Had you ever wondered why The Open Man Heisman Top 10 elects to track 10 candidates specifically? No? Well, too bad; you’re getting an explanation anyway.
While the pool of Heisman finalists ranges from 3-to-5, with the rare six-man group of 2013 finalists also in the mix, the data compiled throughout the season varies significantly enough that the No. 10 Heisman candidate is often close enough to No. 5. The rising and falling of names from that Top 10 paints a more detailed picture of the season-long race, how voters’ opinions shift on a weekly basis.
Heading into the regular-season finale, however, the 2017 Heisman race has consolidated into a clear Top 5. Arizona’s loss at Oregon last week, and Khalil Tate’s first pedestrian game, lost the sensational sophomore considerable ground. Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson received a Top 5 billing from one outlet, but appeared nowhere else — and could miss this Saturday’s Iron Bowl.
Otherwise, a clear quintet now appears headed for New York City. Certainly fluidity remains; rivalry games and conference championships provide some of the most prominent stages for a player to emerge. Tre Mason in 2013 is a great example of a final-week arrival. Barring either disastrous outings from one of these five, or someone on the periphery like Tate, J.T. Barrett or Johnson (should he play) exploding, your 2017 finalists come from this group.
5. WISCONSIN RB JONATHAN TAYLOR
Wisconsin produced Heisman finalist running backs in 2011 with Montee Ball and 2014 with Melvin Gordon; Jonathan Taylor heading to New York would make the inclusion of Badgers backs an every-three-years trend. Taylor did not score a touchdown in a critical win for the Playoff-contending Badgers, but he ripped 6.95 yards per carry for 132 in total against Michigan.
Taylor’s lack of a score makes two games in a row and 3-of-4 in the past month. While he averages a shade below 7 yards per carry for a healthy 1,657 yards, Taylor needs to pad his portfolio against rival Minnesota, and especially in the Big Ten Championship Game, to solidify his spot among the finalists.
4. PENN STATE RB SAQUON BARKLEY
Saquon Barkley did what Heisman contenders need to against bad opponents, deluging a putrid Nebraska defense last week with 158 yards on just 17 carries and three touchdowns. Barkley has five rushing touchdowns over Penn State’s last two wins, helping to reignite a candidacy that had gone cool after ho-hum outings in losses to Ohio State and Michigan State.
Barkley trails only San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny in all-purpose yards with 2,070.
3. LOUISVILLE QB LAMAR JACKSON
The Open Man has been banging the gong for Lamar Jackson, who has been individually more impressive in 2017 than he was in 2016 when he actually won the Heisman. Because very ignorant people some football pundits attribute wins disproportionately to quarterbacks, Jackson’s otherworldly play took a back seat to the horrendous defense Bobby Petrino and Peter Sirmon trot onto the field.
More level heads seem to be prevailing in recent weeks, and Jackson’s experienced a resurgence in these weekly rankings. A case could be made that runaway leader Baker Mayfield could split votes with Jackson, even if it won’t actually happen. Jackson’s thrown 23 touchdown passes against just six interceptions, averages 8.7 yards per attempt for more than 3,200 in total, and has 17 rushing touchdowns with 1,287 yards. Those are mind-blowing statistics.
2. STANFORD RB BRYCE LOVE
Despite playing with an injured ankle, Bryce Love continues to produce. The Stanford running back followed up his heroics in an upset of Washington with 7.2 yards per carry and a touchdown against rival Cal. Love can lock up an invitation to NYC, if not jump into the conversation Baker Mayfield leads, with a big outing against Notre Dame.
Doing so might be difficult; coach David Shaw said the ankle injury has Love still well below 100 percent coming into the regular-season finale. That didn’t stop Love from roasting the best defense he’s faced this season in Washington, however.
1. OKLAHOMA QB BAKER MAYFIELD
Thus far the only thing that has been able to impede Baker Mayfield’s date with college football’s most coveted award is Baker Mayfield. The quarterback’s sideline antics in a rout of woeful Kansas reignited mention of the Heisman’s character clause. This provision of the award last surfaced when Jameis Winston won in 2013, which I bring up not because their situations are at all comparable, but rather to highlight that off-field and/or behavioral issues do not seem to play much of a role on voter sentiment.
Like Mayfield, Winston was a runaway leader weeks prior to the vote, and he won by a considerable margin. What’s more, the character clause only seems to become a topic of conversation in the negative; otherwise, I tend to believe Keenan Reynolds would have earned his rightful invite to NYC.
Regardless, Mayfield has been electric this season. When his play does the talking, he’s the best performer in college football.