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Heisman Watch: Alabama's Derrick Henry leads pack after strong start

Who leads the Heisman Trophy race after Week 2?

It’s only two weeks into the season, and we already have a new leader in the race for the Heisman Trophy.

Frequent readers of this column might diagnose the Heisman Watchman with amnesia. Yes, just last week I preached the importance of ignoring knee-jerk reactions in the Heisman race. But each Saturday offers a clearer picture of the landscape of college football. And in the Watchman’s eyes, Alabama running back Derrick Henry has already done enough to look like the best player in the country.

TCU fans, I know what you’re thinking: Why would Trevone Boykin—last week’s Heisman Watch leader—drop a spot after helping TCU to a 70-7 win over Stephen F. Austin? Mostly because a player’s fall on the Heisman list isn’t always his fault; sometimes, other candidates simply look more dominant. So far that’s the case with Henry. Now, will that assessment hold true once Alabama enters SEC play? We’ll see, but if the season ended today, Henry would’ve earned the top spot.

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Week 2 Heisman Watch

1. Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
2. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
3. TrevoneBoykin, QB, TCU
4. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

State of the frontrunner

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Henry’s effort in Alabama’s 37-10 win over Middle Tennessee State wasn’t the most head-turning performance of Week 2. He reeled off a solid 96 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries (5.3-yard average) in three quarters of work. But taking into account Henry’s outing against Wisconsin in Week 1 (147 yards, three scores, 11.3 average), we’re starting to see how important the running back will be for the Crimson Tide.

Henry exits Week 2 tied for the FBS lead with Old Dominion’s Ray Lawry with six rushing touchdowns. He’s averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and the only two SEC players with a better YPC average—Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Kentucky’s Stanley Williams—have combined for just three rushing scores. Most importantly, we’ve yet to see Alabama put the ball in the hands of quarterbacks Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman and ask them to carry the offense. That means Henry could be the Tide’s workhorse this season, which undoubtedly will help his Heisman bid.

Rising contenders

Connor Cook, QB Michigan State
Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State
Leonard Fournette, RB LSU
Cody Kessler, QB USC

During fall camp Florida State fans didn’t know if Dalvin Cook would play college football at all in 2015. But after Cook was found not guilty of misdemeanor battery late last month, his eligibility was no longer in question. And on Saturday the Seminoles were reminded of the kind of player the sophomore can be.

Cook rushed 30 times for 266 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-14 win over South Florida. His 266 yards were the second-most ever by a Seminole, short of a 322-yard night by Greg Allen vs. Western Carolina in 1981. Cook’s first touchdown—a 74-yard scamper in the first quarter—was the longest run of his career.

Cook’s performance was even more important given quarterback Everett Golson’s erratic play. Golson frequently looked flustered in the pocket, completing just 14 of his 26 throws and managing 5.6 yards per attempt. With the score tied 7-7 at halftime, the quarterback had compiled a mere six passing yards. Perhaps Cook should expect more 30-carry outings if Golson fails to find his footing.

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It comes as no surprise that Cook will be a focal point of Florida State’s offense. He has 422 yards and five touchdowns on the year and is averaging 8.6 yards per carry, all while the ‘Noles work to replace four starting offensive linemen from 2014. The question is whether Cook can carry those spectacular numbers into ACC play.


Falling contenders

Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon
Jeremy Johnson, QB, Auburn
Malik Zaire, QB, Notre Dame

It could be argued Adams performed well on the road in Oregon’s 31-28 loss to Michigan State. The Ducks’ replacement for Heisman winner Marcus Mariota threw for 309 yards and notched two touchdowns against the Spartans’ stingy defense. But these are the games in which true Heisman contenders shine, and Adams fell short against Sparty.

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Late in the fourth quarter, Oregon made its way to the Michigan State 33-yard line trailing 31-28. Adams missed on a surefire, go-ahead touchdown pass on second down when he overthrew an open Byron Marshall in the end zone. The quarterback then took a sack on the next play before missing Bralon Addison on fourth-and-16, effectively ending the Ducks’ rally.

A number of factors played into Oregon’s final drive stalling, but Adams’s overthrown pass to Marshall will haunt the quarterback. If Adams makes that throw, the Ducks head home with a major nonconference victory on their résumé. And that’s the kind of throw Heisman winners make.

Heisman video of the week

Cook makes South Florida defenders look silly during this 74-yard touchdown run.


Heisman lookahead

No. 11 Clemson at Louisville (Thursday)

Fresh off a letdown loss to Houston at home, Louisville must turn around and host Clemson and Deshaun Watson. This will be Watson’s first big stage of the season, so keep an eye on the Tigers’ star sophomore.

No. 15 Ole Miss vs. No. 2 Alabama

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Tide fans have sour memories of this matchup from last season, when Ole Miss handed Alabama its only regular-season loss. Henry could use the Rebels’ trip to Tuscaloosa as a true breakout game in the Heisman race.

Stanford at No. 6 USC

Lopsided wins against Arkansas State and Idaho won’t move the dial for Kessler’s Heisman campaign. But a home victory over Pac-12 foe Stanford could, especially if Kessler picks apart the Cardinal’s defense.