With November fast approaching, it’s time to narrow the Heisman Trophy field.
There’s nothing wrong with midseason Heisman predictions. It’s always fun to guess who might sneak into the conversation. But as the college football season hits its home stretch, established candidates start to separate themselves. That’s certainly the case with this week’s Heisman Watch, which features a new leader in the race.
Week 9 Heisman Watch
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
After Oregon sunk Cal 59-41 on Friday night, Ducks coach Mark Helfrich evaluated the play of his star-studded quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
“He had a couple of mistakes,” Helfrich said, “which is almost funny because you expect him to be perfect.”
There’s a reason for that. Mariota hadn’t thrown an interception this season before the second quarter against the Golden Bears when safety Stefan McClure picked off the quarterback after his pass was tipped twice. The miscue snapped a streak of 253 consecutive passes without a pick for Mariota, which is the second-longest run in Pac-12 history. He also holds the longest streak of passes without an interception.
Mariota’s mistake didn’t prevent a big night for the redshirt junior. He tossed for a season-high five touchdowns along with 326 yards. Behind Mariota, Oregon managed 7.8 yards per play and broke open a three-point game in the second quarter by reeling off 21 straight points.
The Ducks' signal-caller looked fairly human during their one loss of the season, a 31-24 stumble against Arizona on Oct. 2. But the return of left tackle Jake Fisher has given Mariota a sense of peace in the pocket. Cal didn’t sack Mariota once, and despite the passer’s one interception, he was as effective as ever against the Golden Bears.
Mariota is currently the country’s most efficient passer (192.18) and is tied for the national lead in yards per attempt (10.5). He’s completing 68.8 percent of his throws and has 24 touchdowns against a single interception. Moreover, Mariota is the No. 1 Heisman threat in the Far West voting region, and his stock should rise even higher if he can sink Stanford this weekend.
Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Don’t run and check the scoreboard. Yes, top-ranked Mississippi State remains No. 1 in the latest AP poll after getting past Kentucky 45-31 on Saturday. But the Bulldogs’ quarterback might have shown a blemish or two in his Heisman campaign along the way.
Prescott put up a strong performance against the Wildcats with 304 yards of offense and three total touchdowns. However, the quarterback wasn’t the only star of the show. Bulldogs running back Josh Robinson ran for 198 yards and three scores on 23 carries, all season-highs. The bruising back’s 73-yard touchdown scamper gave Mississippi State a 38-24 cushion early in the fourth quarter.
While it’s true Prescott’s numbers have dipped in his last two games -- he’s completed only 53.7 percent of his throws and thrown three interceptions against two touchdowns -- cherry-picking the box score won’t kill his Heisman campaign. What might hurt more is Robinson’s breakout play. The tailback was the subject of a number of post-game columns on Saturday night, including a piece by SI.com’s Brian Hamilton. Is that a sign of things to come for the Bulldogs, or will Prescott always demand the spotlight in Starkville?
Perhaps more worrisome, Prescott was sporting a walking boot when he visited with reporters after the game. The passer wouldn’t elaborate on the boot, calling it a “precautionary” measure. Mississippi State fans likely have nothing to worry about. Prescott isn’t leaving the Heisman conversation anytime soon. Still, the quarterback looked a little less dominant Saturday.
Outsiders looking in
Trevone Boykin, QB TCU
Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
TCU’s quarterback might be the turnaround story of the college football season. A year ago, Boykin started only six games while splitting time with Casey Pachall. Boykin tossed for 1,198 yards but threw only seven touchdowns against seven picks as part of a TCU offense that ranked near the bottom of the Big 12.
On Saturday Boykin showed why he’s a different player in 2014. The quarterback threw for a program-record seven touchdowns and a career-high 433 yards as the Horned Frogs hung 82 points on Texas Tech. Suddenly Boykin is the headliner of the country’s top-ranked scoring offense (50.4 points per game) and a TCU team that might be the most dangerous in the Big 12.
It’s not surprising TCU’s improvement has coincided with a revitalized Boykin. The quarterback is a more efficient passer (8.1 yards per attempt compared to 6.8 in 2013) than a year ago and has thrown 21 touchdowns and only three interceptions. Boykin is also averaging 4.4 yards per carry as a runner.
As long as TCU remains a viable playoff threat in the Big 12, Boykin has a shot at sneaking into the short list of Heisman contenders. This weekend will be a big chance to prove himself against a red-hot West Virginia squad.
Heisman video of the week
Oregon fans can relive all five of Marcus Mariota’s touchdown passes against Cal.
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Stanford at No. 5 Oregon
The Cardinal has single-handedly spoiled Mariota’s Heisman campaign in both of the last two years. This doesn’t look like the Stanford of old, but it did hold Oregon State to 3.1 yards per play last weekend. Can Mariota get the Cardinal monkey off his back?
Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
No. 6 Notre Dame at Navy
Golson and the Fighting Irish haven’t played since falling short at Florida State two weeks ago. Now Notre Dame’s quarterback has a chance to show that his program may be down, but it’s not out.
Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Arkansas at No. 1 Mississippi State
The Razorbacks flirted with an upset of Alabama earlier this season, and it seems only a matter of time before Bret Bielema earns his first SEC win. Or Prescott could steal back the Heisman spotlight against a tough Hogs squad.