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Heisman Watch: Todd Gurley's suspension shakes up leaderboard

Todd Gurley's suspension likely ends the Georgia running back's Heisman Trophy hopes. Dak Prescott, Bryce Petty and Marcus Mariota all look poised to capitalize.

Remember when Heisman Trophy candidates earned headlines on the field? That doesn’t seem to be the trend this season. Georgia running back Todd Gurley is just the latest Heisman hopeful to find himself in hot water off the field.

Last week Georgia suspended Gurley amid allegations that he violated NCAA rules by accepting money in exchange for autographs. Gurley’s suspension brought a shakeup to the top of our Heisman Watch rankings, where he and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott had been neck-and-neck. The Bulldogs’ running back, however, might’ve seen his Heisman dreams slip away thanks to a couple hundred dollars.

• STAPLES: Midway through the season, what have we learned?

Week 7 Heisman Watch

1. Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
2. Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
3. Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
4. Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
5. Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin
6. Brett Hundley, QB UCLA
7. Nick Marshall, Auburn
8. Bo Wallace, QB Ole Miss
9. B.J. Catalon, RB TCU
10. Javorius Allen, RB USC

The frontrunners

Dak Prescott, QB Mississippi State
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
Melvin Gordon, RB Wisconsin

With 11:38 to play in Baylor’s home matchup with TCU, Bryce Petty made a terrible mistake. The Bears’ quarterback threw his second interception of the afternoon, and Horned Frogs linebacker Marcus Mallet ran back Petty’s miscue 49 yards for a touchdown. The untimely pick-six gave TCU a 58-37 lead, and Baylor’s star passer looked as if he couldn’t perform on a big stage.

But Petty and the Bears’ offense soon woke up. The senior engineered four straight scoring drives as Baylor notched the game’s final 24 points to survive TCU, 61-58. Petty completed 28-of-55 passes for a career-high 510 yards and six touchdowns on the day, including two of the Bears’ three touchdowns in their comeback. Each of Petty’s scoring tosses went for 25 yards or more, including 66- and 67-yard strikes.

• ​ELLIS: Baylor stuns TCU with incredible fourth-quarter comeback

Petty, who tied former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III’s program record with his 13th 300-yard passing game, said his team’s fourth-quarter hole didn’t concern him. He knew his offense had enough firepower to rally.

“I don't know why I felt it, and I am not saying that I doubted it at any point in time, but I just knew looking at the other guys’ faces we were going to come back in that game,” Petty said afterward.

Baylor’s 782 yards of offense were the most ever allowed by a Gary Patterson-coached team at TCU. The Bears proved themselves against a stout Horned Frogs’ defense after manhandling a relatively easy first few weeks of the season. For now, Baylor looks like a playoff-caliber program.

But we saw a similar start from Petty last season when the quarterback powered Baylor to a 9-0 record. That’s when his Heisman campaign came crashing down due to a 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State in late November. Petty and the Bears still must face those Cowboys, as well as Oklahoma and Kansas State, later this season. Still, based on Saturday’s performance, it’s obvious Petty could keep blowing up box scores en route to New York.

Rising contenders

Javorius Allen, RB USC
Marcus Mariota, QB Oregon
Bo Wallace, QB Ole Miss

Most were ready to bury Marcus Mariota and Oregon after the Ducks’ home loss to unranked Arizona two weeks ago. But a strong win over a Pac-12 rival can change things pretty quickly.

Oregon downs UCLA to keep Pac-12, College Football Playoff hopes alive

​Mariota compiled 285 yards of offense and four total touchdowns as the Ducks cruised past UCLA 42-20 in Pasadena. Thanks to the timely return of left tackle Jake Fisher from injury, Mariota enjoyed much better protection from his offense line. The quarterback had been sacked 12 times in the past two games; on Saturday, the Bruins didn’t sack the Ducks’ passer even once. Mariota needs Fisher to stay healthy. Oregon hasn’t allowed a sack in three of its four games with Fisher starting this year.

The Ducks are still very much alive in the Pac-12 and the College Football Playoff race, and although Saturday’s game against the Bruins didn’t carry as much weight as many expected during the preseason, Oregon couldn’t afford a loss. More importantly, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley was perhaps Mariota’s biggest Heisman threat in the Pac-12. Whichever passer emerged Saturday would have enjoyed a Heisman boost. As of now, Mariota is the Heisman candidate to beat in the Far West voting region.

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Falling contenders

Todd Gurley, RB Georgia
Nick Marshall, QB Auburn
Brett Hundley, QB UCLA

Don’t be surprised if Gurley’s Heisman predicament sounds familiar. A few weeks ago, we sang this same song -- albeit in a different tune -- about Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston was suspended for arguably the Seminoles’ biggest game of the season, a Sept. 20 matchup with Clemson, due to his own off-field actions. The defending Heisman winner’s chance at a repeat came crashing down as a result, and Gurley is the latest contender to fall for similar reasons.

• ​McCANN: Winston's best legal move may be to drop out of FSU


Georgia suspended Gurley indefinitely last Thursday after allegations surfaced that the running back accepted money for autographs.’s Andy Staples reported that an individual paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items in Athens this past spring. Such actions would be deemed a violation of NCAA Bylaw, which prevents student-athletes from receiving benefits because of their “athletics reputation or skill.”

Georgia is investigating the allegations, but Gurley will remain suspended in the interim. There is no timeline for Gurley’s return, but it doesn’t appear to be anytime soon. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Gurley could miss the rest of the season, which could effectively end his Georgia career if the running back declares for the NFL draft.

Like Winston, Gurley cannot win the Heisman if he is not on the field. Even if he returns, the allegations against Gurley -- if true -- might have already soured the player’s image in the eyes of voters. Many consider NCAA rules outdated and in need of reform, but rules are rules. Gurley had to know his actions were against current NCAA guidelines, yet he allegedly accepted money with his team primed for an SEC title run anyway.

• ​ELLIS: No Gurley, no problem for Georgia in rout of Missouri

As a running back, Gurley was already facing an uphill battle in the Heisman race. Twelve of the last 13 winners have been quarterbacks. But now Gurley’s Heisman hopes are likely gone. At this point it would take a minor miracle for him to reach New York.

Heisman video of the week

Bryce Petty likes the deep ball, and the Baylor quarterback tossed a number of them in the Bears’ comeback win over TCU.

Heisman lookahead

Everett Golson, QB Notre Dame
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State

This might be the biggest game of the season for the Fighting Irish. Florida State remains unbeaten, but the Seminoles haven’t seemed as dominant as last season. Golson, still an unheralded Heisman contender, can make a huge statement in Tallahassee.

Ameer Abdullah, RB Nebraska
No. 19 Nebraska at Northwestern

The Cornhuskers were off last weekend, so Abdullah didn’t have a chance to reel off another stat-stuffing day. He could put his name back in the headlines with a stellar outing against Northwestern, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten in rushing defense.

Bryce Petty, QB Baylor
No. 4 Baylor at West Virginia

The Mountaineers kept fellow Big 12 contender Oklahoma on its toes during a matchup in Morgantown last month. The Sooners eventually won 45-33, but weird things tend to happen in Morgantown. We’ll see what Petty can do in an intriguing Big 12 road game.

• ​RICKMAN: Between The Hashes: Recapping the wacky and weird of Week 7