Heisman Forecast: Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in enviable position in this race
FOX Sports South
Going into the season, Deshaun Watson was in the most enviable position of any Heisman Trophy contender -- and with a little more than a month before ballots are due, you can make the case that little has changed for No. 2 Clemson's quarterback.
Granted, he -- along with anyone else who has designs on the award -- are chasing No. 7 Louisville's Lamar Jackson, and the numbers do raise concerns, but Watson has arguably more going for anyone other than the Cardinals star in what looks to be a five-man race.
There's a growing interest in No. 3 Michigan's do-everything Jabrill Peppers, one that's tied to the Wolverines' playoff push. His throwback-vibe and overall impact are undeniable and he has the potential to own the final week of the regular season vs. No. 6 Ohio State. But the reality is the ceiling for him appears to be a trip to New York and challenging Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (runner-up in 2012) for the best finish for a primarily defensive player since Charles Woodson's 1998 win.
Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, No. 5 Washington's Jake Browning (who is also dealing with the same way-past-some-voters'-bed-times starts that Stanford's Christian McCaffrey did, with a 10:30 p.m. ET kickoff vs. Cal this week) might not do better than the ceremony, and the same for No. 22 Florida State's Dalvin Cook and San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey.
That leaves Jackson and Watson.
What makes Watson stand out is his Tigers have a seemingly permanent place in the College Football Playoff conversation until we get into championship weekend and he has history on his side in finishing third in last year's voting. Six times a player has won a year after holding the No. 3 spot compared to just one runner-up (Hershel Walker in 1982) since 1967.
Aiding his cause, Watson is coming off a 430-yard performance at previously-No. 12 Florida State and is will likely another Top-25 opponent on the schedule too, with the Tigers to play either No. 19 Virginia Tech or No. 21 North Carolina in the ACC title game. As pointed out last week, Jackson could go up to seven weeks without seeing a ranked opponent, an eternity in this popularity contest.
In position to return to the playoff, what we saw form Watson against the Seminoles must be the norm (minus the interceptions, which have been an issue all season as he's on pace for a career-high 16), because the numbers haven't been there in terms of what we've seen from recent Heisman recipients.
The past five QBs to win -- Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota -- have averaged 4,791 yards and 49 TDs. With 2,328 yards passing, 331 rushing and 23 total scores, Watson is on pace (should Clemson play for the ACC title) for 4,319 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Barring chaos in the rankings, it may come down to a matter of preference: a player in Jackson, who has been the year's most electrifying and captivating, vs. Watson, potentially the most logical winner of any of the CFPs. That's two of the Heisman's typical archetypes -- the statistical monster and the contender's MVP -- and the team element could be the added piece that pushes some voters toward Watson.
That setup would be absolutely riveting, and maybe the most compelling vote since Mark Ingram edged Toby Gerhart by just 28 points in 2009.
Before we dig into this week's Risers and Sliders, this is how the Forecaster's virtual ballot stands.
The Buckeyes are in dire need of a statement game, and so too is their leader. In a four-point win over Northwestern, Barrett was held out of the end zone despite nearly 300 yards of offense, and has just one TD in his last two outings. Despite losing to No. 8 Wisconsin in overtime, No. 10 Nebraska legitimized its unbeaten start in the eyes of many, and boasts a top-20 defense (342.1 yards per game) that's allowing just 18.4 points per (15th). If Barrett is going to build any momentum going into the November finale against rival Michigan, it starts now.
Greg BartramGreg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports
RISERS: No. 2. Jalen Hurts, QB Alabama, Fr.
Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is gaining steam in some circles, but let's be fair. This race already has one defensive player in Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, and it's going to be difficult enough for one, let alone two to fight for attention. Hurts, on the other hand, has come up big in big games (304 total yards vs. No. 19 Ole Miss and No. 9 Tennessee, 253 yards passing against No. 16 Arkansas, and 257 in all vs. sixth-ranked Texas A&M) and he has another this week with rejuvenated No. 13 LSU. That Tigers defense is 13th in total defense and just picked off the Rebels' Chad Kelly twice. Have another impressive day against the Tigers and Hurts' case will only grow.
John David MercerJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor
RISERS: 3. Mitch Trubisky, QB North Carolina, Jr.
Trubisky has long been worthy of consideration on this list, and he's not likely to make the ceremony out of a deep, deep class of passers in the ACC. The fact remains that Trubisky is 10th in the country in pass efficiency (160.8) and has thrown for 310 or more yards four times in his last six games. He's a threat to do that again this week vs. Georgia Tech and a 74th-ranked pass efficiency defense that just gave up 305 yards to Duke redshirt freshman Daniel Jones.
Jasen VinloveJasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
SLIDERS: 1. Jake Browning, QB Washington, Soph.
As previously stated, Browning now gets to deal with the kind of late-night start against Cal that hampered McCaffrey a year ago, and he's doing it after one of his worst outings of the year (186 yards, two TDs and an interception in the win over Utah). Second in FBS in pass efficiency -- where he trails the next player on this list -- Browning will get his chances to impress later vs. USC and No. 25 Washington State. But outside of those on the West Coast and the East Coast's fourth-meal crowd (throwback Taco Bell reference), that opportunity isn't likely to come this week. To be clear: He'll likely remain in this voter's top three, he just won't get a ton of push this weekend.
Russell IsabellaRuss Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
SLIDERS: 2. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma, RS Sr.
Credit Mayfield for working his way back into the mix, but after that 545-yard, seven-TD day vs. Texas Tech, he went out and threw for just 236 yards (and four scores) in hammering Kansas, and has another lackluster opponent this week in 1-7 Iowa State. There's not a lot that Mayfield can do in that Thursday night game to steal the thunder from the other contenders. At least things will heat up for him after that with No. 17 Baylor, No. 18 Oklahoma State and No. 20 West Virginia.
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
SLIDERS: 3. Zach Terrell, QB Western Michigan, Sr.
He and the 23rd-ranked Broncos are making a push for a New Year's Six game, with just one team better than 4-4 -- that's 6-3 Toledo -- on the regular-season schedule, and they're in line to face 6-3 Ohio in the MAC title game. Terrell has impressed, throwing for 1,995 yards, 20 TDs and one pick and he has 142 rushing yards and five more scores. All that being said, if anyone from outside the Power 5 conferences is going to get to the ceremony, it's going to be the nation's leading rusher, San Diego State's Donnel Pumprehy.