Week three of college football showed Heisman voters a few things. First, losses aren’t always devastating to a player’s Heisman chances. Second, sitting out a week for an injury unfortunately doesn’t work for the player’s benefit – especially when the backup produces at a high level [see Braxton Miller]. Finally, putting up 59 points in back-to-back weeks against BCS conference schools is a ticket into the Heisman conversation.
Here is how my Heisman list sits as we enter week four of college football.
1. Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson) – Boyd still has the key win against No. 9 Georgia to bolster his resume. He also has a couple other things going for him. He doesn’t play in the SEC, but gets a strong sample of the conference with the win over Georgia and a season-ending matchup with South Carolina on the road. He also gets the ACC’s next toughest team, Florida State, at home. This was written before the Tigers’ game at North Carolina State on Thursday, which was a game Boyd should win, or watch his Heisman dreams slip away.
2. Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon) – When Mariota accounted for nearly 350 yards of offense and three touchdowns in the Ducks’ 66-3 win over Nicholls State, I dismissed it as a good game against a much weaker opponent. When the sophomore combined for more than 320 yards and another three touchdowns in the Ducks’ 59-10 win over Virginia, it caught my attention. But it’s still Virginia, a school I will forever negatively connect with Ron Prince. When Mariota broke out against Tennessee, I couldn’t rationally think of any reasons to exclude him from my list. Mariota nearly matched his six touchdowns entering the Ducks’ game against the Volunteers with five more in their 59-14 win. Exploiting the Volunteers’ pass defense, Mariota completed 23 of 33 pass attempts for 456 yards and four touchdowns. If the Ducks continue at this offensive pace, Mariota needs just to stay healthy to get an invite to New York for the Heisman presentation in December. A road matchup with No. 5 Stanford probably is the Ducks’ most dangerous game, and a win could swing some votes Mariota’s way.
3. A.J. McCarron (QB, Alabama) – McCarron flipped the script on Johnny Manziel, beating Texas A&M; at home behind a 20 of 29, 334 yard passing performance with no interceptions. The win puts Alabama in a comfortable driving seat toward a third BCS National Championship in a row. It also gave McCarron a platform game – both in terms of the opponent and statistics – to stand on for a look at the Heisman. Odds are, however, McCarron and the Crimson Tide won’t get in another shootout like their 49-42 win over the Aggies, which may hold back his individual accomplishments. While the senior probably won’t throw for 300 yards every game for the rest of the season – Alabama is very balanced in its offensive attack – he has a track record of taking care of the football after throwing only three interceptions on 314 passing attempts in 2012. McCarron’s few true tests remaining include home games against No. 21 Ole Miss on Sept. 28 and No. 6 LSU Nov. 16 and the SEC Championship game, assuming the Crimson Tide win the SEC West.
4. Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M;) – Johnny “Football” couldn’t quite repeat last year’s performance against No.1 Alabama, at least in terms of winning. Manziel carried the Aggies with 464 yards passing including five touchdowns and two interceptions – Alabama returned one 73 yards for a touchdown. He also ran for 98 yards and would have only needed a little help from the Aggies’ defense, which gave up more than 550 yards of total offense, to get the win. Manziel won the Heisman last year with two losses; so to say he’s out of the running after the Aggies’ first loss is foolish. The Aggies will need to pick up wins on the road against No. 21 Ole Miss and No. 6 LSU – and probably a loss from Alabama – to move Manziel back up the Heisman ladder.
5. Todd Gurley (RB, Georgia) – Two games in, Gurley ranks No. 6 in the NCAA with 143 rushing yards per game. He nearly ruined Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd’s Heisman hopes in week one with a 154 yard, two touchdown outing against the Tigers. The Bulldogs fell to the Tigers 38-35, but Gurley bounced back with 132 rushing yards in a 41-30 win over No. 12 South Carolina. The sophomore is poised for a breakout game Saturday against North Texas, who is giving up more than 435 yards per game this season.