playoff rankings could be a byproduct of Taylor languishing outside of the Top 5, despite boasting more impressive rushing numbers than Big Ten counterpart, Saquon Barkley. 

In the same manner Barkley had the opportunity to either solidify his place as the clear front-runner, or fall behind new pace-setters with a three-game stretch against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, Jonathan Taylor began an important stretch last week with Iowa. He rushed for a stout 157 yards, but did not reach the end zone. He will need to score against Michigan, both for the sake of his Heisman candidacy, and to keep Wisconsin in the Playoff conversation. 

5. LOUISVILLE QB LAMAR JACKSON

I have personally been beating this drum for a few weeks now, and the indication I glean from compiling this data supports my opinion: Reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson has been every bit as deserving of an invite to New York this season as he was last. In fact, he might be more so in that he’s successfully maintained a higher standard into the final stretch of the season, avoiding a dip similar to last November. 

With three passing touchdowns, a fourth rushing, 147 yards on the ground and a hair below 200 through the air, Jackson was every bit as electric last week against Virginia as in his most celebrated games of 2017. At this rate, if the Heisman Trust fails to get him back to New York, it’s a grave miscarriage of the award. 

4. PENN STATE RB SAQUON BARKLEY

I drew the parallel between the Heisman candidacies of Jonathan Taylor and Saquon Barkley, and here’s yet another mirror-opposite point to consider: Barkley rushed for just 35 yards against a bad Rutgers team last week — and not because of limited usage in a blowout, but because the Scarlet Knights limited him to 2.5 yards per carry. It’s clear opposing defenses for the last month or so have drawn a line in the sand demanding that Trace McSorley, not Saquon Barkley, beat them. 

However, Barkley scored two touchdowns to Taylor’s zero. I…accused isn’t the right word, but rather noted James Franklin had taken to padding Barkley’s stats early in the season, and the scores against Rutgers fit that M.O. While the running back’s play over the past few weeks hasn’t been jaw-dropping, he’s doing just enough to remain in the hunt, should a tumultuous Top 3 outside of Baker Mayfield falter. 

3. ARIZONA QB KHALIL TATE

The sudden emergence of Khalil Tate onto the national landscape and into the Heisman conversation is one of the most unexpected developments in my time tracking voter sentiment. Tate’s candidacy is also interesting in that he might finally be the Wildcat who gets over the hump and makes the journey to New York. 

Arizona’s produced two Heisman-caliber performers in Rich Rodriguez’s tenure as head coach: Ka’Deem Carey in 2013, and Scooby Wright in 2014. Carey put up jaw-dropping numbers, but did so on a 7-5 team. Heisman voters have proven willing to invite running backs from decent teams to NYC, so long as they have staggering statistics — a luxury not afforded quarterbacks, who are judged as much on team record as individual performance. However, that year, the spot went instead to Boston College’s Andre Williams. 

In 2014, Scooby Wright had arguably the best individual season statistically for a linebacker ever, and did so for a 10-win team, but that’s a position at which it’s difficult to curry Heisman favor. It sometimes requires especially unorthodox means. 

Khalil Tate will not need to be at the center of any catfishing controversy to make it to New York — but he must maintain a level of play approaching his first month in remaining games against Oregon and Arizona State. Easy enough, until one considers his pace through six games is historic. 

2. STANFORD RB BRYCE LOVE

Heisman Moment has become a somewhat ubiquitous term, but can be difficult to quantify. Bryce Love’s performance last week against Washington quantified it. Love ran circles against what had been the best defense in the nation, going off for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the Cardinal’s upset win. 

Stanford has gotten aggressive in its campaign for Love. He has a lot of ground to make up on Baker Mayfield, even if Love sits at No. 2. He gets the benefit of facing Notre Dame on Thanksgiving weekend, and a win over Cal this week puts Bryce Love and the Stanford Cardinal back in the Pac-12 Championship Game. That’s where Christian McCaffrey sewed up the 2015 award. McCaffrey did win the 2015 Heisman after setting the NCAA all-purpose record, right? Right? 

1. OKLAHOMA QB BAKER MAYFIELD

With unanimous support for the top spot, Baker Mayfield heads into the final three-week stretch of the Heisman chase with a comfortable lead. It’s well-deserved, too. Mayfield has been historically good in the third standout season of his Oklahoma career. He absolutely picked apart a stellar TCU defense, going 19-of-27 with three touchdowns and no interceptions. 

What more can really be written of Mayfield? He’s put together one of, if not the best passing season ever. He has Oklahoma firmly in the hunt for a Playoff berth despite playing under a first-year head coach and with glaring weaknesses on defense. Even if Baker is only serviceable down the stretch, he’s done enough to win the Heisman already.