Remember Kenny Hill?
This time last year, Hill was Texas A&M’s starting quarterback and perhaps the trendiest name in college football. Johnny Manziel’s replacement led the Aggies to a shocking 52-28 win at South Carolina in Week 1, throwing for 511 yards and three touchdowns while completing 73 percent of his passes. Hill’s performance took college football by storm, earning him a catchy nickname (Kenny Trill) and shooting him up many Heisman Watch lists—including this one.
But Hill’s candidacy proved to be a mirage. After leading Texas A&M to a 5-0 start, Hill threw six interceptions in three straight losses. He was then suspended for two games for a violation of team rules, and freshman Kyle Allen supplanted him atop the QB depth chart. Eventually Hill read the writing on the wall and transferred to TCU.
Why is this important? Because it points to the shortsighted nature of Week 1 results. The Heisman is fun to discuss, but it’s also not an award that can be won in September. That doesn’t mean first impressions aren’t important; Manziel and Jameis Winston broke out in their respective college debuts. It just means those impressions should be taken with a grain of salt, which is why SI.com’s first Heisman Watch makes very few drastic changes after one week of college football.
Week 1 Heisman Watch
State of the frontrunner
TCU started slowly against Minnesota’s defense, but Boykin still delivered a strong performance on the road. The quarterback completed 26-of-42 passes for 246 yards and a touchdown, adding 92 yards and another score on the ground. Boykin’s 19-yard scoring run in the third quarter broke open a tight game and helped the Horned Frogs secure a 23-17 win.
The question is whether TCU’s effort indicates its offense has slipped. The Horned Frogs’ 23 points were the fewest the program has scored since a 21-17 win over Iowa State on Nov. 9, 2013. Last season the Horned Frogs averaged 6.68 yards per play, 11th nationally, but on Saturday they managed 5.22 per play. Boykin and TCU should use their next two games against Stephen F. Austin and SMU to find a rhythm on offense.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
Alabama fans haven’t forgotten Henry’s disappearing act against Ohio State in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Despite averaging 7.3 yards per carry for the game, the Crimson Tide didn’t give Henry the rock much in the second half. But on Saturday, Henry showed why he could be a dominating force for Alabama’s new-look offense.
While the Crimson Tide rotated between quarterbacks Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman, Henry rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns—both career-highs—on just 13 carries in a 35-17 win against Wisconsin. His 37-yard scoring run broke open a scoreless game in the first quarter, and he scampered for a 56-yard touchdown fresh out of halftime to give the Tide a 21-7 lead.
Alabama’s quarterback situation makes Henry’s potential Heisman candidacy interesting. Both Bateman and Coker looked sharp under center, but it’s unclear if and when Nick Saban will tab a full-time starter between the two. That could mean offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin leans more heavily on Henry for the time being.
It’s true that running backs haven’t fared well in recent Heisman history, but Alabama’s current quarterbacks didn’t look like game-changers in Week 1. That bodes well for Henry. The only running back to win the Heisman in the last 15 years, Mark Ingram, played at Alabama alongside an efficient quarterback in Greg McElroy who didn’t light up box scores. That allowed Ingram to grab more of the spotlight. The same could happen for Henry, especially if the Tide contend for a College Football Playoff spot.
Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon
It’s tough to watch any player take a Heisman hit due to injury, but it does happen. Wright left Arizona’s victory over Texas-San Antonio on Thursday with a knee injury and potentially could return for conference play. Meanwhile, Adams had to come out of Oregon’s win over Eastern Washington due to a nasty hit from his former teammate John Kreifels, who was ejected. Adams said he plans to play next week at Michigan State, and Ducks coach Mark Helfrich reportedly implied the dual-threat QB didn’t suffer a concussion.
Johnson’s fall in the Heisman conversation has more to do with his on-field efforts in Auburn’s 31-24 win over Louisville. This off-season the Tigers’ new 6-5, 240-pound starter garnered comparisons to Cam Newton, but he didn’t quite deliver on Saturday. Johnson showed flashes of potential, running in the game’s first touchdown and throwing for another. He also looked comfortable in the pocket and threw a pretty deep ball.
But Auburn’s new starter also threw three interceptions that were each a result of poor decision-making. In the third quarter, Louisville turned Johnson’s third pick of the night into a touchdown that made it a two-touchdown game. Afterward Johnson partially attributed his mistakes to opening-week jitters, maintaining that each miscue was fixable.
That’s good news for Auburn, which was picked to win the SEC and enters the year with a target on its back. Still, Johnson has work to do before he can break into the top tier of Heisman candidates.
Heisman video of the week
Watch Derrick Henry barrel through Wisconsin’s defensive line for his first touchdown of the season.
Ohio State at Virginia Tech
Technically this is a Week 1 game, but it takes place on Monday night and should affect the Heisman picture. Either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones will get the start at quarterback while Ezekiel Elliott lines back up at running back. That’s a lot of firepower.
Oregon at Michigan State
This should be Adams’s first true test as Oregon’s new quarterback. Heisman winner Marcus Mariota helped the Ducks escape an upset in this matchup last season, but this year’s installment place in takes East Lansing.
LSU at Mississippi State
LSU canceled its opening game vs. McNeese State due to rain, so it opens the season in Starkville against Prescott and Mississippi State. The Bulldogs struggled a bit in their own opener against Southern Miss. Keep an eye on Prescott against the Tigers’ defense.