After week 7, you can start to get a pretty decent idea of who the leading Heisman candidates are. It makes me laugh that we try and peg this shit in the preseason when the last three or so winners have come completely out of left field. Hardly anyone knew who Jameis, Manziel, or Cam Newton were once the season had started. But at this point, it is pretty obvious who the top players in the country are. The problem is that the best player (in my opinion at least) is suspended. Todd Gurley is the latest player to face the hypocritical wrath of the NCAA when he was discovered to have signed some autographs for money. There is the chance that the Mizzou game will be the only game he will miss, but if he does in fact miss another I don't think that he will be able put up the kind of stats that a running back needs to win the Heisman. However, should he miss two games and then come back to lead his team to the SEC Championship game and possibly beyond, there is no doubt he will be a legit contender again. But barring his return, these are my top five candidates for the Heisman. The numbers in parentheses are their projected stats through twelve games.
1) Dak Prescott, Quarterback, Mississippi State Bulldogs
Passing Yards: 1478 (2956)
TD:INT Ratio: 14-4 (28-8)
Rushing Yards: 576 (1152)
Rushing TDs: 8 (16)
Prescott is benefiting by being the best player on the best team in the country right now. I don't want to take anything away from him, but this season doesn't seem to have the guy who is blowing away the competition like in recent years. That said, Prescott has had some damn impressive performances and is a big reason why the Bulldogs have achieved a number one ranking for the first time in decades. Prescott is completing 62% of his passes and is a very efficient quarterback. He isn't putting up 400 yards every game, but he delivers some lethal strikes and gets it done through the air. In the three game stretch this season against LSU, Texas A&M, and Auburn, Prescott threw for five touchdowns against only two interceptions, both of which came in a down pour of a game against Auburn when his grip was clearly affected by the rain. More impressively, Prescott is a good runner as well. He doesn't have quite the flashiness of Manziel, or the straight line speed of someone like Braxton Miller, but he is fearless hitting the hole and knows how to make people miss in traffic and in space. In that same three game stretch, Prescott ran for six touchdowns and averaged 101 yards per game. He has shown a lot of improvement from last year and will have more chances to prove his merit against some tough opponents. If he can continue on this pace and keep his team undefeated, he will have all the credentials he needs to be a serious Heisman candidate. Victories against Alabama and Ole Miss would really set himself apart from the rest of the crowd.
2) Melvin Gordon, Running Back, Wisconsin Badgers
Rushing Yards: 1046 (2092)
Rushing TDs: 13 (26)
Yards Per Carry: 7.9
Its a shame that Wisconsin doesn't have a better quarterback to help this team avoid bad losses or Gordon would be a true candidate. In my opinion, he is the best back in the country with Gurley out and is not that far behind Gurley. Gordon is different than what you have seen out of recent Wisconsin running backs. Rather than just a straight line power runner, Gordon has some real flash to him. He doesn't bust out spin moves or juke people like a game of Madden, but he can one cut and go or get to the outside and turn up field with the best of them. He has put up some pretty impressive stats this year, including four games of at least 175 yards and two four touchdown contests. He has dominated the competition, no matter if its a mid major or a power five school. To start off against LSU, he ran for 140 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries before suffering a hip injury. His best game came against Bowling Green when he turned a mere 13 carries into a jaw-dropping 253 yards and five touchdowns. Before you attempt the math, that is 19.5 yards per carry. He had multiple runs of over fifty yards in that game. Most recently, Gordon ran for 175 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries against Illinois. He has shown the ability to handle any variety of workload and has shown the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, although through design he doesn't do it that often. He has a lethal first step where if he gets the angle on a defender or hits the hole before it collapses, he can take it to the house. In Wisconsin's glorified history of producing top tier running backs, Gordon ran for 1000 yards in fewer games than any of them. Wisconsin does not have to face teams like Michigan State or Ohio State for the rest of the season. Instead, they will play Maryland, Rutgers, and Purdue before the season ends. Gordon has a great chance of becoming just the 15th running back to rush for more than 2000 yards in a season. If he does and if Wisconsin can avoid any further losses, Gordon has a tremendous chance of winning the Heisman.
3) Marcus Mariota, Quarterback, Oregon Ducks
Passing Yards: 1621 (3242)
TD:INT Ratio: 17-0 (34-0)
Rushing Yards: 290 (580)
Rushing TDs: 5 (10)
1 Reception for a TD
Mariota is a tremendous talent, but he is a bit further down on my list than most people would have on theirs. The reason is rather simple: he doesn't always come through when his team needs him the most and he is the product of a system. There is no denying that he has mastered this system better than any Oregon quarterback has during their renaissance of offense, but there always seems to be a dud week where he just doesn't have his best game and costs them dearly. You might think this is hypocritical given that Melvin Gordon is ranked second for me despite Wisconsin having two losses. But when you are a quarterback and you touch the ball on every snap, you are held to a higher standard. This far into the season, Mariota has led his team to some very impressive victories. None is more impressive than against Michigan State when his team was down at halftime and he rallied them back with some clutch throws and crucial runs. Down by nine at half time, Mariota lead a comeback of 28 unanswered points, including two touchdown passes to win the top ten matchup. Since then, he has been on a roll but his gaffe in the final minutes of the game against Arizona really cost his team. His offensive line is pretty porous, but he was sacked and fumbled the ball which allowed Arizona to pull off the upset in Eugene. While Mariota has been great at avoiding picks, he has fumbled a lot in his couple of years at starters and often in critical games. He is running the ball well, but his numbers don't match up to Prescott's and a couple of other dual threat quarterbacks in the nation. But with all the glitz and glamour that surrounds Oregon's program, winning out the rest of the season and getting to the playoffs with his passing numbers would really boost his chances.
4) Bo Wallace, Quarterback, Ole Miss Rebels
Passing Yards: 1700 (3400)
TD:INT Ratio: 15-6 (30-12)
Rushing Yards: 89 (178)
Rushing TDs: 2 (4)
Like Prescott, Wallace is benefiting from being arguably the best player on one of the best teams. In all honesty he isn't, but he has done what he has to in order to win games and that means a lot when voting for the Heisman winner. He isn't the flashiest or the quickest or possesses the strongest arm, but he has made the plays he had to in order to win the games and has a victory over a top three team to his credit. His game against Alabama was his Heisman moment, as he made several key runs for first downs and threw two second half touchdowns to bring his team back and ultimately take the lead. Wallace isn't the runner that Prescott or Mariota is, but he also isn't asked to run it nearly as much as they are. He actually has one more carry than Mariota but almost half as many as Prescott, and many of his are designed keeps in short yardage situations. Bo is better as a passer, but as you will hear mentioned rather frequently is that there is too much disparity between the "Good Bo" and the "Bad Bo". When he is clicking with his receivers, it is very difficult to stop him and his group of athletic wide outs. But there have been two games in which he made some pretty dreadful decisions. He threw three interceptions in the opener against Boise State, all of which were either poorly thrown balls or just a terrible decision on his part. He also threw two picks against Memphis that allowed them to stay in the game a bit longer than Ole Miss would have wanted them to. Wallace has three more games in which to prove he is a worthy candidate. In two weeks, Ole Miss plays at LSU. The week after that, they get Auburn at home. And to end the season, Ole Miss plays their instate rival at home. If Wallace plays well in those three games and is able to win every one of them, he will likely vault Dak Prescott as the frontrunner.
5) Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama Crimson Tide
Receptions: 54 (108)
Receiving Yards: 768 (1536)
Yards Per Reception: 14.2
Receiving Touchdowns: 5 (10)
Cooper would be a true candidate if he had a decent quarterback throwing to him, but inconsistency at that position and in his stat lines will keep him from getting an invitation to New York. Still, he is a tremendous talent and in a class of his own among other wide receivers in the country. He is a big, physical receiver who can make yards after the catch or high point the ball and beat the corner for the reception. Although not as tall as either, Cooper is like a smaller hybrid of Julio Jones and AJ Green, taking the best attributes from each. He rarely drops the ball, if ever. Cooper started out the season on fire. In each of his first four games, he caught at least eight passes and totaled at least 130 yards receiving. Against Florida's staunch defense, Cooper played like no one was even covering him. He caught ten passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns, often streaking down the field with no one within fifteen yards of him. He also played very well against West Virginia and made some clutch catches to keep the Mountaineers from pulling off the upset. In that game, he made twelve grabs for 130 yards. Cooper is the benefactor of Lane Kiffin's offensive strategy, which is to feed the ball to the best receiver on the field and let him do the rest. This was his strategy at USC when he had fantastic receivers and continues to work with a potential top five pick on the field. Cooper also benefits from average receivers on the opposite side of him. The next leading receiver on the team has 16 catches to Cooper's 54. Unfortunately for Cooper, he has really slowed down in the last two games. Against Ole Miss, he still caught nine passes but went for "only" 91 yards while being kept out of the endzone. He was completely phased out of the game against Arkansas, catching a mere two passes for 22 yards. It wasn't all his fault as Blake Sims was harassed all day and never had much time to throw, but Cooper wasn't getting great separation either to help out his quarterback. Alabama still has some really tough competition ahead of them. If Cooper can put up the production that he had at the beginning of the season, he could sneak back into the conversation.
You'll notice that there is one star that is not on this list. Famous Jameis. The fact of the matter is that he just has not played that well this year, and is in no way comparable to the season he had last year. Through five games, Winston has eleven touchdowns and five picks. He's never been a true dual threat, but he also has a meager two touchdowns on the ground. By contrast to last year, he had 19 touchdowns and only two picks through five games. This year, he has been held to only a single touchdown pass twice and looks like he isn't seeing the field as well. He is forcing throws, trusting his arm too much over his intellect and touch. It is almost impossible for a player to repeat winning the Heisman. The standard is elevated so much higher that Winston would probably have to throw fifty touchdowns this year which at this point seems unattainable. With the Seminoles only having one game against a ranked opponent left on their schedule, I don't think that he will be able to make up for his slow start.