Forde-Yard Dash: The Heisman Race Is Coming Down to Quarterbacks, Again

Author:
Publish date:

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (Proud Rooster bandwagon tickets sold separately in Myrtle Beach):

MORE DASH: Big Brand Struggles | COVID Issues | Non-Passers

SECOND QUARTER: NEVER MIND, THE HEISMAN REALLY IS FOR QUARTERBACKS ONLY

Hey, The Dash tried. Looked high and low for someone other than a quarterback to champion for the Heisman Trophy. Pickings have gotten slim.

The Dash was on the Jaylen Waddle train for a few weeks, until that ran into a season-ending injury. The Dash touted Kyle Pitts, the tight end dark horse candidate, but he has not maintained his torrid early pace. Running backs? Hard to make a case for Travis Etienne or Najee Harris, due to competition on their own teams. Defense? There is no Chase Young this year, but maybe there is one candidate to keep an eye on. (Read on.)

For now, this is how the field stacks up to win the little stiff-armer:

Justin Fields (11), Ohio State. Selling point, beyond the stats: returning Heisman finalist leading a blueblood program. He leads the nation in pass efficiency among those who have played more than one game, checking in at 222.38. That’s ahead of Joe Burrow’s FBS-record 201.96 last year. Fields has 11 incompletions and 11 touchdown passes, which is absurd. He hasn’t run much the last couple of games because the Buckeyes don’t need him to—but he can do that, too. Being the best player on an undefeated team is always a good Heisman recipe—and aside from an improbable Big Ten East Game of the Year Nov. 21 against Indiana, Ohio State should be favored by at least three touchdowns in every remaining game.

Supporting cast: elite receivers Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave; a solid running back tandem in Master Teague and Trey Sermon; a very good offensive line.

Zach Wilson (12), BYU. Selling point, beyond the stats: fresh candidate on a fresh team with a high entertainment value, plus the advantage of playing several non-Saturday games that put him in the spotlight. Wilson is third nationally in efficiency, trailing only Fields and Alabama’s Mac Jones. His 22 touchdown passes is tied for the national lead, and he’s run for eight more scores. He’s got some improvisational flair, throwing the ball at different angles and creating some big plays out of thin air. At 8–0, almost all of Wilson’s Heisman hay is in the barn, which could cut both ways—his numbers will not diminish significantly, but some voters might forget about him as other candidates play games of increasing impact.

Supporting cast: running back Tyler Allgeier and a quality receiving corps, led by Dax Milne and Gunner Romney. Don’t forget emerging Red Zone target Isaac Rex at tight end. And the offensive line has been fantastic.

Kyle Trask (13), Florida. Selling point, beyond the stats: trigger man on the best Florida offense in years, and coming off a brilliant performance in a high-profile win. Trask absolutely lit up Georgia Saturday, throwing for more than 300 yards in the first half and finishing with 474 and four touchdowns. He’s fifth nationally in efficiency and among the four players tied for the lead with 22 TD passes, he’s played the fewest games (five). He’s also spread the ball around as defenses focused on Pitts—10 different receivers caught passes against Georgia, and four caught touchdowns.

Supporting cast: Pitts is the best tight end in the country. Kadarius Toney can catch, run and return kicks.

Trevor Lawrence (14), Clemson. Selling point, beyond the stats: widely considered the top talent in college football, and the Tigers are undefeated when he plays. A 31–1 career record as a starter doesn’t hurt. Lawrence has been great when he’s played—he’s sixth nationally in efficiency and makes throws nobody else in the college game can make. Clemson’s scoring in regulation this season when Lawrence has played: 48.2 points per game. Clemson’s scoring in regulation this season when he hasn’t played: 33.5 points per game. But missing games might matter, especially in a shortened season.

Supporting cast: Etienne is great, although he’s had some significant mistakes while Lawrence was out. (His chemistry on some handoffs and pitches with backup D.J. Uiagalelei has seemed off.) The Clemson receiving corps has been a patchwork production due to injuries.

Mac Jones (15), Alabama. Selling point, beyond the stats: leads the nation’s No. 1 team and No. 1 scoring offense, and he’s been excellent in a pair of high-profile games. Some fans thought five-star recruit Bryce Young might take the job away from Jones, and boy were they wrong. Jones is having a Tua-esque season, ranking second nationally in efficiency and leading the nation in yards per attempt at 12.4. (In fact, his current efficiency rating of 210.32 would break Tua’s single-season school record if he can maintain it.) His productivity hasn’t dipped appreciably without Waddle, either.

Supporting cast: DeVonta Smith has been phenomenally productive, and Harris is reliably excellent. The offensive line is elite.

D’Eriq King (16), Miami. Selling point, beyond the stats: exciting dual-threat player who has helped elevate the Hurricanes (6–1) back to national relevance and ACC competitiveness. King was extremely productive but outside the national spotlight at Houston, and the move to Miami has given him a chance for wider appreciation. King is a little further down the pass efficiency ladder at 152.50, but his running ability offsets that. He produced 535 yards of total offense Friday night against North Carolina State, and the Hurricanes needed all of them to pull out a 44–41 win.

Supporting cast: Safety Bubba Bolden is a big-play guy who has forced three fumbles and made an interception. Tight end Brevin Jordan was King’s top target early but he’s missed the last three games. Wideout Mike Harley has stepped up the last two. Primarily, this is a D’Eriq King production.

Michael Penix Jr. (17), Indiana. Selling point, beyond the stats: leading man for one of the nation’s surprise teams, with big showings against brand names—a clutch performance to pull out the Penn State game and a great performance in dominating Michigan. Had a signature play in the lunge to beat the Nittany Lions. Penix’s efficiency rating is actually lower than it was last year (an iffy 134.02 to date), but that’s largely driven by the fact that he was not good until he absolutely had to be good at the end against Penn State. He’s been turnover-free the last two games, and has just one on the season.

Supporting cast: Great (and vividly named) receivers in Whop Philyor, Ty Fryfogle and Peyton Hendershot. Running back Stevie Scott is a reliable 20-carry-a-game guy, which is increasingly rare in the sport.

Grayson McCall (18), Coastal Carolina. Selling point, beyond the stats: Like Penix above, McCall is the face of a surprising unbeaten. Unlike Penix, his passing stats are outstanding. He’s fourth nationally in efficiency at 193.94, with 16 touchdowns and just one interception. He’s also Coastal’s second-leading rusher at 45.2 yards per game. But it’s hard to get anyone to cast a Heisman vote for a Sun Belt player.

Supporting cast: Coastal has one of the nation’s high-impact defensive players in end Tarron Jackson. He’s tied for national lead in forced fumbles with three, tied for fifth nationally in sacks (six) and 12th in tackles for loss (9.5). He’s also produced 10 quarterback hurries.

Malik Willis (19), Liberty. Selling point, beyond stats: another quarterback who has become a star on an unlikely undefeated team. The Auburn transfer is the leading QB rusher in the nation with 603 yards, but he’s also throwing it well. The past two games Willis has completed 44 of 61 passes for 562 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s flourished under Hugh Freeze.

Supporting cast: Bits and pieces here and there. Willis is the engine.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (20), Notre Dame. Selling point, beyond stats: The Fighting Irish are undefeated, in the top five, and better defensively than offensively. They rank No. 5 against the run and No. 10 in terms of total defense, and that’s after playing Clemson. Owusu-Koramoah is the top playmaker on that unit, ranking second in tackles (35), first in tackles for loss (8.5) and tied for first in forced fumbles (two) and interceptions (one). He was big against the Tigers on Saturday night. And there is precedent for a Notre Dame defensive player as a Heisman candidate; Manti Te'o finished second in the voting in 2012.

Supporting cast: Quarterback Ian Book had his finest moment at Notre Dame in leading the comeback against Clemson. Running back Kyren Williams is blossoming (740 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns), and will smash a blitzing linebacker in pass protection.

MORE DASH: Big Brand Struggles | COVID Issues | Non-Passers