Heisman Forecast: Unanimous winner? Lamar Jackson’s year, rivals’ issues, make it possible
FOX Sports South
A tumultuous weekend that gave us three upsets of teams within the top four was felt with the Heisman Trophy race.
Much like Alabama completely separated itself from the field (if it wasn't already) with the upsets of Clemson, Michigan and Washington, Louisville's Lamar Jackson has followed suit in this award chase (if he hadn't already).
The Huskies' Jake Browning, Wolverines' Jabrill Peppers and Tigers' Deshaun Watson remain factors, and all could, and probably should, find themselves in New York for the Dec. 10 ceremony. The gap between them and Jackson just feels that much wider now.
No player has ever been a unanimous winner. Some have come close, with Florida State's Charlie Ward earning 93.6 percent of the first place votes in 1993, and Ohio State's Troy Smith, who had 91.6 percent of the possible points in 2006, a record he holds since USC's Reggie Bush (91.7 in '05) had his win vacated.
Given there will be 930 ballots out this year, a sweep of first-place votes seems unlikely again. But in the past 10 years, there have been few players seemingly as well-positioned as Jackson to make a run at it.
Where players like Tim Tebow (2007), Cam Newton ('10), Johnny Manziel ('12) and Jameis Winston ('13) were no-doubt winners, all faced hurdles either tied to their age (Tebow, Manziel) or off-field transgressions (also Manziel, along with Newton and Winston).
Oregon's Marcus Mariota was in a similar spot in '14, and his bid would only get him the third-highest percentage of points (90.92), putting him behind Smith and Bush.
Many of the top challengers have shown their faults -- Watson's numbers haven't been as impressive as when he was third in the '15 voting; Peppers is still primarily a defensive player, which will be a hangup for many voters, and Browning just had his worst performance in the Huskies' loss -- but Jackson has been the nation's most spectacular player since that eight-touchdown opener vs. Charlotte.
The idea of another candidate topping anyone's ballot seems counter to the Heisman's mission statement. Basically, you have to conjure up a reason why you wouldn't make Jackson your top choice -- and that makes that nearly impossible notion, of a unanimous winner, hang there, however unlikely it is.
These next two weeks, against Houston and Kentucky, figure to be Jackson's victory laps. The Cardinals QB's performance, as much as those of the rest of the field, have made that a near certainty.
Before we dive into those week's Risers and Sliders, here's a look at where the Forecaster's virtual ballot stands.
As the latest CFP rankings showed, the Sooners have an opportunity to work their way back in the playoff picture as Big 12 champs if they can beat West Virginia this week and rival Oklahoma State on Dec. 3. Mayfield has been sharp, with back-to-back 300-yard games, just three interceptions over the last five outings, and since Oct. 7, he's thrown for less than 300 yards just once. Facing the Mountaineers' 89th-ranked pass defense should have him salivating at the possibilities.
So, you're thinking, why Mayfield and not wide receiver Dede Westbrook, who is a growing threat for the Sooners, with 51 catches for 1,100 yards and 14 scores? History has shown us voters largely side with QBs when a team has both as options. Think Graham Harrell (fourth) and Michael Crabtree (fifth) in 2008. Westbrook, the favorite to win the Biletnikoff Award, may not be able to eclipse Mayfield.
Tim HeitmanTim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
RISERS 2. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Jr.
A matchup against unranked Wake Forest wouldn't seem a huge opportunity to boost his case, but the Tigers are coming off their first regular-season loss since Nov. 2014, and how Watson and Co. respond will be highly scrutinized. The Demon Deacons defense, backed by Marquel Lee and Duke Ejiofor, is more stout than its No. 44 ranking (381.8 ypg) would suggest, and just held Jackson to a season-low 145 passing yards.
Joshua S. KellyJoshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
RISERS 3. Luke Falk, QB Washington State, Jr.
The Apple Cup could be magical as Falk and Co. go toe-to-toe with Washington with a Pac-12 title berth on the line. First things first though, and Falk -- second in FBS with 361 passing yards per game and averaging 374.2 over the past four outings -- can keep building what's an intriguing case to supplant his Huskies rival as the Power 5's best candidate out West vs. his conference's top-ranked pass defense in Colorado (10th).
James SnookUSA TODAY Sports
SLIDERS 1. Jake Browning, QB Washington, Soph.
In the loss to USC, Browning completed a paltry 47.2 percent of his passes -- the lowest figure of his college career -- and getting a crack at the country's worst pass defense in Arizona State (128th at 387.4 ypg) is certainly going to be an elixir. The problem is, it's the worst pass defense in the country. Browning will have his opportunities to get back into voters' good graces, but this isn't likely to be it.
Joe NicholsonJoe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
SLIDERS 2. Jalen Hurts, QB Alabama, Fr.
Hurts was at his best in a Crimson Tide uniform with 347 yards passing and 100 rushing vs. Mississippi State, making him the first QB in the program's history to have 300 yards passing and 100 rushing. Riding that momentum will be tough, though, with the freshman quarterback unlikely to see much playing time vs. Chattanooga and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin likely to keep it simple in a warmup for the Iron Bowl opposite Auburn.
Marvin GentryUSA TODAY Sports
SLIDERS 3. Jabrill Peppers, LB/DB Michigan, Sr.
He danced in Iowa -- and that was about it. Averaging 14.7 yards every time he touched the ball coming in, Peppers ended up with 11 yards on four carries in the loss and didn't touch the ball in the third quarter. This was a spotlight game and Peppers didn't deliver. Like Browning, he isn't likely to get much of a chance to regain his mojo this week as the Wolverines face 5-5 Indiana. Next week is a different story though, with The Game looming vs. Ohio State.