1. QB) Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) Senior
They may as well just give Baker Mayfield the Heisman Trophy at this point. Anyone who needs this blog to tell them that Mayfield is the favorite, has not watched college football this season, or the least 3 seasons for that matter. A glance at his stat sheet should leave no doubt as to why he will receive his second consecutive invitation to New York as a Heisman finalist. Performances that stick out include his dismantling of TCU last week, and road wins at Oklahoma State and Ohio State. Mayfield threw his hat in the Heisman race in Columbus, as he led the Sooners to a 30-17 upset win on the road, amassing 386 yards and 3 touchdowns on the way. In Buckeye Staudium, Mayfield planted his flag centerfield, establishing Oklahoma’s place one of country’s premier’s teams, and his own place as a Heisman candidate. Although the buzz surrounding Penn State running back, Saquon Barkley, took center stage in the following weeks, Mayfield quietly continued to add to his résumé. Through 5 games, Baker accumulated over 1,600 passing yards, and 15 touchdowns to 0 interceptions. While many thought a slip up against Iowa State had derailed both Mayfield’s playoff and Heisman hopes, the Sooners quarterback came firing back leading his team to consecutive away wins in the Red River Rivalry and at Kansas State. Unthinkably, his best stretch of the season was still to come. A bedlam matchup that pitted against each other two of the best quarterbacks, In Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield, and two of the best offenses in the Big 12, In Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, had all the makings of a shootout. Suffice it to say this game did not disappoint. Mayfield threw for a school record 598 yards and 5 touchdowns, on his way to a 62-52 victory over the Cowboys. As impressive as that was, there was no way he could repeat such a performance against the Best defense in conference, in TCU, was there? What we should have learned by now is that Mayfield has made a living off of proving doubters wrong. from the time he won the starting job at Texas Tech as a walk on. Last Saturday, Mayfield dazzled again putting up 333 yards and 3 touchdowns on the Horned Frogs as Oklahoma cruised to 38-20 victory. At this point there doesn’t seem to be a limit to what Baker Mayfield can accomplish. Could we possibly see a national championship on the horizon for the Sooners. While it is not out of the realm of possibility, I don’t know if Oklahoma’s defense can hold up against team Alabama and Clemson. What I do know is that come December, Baker Mayfield will be up on stage in New York finally hoisting an elusive Heisman Trophy.
2. RB) Bryce Love (Stanford) Junior
One of the few people who still has a chance to catch Baker Mayfield is Stanford running back, Bryce Love. Love will be the second Cardinal running back nominated for the Heisman in the last 3 years, after Christian McCaffrey in 2015. Unfortunately, he will also likely be the second cardinal running back to finish second in Heisman voting. When McCaffrey left for the NFL draft this past offseason, many naturally assumed that Stanford’s offense would suffer. Yet Love’s emergence has arguably enhanced Stanford’s rushing attack. In his first game as a starter, Bryce exploded for 180 yards. With this performance, all feelings of sorrow over his predecessor’s decision to leave for the NFL, went out the window. 160 yards the following week against playoff contenders, USC, only drove home the fact that Love was a star in the making. It seemed a 100+ yard performance had essentially become a mundane task for the tailback. That is until, he hit UCLA for 263. As if he hadn’t already made enough noise, Love kicked into an even higher gear with record 301 yards and 3 touchdowns against Arizona State, surpassing McCaffrey’s mark for single game rushing. By then the Heisman committee had certainly heard of Bryce Love. However, his eye-popping statistics have not garnered as much attention as perhaps they should. Pac 12 players do not often get the national recognition players from other conferences do, due to later scheduled and less viewed games. In addition, many believe Love’s greatness to be a product of Stanford’s offensive structure. One that allowed Christian McCaffrey to put up similar numbers throughout his career. Similarly, there is the perception that the Pac 12 is characterized by high octane offenses and a lack of defense. But it also important to note that the Big 12, where Baker Mayfield plies his trade, suffers from the same stigma. Moreover, a 166 yard performance against a vaunted Washington Huskies defense should have put all those doubts to rest for Love. Looking at the stats sheets, one could certainly argue that Love’s production should have already established him as the Heisman favorite. Despite missing a game, Love still leads the nation in rushing yards with 1,622 (and 15 touchdowns). But the fact remains, that after being nominated both of the past two years, and elevating his play this season, the Heisman is Mayfield’s to lose.
3. QB) Khalil Tate (Arizona) Sophomore
Another player that came out of nowhere to establish himself as a Heisman candidate, is Arizona quarterback, Khalil Tate. Quarterback is his trade, but rushing yards are his bread and butter. Tate’s passing statistics are rather pedestrian with 998 passing yards, 8 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, through 6 starts. However, it is his running abilitt that set the college football world on fire, and revitalized the wildcat’s offense. After starting the season as the backup quarterback, Tate went off in his debut at Colorado with 327 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. He followed that up with 230 yards in 2 touchdowns against UCLA. Ever since he took over the quarterback position, he hasn’t rushed for anything less than 137 yards. The only knock against Tate is his lack of ability as a pocket passer. As unstoppable as he’s been as runner, he’s on a full season pace for less than 2,000 passing yards. At this point, not much is known about Tate. So far no defense has been able to prevent him from getting whatever he wants in the running game. But being that he’s been playing against a porous Pac 12 defenses, his production less unthinkable. The only thing that will hurt Tate’s case is the limited amount of games he had played.
4) RB) Saquon Barkley (Penn State) Junior
After a jaw dropping performance in the Rose Bowl last January, Barkley jumped to the top of the list of 2017 Heisman candidates. Last season’s leading rusher in the Big Ten entered this year with a ton of fanfare, and for the most part he has not disappointed. For much of the 2017 season, Barkley has lead the nation in all-purpose yards (He has been temporarily usurped by San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny). However, a dip in his rushing statistics is the only reason he is not sitting higher on my list. Although at times Barkley has looked as dominant as ever, his year has been plagued by inconsistent performances on the ground. Legendary performances like the one he put on at Iowa earlier in the season, have become more of the outlier than the norm. What’s more concerning is that Barkley posted rather pedestrian stat lines in the Nittany Lions’ most important games of the season at Ohio State and Michigan State. The most glaring bright spot of Barkley’s season has been the versatility he’s shown in both the receiving and return game. While defenses have been able to key in on Barkley in the running game, his rare ability in open field has allowed him to torch the opposition of kickoff and punt returns. The same ability has also made him a dangerous option as a check down in the receiving game. Despite failing to repeat as the Big Ten’s leading rusher, Barkley has still established himself as a game breaker with the ball in his hands throughout the season. And while his Heisman hopes may have taken a hit with some lackluster rushing performances, his draft stock surely has not. As a freak athlete, Barkley is cemented as a clear top 15 pick in the upcoming NFL draft. However, with only three 100 + rushing yard games to his name, he has not done nearly enough to win the Heisman. It is interesting to note that the media was quick to hop aboard the “Saquon for Heisman” train earlier in the season. Therefore, I would not be surprised to see him climb the ladder a bit with improved performances down the stretch. I’ll confess that Barkley only really makes my top 4 because of his name recognition. Many of the players below are far more deserving.
Others in the Conversation:
RB) Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) Freshman
The Wisconsin freshman has had a spectacular debut season. He is currently 3rd in the country is rushing yards. However, many whether his success comes from his skill as a runner, or from the fact that Wisconsin boasts one of the best offensive lines in the country. A good performance against an upper echelon defense like Michigan this saturday, or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship, could really give his Heisman hopes a boost.
QB) Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) Senior
Rudolph is a possible first round pick who is leading the country in passing yards. Would likely be higher in the list if it weren’t for conference rival Baker Mayfield. One has to wonder whether their positions in the Heisman race would be flipped had the cowboys been able to pull out a win against the Sooners in Bedlam.
QB) Lamar Jackson (Louisville) Junior
The incumbent in the Heisman race as last year’s winner, Lamar Jackson continues to put up insane numbers both on the ground and through the air. Louisville’s mediocre 6-4 record may be one of the only reasons his chances of repeating a college football’s best player are slim.
S) Minkah Fitpatrick (Alabama) Junior
Defensive players do not get the same fanfare that quarterbacks and other offensive players do. However, the leader of the county’s best defense deserves some recognition. Fitzpatrick has lined up at a number of positions throughout the his Alabama career, including safety, cornerback, and linebacker (a la Jabrill Peppers). In fact, he has performed so well at both safety and cornerback that NFL scouts don’t know what position he’ll play at the next level. What they do know is that he will be a top 15 pick regardless.
RB) Rashaad Penny (San Diego State) Senior
In addition to leading the country in all-purpose yards, Penny is also second in the nation in rushing. Despite these statistics, Penny’s case suffers from playing in a weaker non-power 5 conference. Donnel Pumphrey posted similar numbers last year in the same offense.
RB) Josh Adams (Notre Dame) Senior
Adams has had an undeniably amazing season for the Irish. As the 8th leading rusher in the country, the Notre Dame running back’s Heisman stock had been at all time prior to the Miami game. Yet laying an egg against the Hurricane’s defense has now placed him behind the rest of the pack.
RB) Kerryon Johnson (Auburn) Junior
Averaging 130 yards per game in the SEC is no small feat. Neither is cutting up number one ranked Georgia for 233 all purpose yards. While I personally think Johnson should be a top 3 candidate at this point, he has for some reason not been talked about in the Heisman conversation. Missing 2 games is likely the reason he has been forgotten.