It’s possible that the 2016 Heisman Trophy already received its inscription.
Lamar Jackson is universally considered the leader, and it would take a combination of a monumental collapse by the Cardinals’ QB and an epic rise by another contender for the award to elude the dynamic playmaker. An embarrassing 36-10 blowout at the hands of the Houston Cougars may end Louisville’s Playoff hopes. It does little to derail Jackson’s Heisman Trophy train. He completed 20 of 43 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown against the Cougars. That’s an off night. That’s not an awful night, at least in reference to an individual award. Jackson remains almost unbeatable as the man to beat. But he pushed the door slightly ajar for Jalen Hurts or JT Barrett to sneak on through with his worst performance of the season.
The race for runner-up remains very interesting. And with Jackson looking more human than Heisman on Thursday, the aspirants for second place naturally aspire for something more.
10. QB Luke Falk (Washington State), WR Dede Westbrook (Oklahoma), and DE Jonathan Allen (Alabama)—Each of these athletes compete on relevant teams, see big games left on the schedule, and generate some buzz. At this time, I do not see any of them getting an invite (hence, their spot at #10), but enjoying big games to close out the season remains within the realm of possibility.
9. RB D’onta Foreman (Texas)—The performance by the Longhorn runner has been stunning this season, but his team is mediocre. If Texas were relevant—even in the Big 12—Foreman would be much higher on the list.
8. QB Jake Browning (Washington)—After USC, Washington tumbled and so did Browning. His 47.2% completion percentage and two interceptions in the team’s loss likely results in him seeing Lamar Jackson receive the award from his TV screen.
7. RB Donnel Pumphrey (San Diego State)—Do not be surprised if Pumphrey rises up this list. He plays for a small school but the elite runner boasts strong performances in recent weeks, and that has him poised for a run at the Division I career rushing record. If he breaks that, he should be at the Heisman ceremony.
6. ATH Jabrill Peppers (Michigan)—Many remain on the bandwagon of the Michigan product, and I’m a huge fan of the player. The question remains whether a defensive player with 11 TFLs, only three sacks, and zero interceptions can merit enough chatter for an invite. Yes, you have to weigh the offensive production, but that’s only 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Yes, you also have to add in that he is an elite special teamer, but he only averages about two touches per game in that capacity with one touchdown to show for it. If the Heisman truly went to the best player, it’d probably still go to Jackson with guys like Peppers, Allen, and Garrett getting more serious consideration. Given that the award tends to reward offensive production, Peppers will need favorable voters to get an invite.
5. QB Deshaun Watson (Clemson)—His passing numbers this year may end up better than last season’s, but Watson is not the same dynamic player he was in 2015. Moreover, his team has managed to be among this season’s most disappointing despite only one loss.
4. QB Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma)—Leading one of the nation’s hottest teams, Mayfield is on pace to surpass his production from last season when he was a Heisman contender in a better crop of players. Like others on this list, he is very much in the hunt for second place.
3. QB JT Barrett (Ohio State)—It is surprising, but JT Barrett—playing in QB friendly Urban Meyer’s system—is not clearly statistically better than Nick Saban’s signal caller. It’s not only a sign of the changing times, but it’s an early sign that Hurts might just finish #2. That said, Barrett performs on the biggest stage left of any player on this list, and a monster performance and win over Michigan could fuel a stronger competition.
2. QB Jalen Hurts (Alabama)—The best (offensive skill) player on the best team, Hurts picks up fans as the vote gets closer. Statistically, he is nowhere near Jackson, but he stands the best chance of challenging college football’s most dynamic player due to the team he plays for and his remarkable accomplishments as a true freshman.
1. QB Lamar Jackson (Louisville)—If Lamar Jackson keeps up the pace, his stats after 15 games (the number of games Deshaun Watson played last season) would surpass his Clemson counterpart’s 2015 marks by 22 total touchdowns, 896 rushing yards, and 243 passing yards. Last year, I wrote that the numbers for Watson, who came up short, compared to Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Johnny Manziel, and Robert Griffin III, and that he would be considered a credible Heisman winner. Without question, Jackson will finish toward the top of this heralded group in every meaningful category. Though his Thursday performance does nothing to drag him from frontrunner back to the pack, it moves him from “almost inevitable” to “likely” winner.