Heisman Watch: Don't count out Todd Gurley despite Georgia's loss

Todd Gurley is still a contender for the Heisman Trophy after Georgia's loss to South Carolina, says Zac Ellis in Week 3's Heisman Watch.
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It’s no secret that an unbeaten season -- coupled with gaudy statistics -- is the easiest path to New York for a Heisman contender. Early season losses don’t automatically kill Heisman Trophy campaigns, but they hardly offer a boost. Still, recent history shows voters can be forgiving when it comes to key losses during a season.

Johnny Manziel won the Heisman in 2012 as the leader of a Texas A&M team with a 10-2 record when ballots were due. A year before, Baylor’s Robert Griffin III took home the trophy despite his Bears losing three games, including two straight to ranked opponents in October. What mattered in the end was both Manziel and Griffin rebounded strongly. The Aggies and the Bears closed their respective regular seasons on five-game win streaks while their two stars shined on the stat sheet. Their imperfect route to the Heisman is not uncommon; five of the last 10 winners’ teams had at least one loss at voting time.

South Carolina resets SEC East with win over Georgia; Punt, Pass & Pork

So there’s no reason Saturday’s slipup should doom Georgia running back Todd Gurley’s Heisman campaign. Gurley and the Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season with a 38-35 setback against South Carolina. But the talented tailback still wowed in the loss with 131 rushing yards and one touchdown, bouncing off would-be tacklers left and right. Even better for Gurley and the Bulldogs, the last time Georgia lost in Columbia -- 2012 -- it still reached the SEC title game.

That’s why, despite the loss, Gurley moves up in this week’s Heisman Watch and is now the most viable threat to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

• RICKMAN: Georgia's playcalling falters in loss to South Carolina

Week 3 Heisman Watch

1. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
2. Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
3. Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
4. Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
5. Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
6. Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
7. Trevor Knight, QB Oklahoma
8. Taysom Hill, QB BYU
9. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
10. Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska


The Frontrunners

Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
Jameis Winston, QB Florida State

If a contender can quietly break into the Heisman race, that’s exactly what Everett Golson is doing at Notre Dame. We all remember Golson as the sophomore quarterback who helped lead the Irish to an unbeaten regular season and a spot in the BCS title game in 2012. But an academic suspension forced Golson to miss the entire 2013 campaign. After the lengthy hiatus, no one knew what to expect from the quarterback this fall.

So far Golson looks like a new and improved leader for the Irish. He’s led Notre Dame to three straight victories to open the season, including a 31-0 drubbing of Michigan in Week 2. Golson tallied four total touchdowns against the Wolverines, and he reached the end zone three more times in Saturday’s 30-14 win over Purdue.

While Notre Dame also opened the 2012 season with a 3-0 record, Golson looks like a much better quarterback this time around after spending his suspension working with lauded quarterback coach George Whitfield. In the first three games of his sophomore year, Golson completed 58 percent of his passes for 203.7 yards per game (7.54 yards per attempt) along with five total touchdowns. Through three games in 2014, the quarterback is completing 64.6 percent of his throws for 260 yards per game (8.13 yards per attempt). Oh, and he’s already scored 11 touchdowns, which includes six rushing scores -- two more than his entire 2012 tally.

Despite his numbers, Golson isn’t sparking much Heisman conversation after wins against Rice, Purdue and a questionable Michigan team. That will change once Notre Dame dives into the teeth of a difficult schedule. The Irish must travel to Arizona State, Florida State and USC while also hosting Stanford and Louisville. If Golson continues his current production and helps Notre Dame navigate that daunting slate, his family had better start booking New York hotel rooms for December.

Rising contenders

Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska
Bryce Petty, QB Baylor

Petty’s shot at the Heisman looked dim after Baylor’s 45-0 rout of SMU in Week 1. Due to a bruised back, the Bears’ quarterback winced his way through one half of play against the Mustangs, and he sat out his team’s 70-6 smackdown of Northwestern State in Week 2.

But on Friday Petty looked like his old self against Buffalo. The quarterback completed 23-of-34 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns as the Bears cruised by the Bulls 63-21.

“This was kind of his coming out party,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “And I thought he was exceptional.”

The Bears are once again trampling opponents, but Petty isn’t cracking many  Heisman short lists with that nonconference slate. Petty’s back injury has also played a role in his relative anonymity in 2014. But with a healthy Petty back in the lineup, that should all change once Baylor kicks off Big 12 play. The Bears will face Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia on the road this season. Can the quarterback stay healthy and lead his program to the Big 12 title once again?


Falling contenders

Brett Hundley, QB UCLA
Taylor Kelly, QB Arizona State

UCLA’s star quarterback isn’t going to win any awards from the sidelines, so Bruins fans should hope Hundley’s hyperextended left elbow isn’t serious. But Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman reported late Saturday night that Hundley should be fine by the end of the week. That’s great news from a Heisman perspective, as no player in the modern era has won the trophy after missing more than one full game. Unlike in Petty’s case, Hundley would miss significant games critical to his and UCLA’s hopes.

Aside from the injury, the Bruins’ play through three games might be a larger threat to Hundley’s Heisman campaign. UCLA has been lucky to emerge unbeaten. The latest challenge came courtesy of a Texas squad that lost 41-7 to BYU in Week 2 yet narrowly fell to the Bruins 20-17. UCLA’s offensive line has already given up 12 sacks this season, and that isn’t a good sign as Hundley prepares for Pac-12 play.

There is still plenty of time for UCLA to gel, but backup quarterback Jerry Neuheisel’s heroics -- he led the Bruins to the game-winning score against Texas with three minutes left -- won’t help Hundley’s Heisman campaign. The Bruins’ primary passer needs to stay healthy if he hopes to reach New York.

• RICKMAN: Between The Hashes: Texas' inexplicable decision in UCLA loss

Heisman video of the week

Marcus Mariota leaps for one of his four touchdowns during Oregon’s 48-14 win over Wyoming.


Heisman lookahead

Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
No. 5 Auburn at No. 20 Kansas State (Thursday)

No one’s talking about Auburn’s returning quarterback as a major Heisman contender. However, plenty of folks are talking about Kansas State as a sleeper in the Big 12. Marshall should be a topic of conversation one way or another after this intriguing Thursday night matchup.

Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
Florida at No. 3 Alabama

Despite a true No. 1 quarterback in Tuscaloosa, Cooper isn’t missing a beat. The Tide’s main target leads the nation in catches (33) and is third in receiving yards (454). Florida could still be reeling from its three-overtime win over Kentucky when it travels to Bryant-Denny Stadium, so Cooper’s big-play ability might catch the Gators off guard.

Jameis Winston, QB Florida State
No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State

Has everyone forgotten about last season’s Heisman winner? A year ago Winston hung 444 yards and four touchdowns on Clemson in Death Valley. The sophomore quarterback could launch himself back into the Heisman conversation with another big game against the Tigers.

• STAFF: Saturday Snaps: Recapping biggest games of Week 3