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Heisman Watch: Mississippi State's Dak Prescott rises to the top

After guiding Mississippi State to an impressive win over Texas A&M, quarterback Dak Prescott is the post-Week 6 Heisman Watch leader.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen knows a thing or two about coaching a Heisman Trophy candidate. Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach when Tim Tebow became the first sophomore to win the Heisman in 2007. Now Mullen might be having Heisman déjà vu.

After the 11th-ranked Bulldogs toppled No. 6 Texas A&M 48-31 Saturday in one of the biggest wins in program history, Mullen offered a prediction concerning his current quarterback, Dak Prescott.

“He’s going to get more attention now with his performance,” Mullen said after the game, “but that’s what we expect from him.”

Mullen was right. Thanks to Prescott’s outing against the Aggies and a few other top-10 shakeups across college football, Mississippi State’s quarterback is our newest Heisman Watch leader.

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Week 6 Heisman Watch

1.Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
2.Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
3. Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
4. Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
5. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
6. Amari Cooper, WR Alabama
7. Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
8. Brett Hundley, QB UCLA
9. Melvin Gordon, QB Wisconsin
10. Jaelen Strong, WR Arizona State

The Frontrunners

Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon

Prescott kicked off the 2014 season with little more than dark horse Heisman consideration. After all, the quarterback’s shot at New York wouldn’t take off without Mississippi State making noise in the SEC West. Historically, that's been a tall task. But Saturday’s victory over the Aggies showed that the Bulldogs are for real. It also showed that Prescott might just be the best player in the country.

Fresh off his program’s first win over LSU in Baton Rouge since 1991, Prescott connected on 19-of-25 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns against Texas A&M. The junior also added 77 yards and three more scores on the ground. After the Aggies jumped out to a 7-0 lead on their first drive, Prescott ran for a touchdown and threw for another as the Bulldogs scored 28 straight points to take control of the game. The quarterback didn’t let up in the second half, accounting for all three of Mississippi State’s touchdowns after intermission to complete to upset.

Three and Out: Dak Prescott leads Mississippi State past Texas A&M

Prescott climbed to second all-time in career touchdowns responsible for at Mississippi State (50) and needs just three more to set a new program record. He now has 18 total touchdowns with only two interceptions on the season. Perhaps more importantly, the Bulldogs are rolling. Mississippi State has beaten two top-10 teams in the same season for the first time in school history and it did so in consecutive games. Coupled with a strong defense, the Bulldogs suddenly look like playoff contenders. Plenty of obstacles remain, like another home test this weekend against No. 2 Auburn, but for the first time in a while no one is discounting Mississippi State.

People are paying attention to Prescott, too, and for more reasons than one. The quarterback’s stocky frame, scrambling ability and jersey number have conjured up comparisons to Tebow. Prescott even had a chance to meet the former Florida great over the weekend when the SEC Network’s “SEC Nation” show visited Starkville. That conversation reminded Prescott of the kind of player he strives to be.

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“I actually asked to wear No. 15 when I first came here because of Tim Tebow, and it was an honor to get to meet him yesterday,” Prescott said Saturday. “Our games are kind of similar, but I’m a different player and I have my own type of game. But I still want to mimic him in some ways.”

With a few more stellar performances, Prescott might just mimic Tebow’s rise to the Heisman, as well.

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Rising contenders

Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
Jaelen Strong, WR Arizona State

It’s almost beyond comprehension that Wisconsin can lose football games with an offensive weapon like Gordon. The Badgers lost to a 3-2 Northwestern squad on Saturday despite Gordon’s Herculean effort on the ground. The running back gashed the Wildcats for a career-high 259 yards (9.6 per carry) and one touchdown, but Wisconsin still managed to score just 14 points thanks, in part, to an anemic passing attack.

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Despite his team’s struggles, Gordon remains one of the most efficient runners in the country. He’s a top-10 player nationally in both total rushing yards (871) and yards per carry (8.3).  On Saturday he became just the third player in Wisconsin history with multiple 250-yard games.

Gordon, Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah and Georgia’s Todd Gurley remain the prime Heisman threats from the running back position. Running backs have been at a historic disadvantage in recent years, having won only one Heisman since 2000 (Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009). But eye-popping stats can still carry a player to New York. Boston College running back Andre Williams played for a seven-win Eagles squad but became a Heisman finalist after setting a school record with 2,177 rushing yards in 2013. Gordon still has plenty of chances to blow up the box score even if his team's passing game suppresses its win total.


Falling contenders

Brett Hundley, QB UCLA
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska

Oregon’s offensive line likely cost the Ducks a victory against Arizona last week. That line is also why Marcus Mariota’s Heisman campaign now looks like an uphill battle.

In the Wildcats’ 31-24 victory in Eugene on Thursday, Mariota struggled to find a rhythm behind an offensive line missing Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher due to injuries. Mariota got sacked five times, managed just one rushing yard on nine carries and turned the ball over to seal Oregon's fate. After Arizona took a 31-24 lead with 2:54 to play, Mariota and the Ducks had one last shot to tie the game. On first-and-10 at the Oregon 35-yard line, Wildcats linebacker Scooby Wright sacked Mariota, forced a fumble and recovered the ball to preserve Arizona’s win.

Mariota still compiled 276 passing yards and three total scores, including one touchdown catch, but he wasn’t his usual game-changing self against the Wildcats.

Most expected Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford to stand as Oregon’s toughest opponents this season, but Arizona has now beaten the Ducks two years in a row. Thursday’s loss shed light on an offensive line that could be a huge problem for Mariota as a Heisman contender. The Wildcats contained the quarterback on the ground and applied enough pressure to prevent him from breaking the game open with his arm. No player can carry an entire offense on his shoulders, and Mariota needs more protection to succeed.

Fortunately for Mariota, this loss came early in the season. If the Ducks can rally and remain in contention for the Pac-12 title, Mariota still has a good shot at reaching New York. He doesn’t have much time to recuperate, though. Oregon travels to UCLA on Saturday.

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Heisman video of the week

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson saved the day against Stanford with his game-winning, 23-yard touchdown pass to Ben Koyack with 1:01 to play.

Heisman lookahead

Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
No. 2 Auburn at No. 3 Mississippi State

Last week was billed as the Bulldogs’ biggest game of the season, but this one is already bigger. Prescott could break open the Heisman race by taking down No. 2 Auburn and its underrated defense.

Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
No. 9 TCU at No. 5 Baylor

Texas might be struggling, but the Longhorns’ defense flummoxed Petty into only 111 yards on 7-of-22 passing Saturday. Now Petty and the high-octane Bears must face a TCU defense that just beat fourth-ranked Oklahoma.

Kenny Hill, QB Texas A&M
No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 14 Texas A&M

Hill had thrown two interceptions all season heading into last week’s game against Mississippi State. He threw three picks in the Aggies’ loss to the Bulldogs. Can the sophomore quarterback regain his form against an Ole Miss defense fresh off its upset of Alabama?