The biggest Heisman storyline in Week 4 might’ve surrounded a player who didn’t even take the field. Jameis Winston’s questionable decision-making caused more headaches -- and nearly a loss -- for Florida State last week. Winston probably cost himself a shot at a second straight Heisman, as well.
But Winston was one of the only negative Heisman storylines of the weekend. As for the rest of the field, the Heisman Watch leader held his spot while a couple of new faces emerged as contenders in the race. With conference play underway across college football, true Heisman candidates will soon separate themselves from the pack.
Week 4 Heisman Watch
1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
2. Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
3. Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
4. Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
5. Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
6. Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska
7. Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
8. Taysom Hill, QB BYU
9. Blake Sims, QB Alabama
10. Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall wasn’t the Heisman headliner of the Tigers’ run to the BCS title game in 2013. That was tailback Tre Mason, who reached New York as a finalist. But Marshall could be in for his own stardom this season.
Facing Kansas State on the road Thursday night, Auburn held a 20-14 lead with just over two minutes to play. The Tigers needed to convert a third-and-nine at their own 37-yard line to prevent Kansas State from earning one final possession. Marshall fielded the snap, stepped back and tossed a perfect ball to D’haquille Williams for a 39-yard gain and a first down.
From there the Tigers ran out the clock from a game in which the Wildcats turned the ball over four times and missed three field goals. It felt like Auburn escaped disaster in Manhattan.
Marshall wasn’t the most effective passer in 2013 in part because he didn’t need to be. Instead the first-year starter ran for 1,068 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and 12 scores on the ground last fall. His 82.2 rushing yards per game ranked fifth among quarterbacks. But Gus Malzahn spent much of the offseason praising Marshall’s improved ability as a passer, and on Thursday he looked the part.
Marshall completed 17-of-31 passes for 231 yards, two touchdowns and one pick Thursday. That clutch conversion on third down was a throw Marshall might not have made last season. Now the quarterback looks like the kind of dual-threat talent that’s fared so well in recent Heisman races. If the Tigers successfully navigate a brutal late-season schedule, Marshall’s arm might be a big reason why, and he might earn himself a trip to New York.
Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska
Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen did his best to temper expectations surrounding quarterback Dak Prescott during the offseason. The Bulldogs returned 16 starters from last year and expected to contend in the SEC West. Even though Prescott garnered darkhorse Heisman attention, Mullen said that didn’t matter to his quarterback.
“I don’t think he pays much attention to that,” Mullen told SI.com in May. “He just wants our team to have the best year we can have. He knows for us to have a great year, he’s going to have to have a great year.”
Mullen’s point certainly proved true Saturday. Prescott led the unranked Bulldogs to a 34-29 upset of No. 8 LSU in Death Valley, Mississippi State’s first win in Baton Rouge since 1991. Prescott, a Louisiana native, looked like the best player on the field while ringing up 373 total yards of offense and three touchdowns. That included 105 rushing yards, which placed Prescott in elite company. Per Bulldogs’ sports information director Bill Martin, Prescott leads all quarterbacks in 100-yard rushing games against LSU since 2005 with two. That’s more than recent Heisman winners Cam Newton (1) and Johnny Manziel (0).
Saturday’s win would have to be the first of several upsets in the tough SEC West for Prescott to emerge with the Heisman. But if the Bulldogs can survive Tiger Stadium at night, more surprises could be on the horizon. Like Mullen said, Prescott will be the motor behind this team’s upset potential. Mississippi State’s next two games are home dates with No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 5 Auburn. That gives Prescott a sufficiently large stage to build on his Heisman potential with big outings against the Aggies and Tigers and could eventually make him the SEC West’s fourth Heisman winner in the last six years.
Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
Maty Mauk, QB Missouri
When predicting Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would repeat as Heisman winner back in August, I acknowledged that history wasn’t on his side. But a loaded Seminoles roster and a favorable ACC schedule looked like a clear path to a repeat performance from Winston. Still, I did offer one caveat: “Perhaps more important is whether Winston can keep the focus of his Heisman conversation on the field.”
That’s exactly what Winston failed to do last week. When the Seminoles suspended the quarterback for the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson after he made vulgar public comments, Winson’s hope of reaching New York took a major hit. Those hopes suffered an even bigger blow when the school extended the suspension to a full game after Winston reportedly wasn’t entirely truthful or forthcoming in his initial story. That’s not exactly a Heisman moment.
It’s Winston’s own fault he wasn’t there for his teammates in arguably the biggest game of Florida State’s season. Thanks to late-game heroics from running back Karlos Williams and an effective start from backup quarterback Sean Maguire, the Seminoles narrowly avoided an upset against Clemson. But had the Tigers won the game, much of the blame would have fallen on Winston’s shoulders -- and that wouldn’t have been entirely unfair. You can’t win a game on the sideline, and you certainly can’t win a Heisman from there.
Winston’s antics are almost certainly wearing on Heisman voters. They may even affect voting in future races. John Carvalho, an associate professor of journalism at Auburn, tweeted an interesting question Saturday morning. Is it possible that Winston -- and Johnny Manziel before him -- could make Heisman voters think twice about voting for a freshman again? The sample size is still too small, but character matters to much of the Heisman electorate. Some voters may not take chances on a youngster next time. Winston is just the latest example of a winner doing his best to tarnish the award.
Heisman video of the week
Ameer Abdullah did a little bit of everything in Nebraska’s win over Miami. He ran for 229 yards and two touchdowns in the Cornhuskers’ win, and he even hauled in a receiving score, as well.
This might be Week 5’s biggest game, and it’s on Thursday night. Hundley left last week’s win over Texas with a hyperextended elbow, but he should be fine for this matchup. Now the quarterback must help the Bruins shake off their sluggish start.
Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
Tennessee at No. 13 Georgia
Gurley wasn’t the headline from the Bulldogs’ 66-0 win over Troy on Saturday. That was freshman running back Sony Michel, who tallied 155 yards and three touchdowns. Gurley can jump back into the conversation with a big day against the Volunteers.
Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
Arkansas at No. 6 Texas A&M
The Razorbacks have won three straight and outscored their opponents 174-49 during that stretch. Texas A&M hasn’t faced a Power Five opponent since ripping through South Carolina in Week 1. Hill could boost his profile with a big game against Arkansas.