We’ve reached the official mid-point of the college football season, which is quite depressing when you think of how quickly the last seven weeks have elapsed. The Heisman Trophy picture is starting to clear up somewhat–and yet, it’s perhaps more muddled than ever before.
A front-runner has dropped out of The College Football Huddle Heisman Top 5 due to off-field issues, the most legitimate wide receiver contender since Larry Fitzgerald in 2013 also fell out, and a handful of running backs are making the strongest case for wresting away the award since the 2009 Heisman class.
Through Week 7, here’s the Heisman race as I see it:
1. QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Last week’s leader in the Heisman Top 5 was shaky passing against Auburn: Dak Prescott completed just 18-of-34 pass attempts and threw more interceptions than touchdowns.
But when a quarterback runs for 121 yards with two touchdowns, it compensates for certain inadequacies in the passing game. It also doesn’t hurt that Prescott shares a backfield with Josh Robinson, arguably the best running back in the SEC now that Georgia’s Todd Gurley is on the shelf.
Hey, they say the Heisman’s a team award. Perhaps an award split among teammates a la the John Stockton-Karl Malone NBA All-Star Game MVP is in the future for Mississippi State. This has been a crazy season, and an equally crazy Heisman presentation would fit.
2. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
College football pundits are a fickle bunch. Some were ready to write off Marcus Mariota’s Heisman chances after a decent–not even bad, just decent!–showing in Oregon’s loss to Arizona.
With Jake Fisher back in the Ducks offensive line, Mariota had some time to operate against UCLA and he looked every bit like the Heisman leader he was prior to Week 6.
— Alex Shoemaker (@MrAlexShoemaker) October 11, 2014
I was in the Rose Bowl for the clinic Mariota put on and have a new appreciation both for how well he sees the field and his speed. Oh, his speed. The guy has that other gear you so often hear about, but can only really recognize when you actually see it.
3. RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
One could make a very compelling case that Melvin Gordon is the most Heisman-worthy player in college football. His statistics alone warrant the discussion, as he’s already over 1,000 yards at 1,046.
And one week after gashing Northwestern for 259 yards–which came one week after going for 181 against USF, which came one week after a short-lived record 253 yards against Bowling Green–all Gordon did was score four touchdowns against Illinois.
Gordon’s production does not exist in vacuum: He’s doing all this despite having virtually no passing game supporting him. That makes his season all the more remarkable.
4. QB Everett Golson, Notre Dame
North Carolina’s defense is terri-bad, which downplays Everett Golson’s otherwise impressive output on Saturday. Nevertheless, the Fighting Irish quarterback added to his growing resume with his sixth consecutive game of multiple touchdown passes.
Golson also put together the best rushing game of his Notre Dame career, breaking off nearly six yards per carry for 71 yards. As Golson continues to develop his dual-threat ability, Brian Kelly’s playbook will expand to dimensions not yet seen in South Bend.
5. RB Buck Allen, USC
Reggie Bush electrified college football fans on his run to the 2005 Heisman Trophy–yes, it happened, your asterisk be damned–and was not as productive in the rushing game as Buck Allen is through six games.
Now, Bush was part of a dynamic one-two punch in the backfield with LenDale White. Nevertheless, what Allen’s done to this point is impressive. He’s USC’s best ball-carrier since Marcus Allen ran wild in 1981.
— Reign of Troy (@ReignofTroy) October 13, 2014
His 205 yards and three touchdowns at Arizona move Allen into the No. 5 spot Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon previously occupied.
Todd Gurley was a clear top three Heisman candidate, but his suspension for allegedly taking money to sign memorabilia clouds his outlook.
There’s hardly a guarantee Gurley plays against this season, which effectively ends his college career–say nothing of his Heisman candidacy. Of course, the workload Georgia needed filled in Gurley’s absence went to Nick Chubb, and the freshman performed nicely.
Chubb doesn’t have enough in his portfolio from the previous five games to warrant a true Heisman campaign, but his taking over Georgia’s primary rushing duties just might launch one of the first 2015 Heisman candidacies.
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama: Lane Kiffin’s tendency to lean on one wide receiver exclusively produced some impressive numbers for Amari Cooper, but the predictability of the Crimson Tide offense is having the opposite intended effect.
Arkansas came out with a terrific game plan and limited Cooper to just two catches for 22 yards. Look for other SEC defenses to try a similar approach in the coming weeks.
QB Kenny Hill, Texas A&M: The heir to two-time Heisman finalist and 2012 winner Johnny Manziel struggled for three quarters against Arkansas, three quarters-and-change against Mississippi State and pretty much all four quarters against Ole Miss.
Pundits were perhaps too quick to anoint Hill a Heisman front-runner based on his performance against an increasingly mediocre South Carolina and a handful of cupcakes.
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty does not have a complete enough resume to warrant Top 5 inclusion at this point–he feasted on cupcakes for the season’s first month, then struggled mightily against a solid Texas defense.
But his six-touchdown, 510-yard afternoon in Baylor’s first quality win of the season–a 61-58 defeat of TCU–has Petty headed in the right direction.
Petty and the Bears face much better competition than the SMUs and Buffalos they saw previously (Kansas excluded), so don’t be surprised if the Baylor quarterback finds his way into the Top 5 by month’s end.