Heisman Watch: LSU's Leonard Fournette holds onto top spot
Believe it or not, the Heisman Watch has one thing in common with Steve Spurrier: Haters.
Most of our readers enjoy the weekly Heisman chatter as the season’s early games unfold. But every year, a handful of fans—and media—groan when someone dares to utter the word “Heisman” during the first month of the season. There’s no such thing as a “September Heisman,” they say. Why write this garbage?
But hang on a sec: No one is handing out trophies in this column. All we do is assess the Heisman race on a weekly basis, and just because LSU’s Leonard Fournette sits atop this week’s Heisman Watch doesn’t mean we’re calling for him to win the trophy in December. In our view, Fournette would likely win the award if the season ended today. Why dabble in such hypothetical talk? Because it’s fun, and we encourage fun at SI.com.
Before we shift to this week’s Heisman top five, allow the Watchman to pat himself on the back. At this point last season, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota stood atop our Heisman Watch after Week 4. A September spotlight didn’t seem to spoil Mariota’s eventual run to claim the Ducks’ first Heisman. Maybe there’s really nothing wrong with assessing the Heisman field this early in the year.
Week 4 Heisman Watch
1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
2. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
3. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
4. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
5. C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
State of the frontrunner
The Heisman Watch leader followed a career performance against Auburn with another one on the road against Syracuse. Fournette powered through the Orange’s defense for a career-high 244 yards along with two touchdowns, helping LSU sink Syracuse 34-24.
The sophomore became the first player in LSU history to record consecutive 200-yard rushing games. Yet Fournette’s day could’ve been even more prolific: He had one 87-yard scoring run erased by a false start. So far, penalties are the only things that can slow down Fournette.
Through three games Fournette leads all FBS rushers with 210.3 yards per game, and no other player is within 40 yards of that average. That number might not drop off anytime soon, either. Before LSU travels to Alabama on Nov. 7, its schedule includes Eastern Michigan, South Carolina, Florida and Western Kentucky. But the rest of the season doesn’t matter to one famous LSU alum, who already cast his (imaginary) Heisman ballot.
Cody Kessler, QB, USC
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
Running backs have shown up in the Heisman Watch this season, but runners on the West Coast might deserve more attention. Specifically, UCLA’s Paul Perkins is starting to look like one of the most unheralded backs in the country.
Perkins helped the Bruins steamroll Arizona 56-30 in Tucson on Saturday night, chipping in 85 rushing yards and a whopping three touchdowns. Last week Perkins put up a season-high 219 yards and another score in a 24-23 win over BYU. Through four games UCLA’s top running back ranks first in the Pac-12 in rushing touchdowns (six) and second in rushing average (128.5 yards). The only conference player with a better per-game average is Arizona’s Nick Wilson, but Perkins just helped hand Wilson and the Wildcats a tough home loss.
UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen will grab plenty of attention as the program’s profile rises, and for good reason. But Perkins shouldn’t be ignored as a game-changer for the Bruins. Last season he became the first UCLA player since 2001 to lead the conference in rushing. With a repeat performance on a potential College Football Playoff-bound team, Perkins could challenge Fournette, Chubb and other runners in the Heisman race.
Chad Kelly, QB Ole Miss
Justin Thomas, QB Georgia Tech
Last week Chad Kelly looked like a surprise Heisman contender after a big-time performance against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. So how did Ole Miss’ quarterback respond on Saturday? With a mistake-prone outing against Vanderbilt, the worst team in the SEC last season.
Kelly threw a season-high two interceptions in the Rebels’ 27-16 win over the Commodores, who didn’t win an SEC game in 2014. Derek Mason’s defense did a solid job of preventing Ole Miss from breaking the game open. Kelly’s mistakes, in particular, played a part in those struggles, according to Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.
“I don’t have to watch the film on the two picks,” Freeze said after the game. “Those were just really, really bad reads. We have to coach Chad (Kelly) on that.”
The good news is Kelly has one of the SEC’s top receiving corps at his disposal. Against Vandy, Laquon Treadwell hauled in 135 yards on just eight catches. But standout pass-catchers can’t always cover up bone-headed mistakes from a quarterback, and now Kelly must rebound against a tough Florida defense next week on the road.
Heisman video of the week
Hopefully LSU quarterback Brandon Harris sent Leonard Fournette a gift basket after this play.
Texas at No. 4 TCU
Texas’ defense has allowed 483 yards per game this season during the program’s 1-3 start. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin has averaged 415 yards of offense and four touchdowns on his own. Do the Longhorns have an answer for Boykin?
No. 13 Alabama at No. 8 Georgia
Expect a fun matchup between running backs this weekend in Athens. Georgia’s Nick Chubb could set a program record with his 13th straight 100-yard rushing game. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' defensive front will be tested by Alabama’s Derrick Henry, who ranks fourth nationally with eight rushing touchdowns this season.
No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 12 Clemson
The last time we saw Deshaun Watson, he threw two interceptions in a tight 20-17 win over Louisville. Now Clemson’s quarterback welcomes an unbeaten Notre Dame squad to Death Valley in a primetime matchup. Expect more Heisman love for Watson if he can help dispose of the Irish. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Notre Dame running back Prosise and receiver Will Fuller.