Heisman Watch: Nick Marshall shines under pressure in win at Ole Miss
You won’t see many changes atop our latest Heisman Watch rankings. But moving down the list, a couple of new faces made appearances after a telling Week 10 of college football.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott still reside atop our rankings after a couple of key conference victories. With a month of football left, it’s difficult to point out a clear No. 3 in the race behind those two quarterbacks. Still, the likes of Auburn’s Nick Marshall, TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson could shake things up down the road. Each passer plays for a program still very much in the College Football Playoff hunt.
Heisman Watch Week 10
1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
2. Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
3. Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
4. Trevone Boykin, QB TCU
5. Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
Trevone Boykin, QB TCU
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Nick Marshall didn’t have much luck the last time he visited the Magnolia State, as Marshall’s Auburn squad fell to No. 1 Mississippi State 38-23 in Starkville on Oct. 11. The quarterback completed a season-low 48.6 percent of his throws in the defeat and tossed a season-high two interceptions. After that game, the Tigers’ playoff hopes took a shot, as did Marshall’s Heisman campaign. Heisman contenders must perform on a big stage, and Marshall did not look like the best player in the country against Mississippi State.
The quarterback redeemed himself Saturday night in Oxford, Miss., leading No. 3 Auburn to a 35-31 win over No. 4 Ole Miss. Marshall completed 15 of his 22 passes (68.2 percent) for a season-high 254 passing yards with two scores and one pick. He also chipped in 50 yards and another two touchdowns on the ground. Marshall kept the Auburn offense moving against a stingy Ole Miss defense, which came into Saturday’s contest allowing a national-best 10.5 points per game.
The senior answered the call when needed on Saturday. With the Tigers facing a 24-14 deficit early in the third quarter, Marshall engineered scoring drives of 73 and 96 yards and capped them with a rushing score and a passing touchdown. When Ole Miss regained the lead in the fourth quarter, Marshall drove Auburn 75 yards for the go-ahead touchdown run by Cameron Artis-Payne.
Auburn’s staff wanted to repackage Marshall as a more efficient passer in 2014. So far, the quarterback is giving the Tigers what they need. He’s already thrown 13 touchdown passes -- he tossed a total of 14 last season -- and his 149.3 passer rating is a step up from his 143.2 mark in 2013. Since losing at Mississippi State, the dual-threat Marshall has scored eight total touchdowns against one interception.
The Tigers took out a fellow playoff contender Saturday, which is good news for their own playoff hopes. It’s also good news for Marshall’s Heisman campaign. The quarterback is the headliner of an Auburn offense that hung 35 points on Ole Miss on the road. Soon he’ll have an opportunity to end the regular season on a high note when Auburn takes on Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Nov. 29.
Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska
The last time we saw Ameer Abdullah, he had set a Nebraska record for all-purpose yards (341) against Rutgers. The lasting image of the Huskers’ star on Saturday was Abdullah walking towards the locker room.
Abdullah, who entered the weekend’s meeting with Purdue third in the country with 156 rushing yards a game, sprained and bruised his left knee on Nebraska’s second series. At the time of his exit, Abdullah had rushed six times for only a single yard. He did not return.
The lingering question after the Cornhuskers’ victory was whether Abdullah would be healthy for Nebraska’s matchup with Wisconsin in two weeks. Coach Bo Pelini said he was “very optimistic” about Abdullah’s return against the Badgers, but he didn’t want his star running back taking any chances Saturday.
"If he could've, he would've,” Pelini told reporters. “We were going to be cautious with him. We were going to do everything we needed to do to make sure we were doing the right thing by Ameer. He already had an MRI, and we feel good about where he is."
Abdullah remains one of the best non-quarterback candidates in the Heisman race. He’s a triple-threat given his prowess at rushing, receiving and returning kicks. But you can’t win an award if you aren’t on the field. Even in situations beyond a player’s control, history isn’t kind to Heisman contenders who miss significant playing time.
If Abdullah returns, a huge performance against Wisconsin and fellow Heisman contender Melvin Gordon could tip the scales in his direction. The silver lining to Abdullah’s injury is that it comes before the Cornhuskers’ bye week. Nebraska is a half-game ahead of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin in the Big Ten West, but it will struggle to stay there without Abdullah.
Outside looking in
Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
The Badgers’ star rushed 19 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Rutgers this weekend. He went for at least 100 yards on the ground for the seventh time in eight games. Gordon is now averaging 7.5 yards per carry, and his 18 rushing touchdowns rank second in the country. He just hasn’t had many premier games on his resume.
Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Cooper put on a strong performance in a win against Tennessee two weeks ago, but Alabama enjoyed a bye Saturday. That allowed other contenders to steal the spotlight. Cooper faces a long climb against Heisman history as a wide receiver -- only two have ever won the award -- but he remains second in the country in receiving yards per game (141.5).
Heisman video of the week
Trevone Boykin, QB TCU
No. 9 Kansas State at No. 7 TCU
Kansas State is the biggest obstacle remaining to TCU’s Big 12 title hopes. The Wildcats have only one loss, to Auburn in Manhattan. Boykin’s Heisman campaign might be an uphill battle if he struggles against coach Bill Snyder’s crew. With matchups against Kansas, Texas and Iowa State to finish the regular season and no conference championship game, this is the TCU quarterback’s last opportunity to shine under a national spotlight.
Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
Texas A&M at No. 3 Auburn
The Aggies struggled Saturday in a 21-16 win over Louisiana-Monroe. Now they must travel to the Plains to face Auburn, which just sunk Ole Miss in Oxford. Marshall could add to his Heisman campaign with a big day against Texas A&M.
Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
No. 10 Notre Dame at No. 14 Arizona State
Golson’s biggest win so far might be a close loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Other than that, it’s a less-than-impressive victory over a four-loss Stanford team. A huge performance and a win at Arizona State would be key to Golson’s Heisman bid.