Heisman Forecast: With Lamar Jackson unaffected by loss, focus on those eyeing NYC
First, a mea culpa.
One week after debating whether Louisville's Lamar Jackson could give us the unthinkable in a vote with even a sliver a hope at a first unanimous Heisman Trophy winner, fate and Houston's defensive line intervened.
So there will be no unprecedented victory, but the runaway favorite does remain in position to do something we haven't seen in this era of college football.
Dating back to Paul Hornung, who incredibly claimed the award in 1956 on a 2-8 Notre Dame team that won one of its last seven games, 11 players have suffered a loss as late in the season as Jackson did against Houston and still hoisted the Heisman.
The last of those was Eric Crouch, but he and Nebraska fell to a 14th-ranked Colorado team (and yet went on to play for a national title). No one has won despite a defeat vs. an unranked opponent in late November since Tim Brown in 1987, whose Fighting Irish fell to Penn State on Nov. 21 that year, (then dropped the next game to second-ranked Miami), and it's only happened seven times ever.
In this era of the Bowl Championship Series/College Football Playoff, where the winner has either been the poster boy of a national title contender or a truly transcendent talent, Lamar Jackson is doing something the likes of which we haven't seen: win despite a the kind of late loss that can all but kill a trophy run or a national title bid.
The likes of Dak Prescott, whose Mississippi State team lost twice in late November (to ranked Alabama and Ole Miss) in 2014 and Kansas State's Colin Klein (a Nov. 17 defeat vs. unranked Baylor in '12), couldn't survive those late hits.
But Jackson can, and some may see it as a criticism of his fellow challengers that no one was in position to supplant him. Ultimately, it underscores that this season has belonged to the Cardinals sophomore quarterback in a way that seemingly nothing can derail it. Las Vegas is clearly on board with that thinking, with the odds taken off the board at sports book Bovada with the numbers clearly in Jackson's favor.
With ballots arriving in voters' in-boxes this week, the opportunities for those looking to join Jackson in New York are dwindling. That's why this week's Risers and Sliders is dedicated to the other challengers jockeying for position, but before we get into that, here's a look at where the voting would likely stand heading into rivalry weekend.
1. Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville, Soph. 2. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Jr. 3. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma, Jr.
RISERS: 1. J.T. Barrett, QB Ohio State, Jr.
Barrett has fallen into an enviable position as he looks to become the Buckeyes' first finalist since Troy Smith's victory in 2005. The Wolverines' Jabrill Peppers has has seemingly supplanted him as the Big Ten's and the Midwest voting region's leading candidate as Barrett has put together strong but not overly dominant games in wins over Maryland and Michigan State. Coming up big though vs. the third-ranked Wolverines in The Game could tip things in his favor, and given the Wolverines defensive issues their last two games against Iowa (118th in total offense) and Indiana (84th in scoring), the opportunity is there.
Mike CarterMike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
RISERS: 2. Jake Browning, QB Washington, Soph.
He expectedly bounced back against the nation's worst pass defense in Arizona State in terms of the yardage as Browning threw for 338 yards, his second highest total of the season in a 44-18 rout. That being said, he also threw two interceptions to go along with a pair of touchdowns and has two more picks in the last two games than he had the entire season before that. The sakes are clear in the Apple Cup vs. No. 23 Washington State and if Browning can keep the Huskies in the CFP mix, he'll continue to be a factor.
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RISERS: 3. Jalen Hurts, QB Alabama, Fr.
Granted, Hurts has his sights on a national championship ring, but in terms of this trophy, it's all about the future. The South voting region is loaded as usual with Jackson (yes, Kentucky is in that region) and Florida State's Dalvin Cook, not to mention the influence of Watson, who despite being in the Mid-Atlantic plays plenty of games in the South. Hurts' name will and should be on some ballots, though, and he's moving toward a likely top-10 finish, one that can be aided by a dominant outing vs. No. 13 Auburn and a defense that's seventh in points allowed (14.3) and 18th in total D (334.5 yards per game).
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SLIDERS: 1. Jabrill Peppers, LB/DB Michigan, Jr.
If Barrett stars in Columbus, then Peppers is going to have to stumble. While the Big Ten may have chances of getting multiple teams into the playoff, it seems unlikely given this field that it can send more than one to New York. Since his highlight-producing day vs. Rutgers on Oct. 8, he's been limited to no more than 24 yards per game and has a pair of carries for more than 10 yards, but the intriguing piece here is that Jim Harbaugh has been holding back. "Everything is coming out of the bag this weekend," Peppers said on the Inside Michigan Football radio show. That could mean plenty more times with Peppers running the Wildcat as QB, but best to side with the player who is guaranteed to have more opportunities to impact the game with the ball in his hands in Barrett.
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SLIDERS: 2. Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State, Jr.
This placement isn't indicative of Cook's season as last week he broke Warrick Dunn's Seminoles career rushing record and has a chance to climb further up the ACC list against No. 15 Florida. It's just that since they began inviting finalists in 1982, once has a league had three players invited to the ceremony -- the SEC in 2013 with AJ McCaron (Alabama), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M) and Tre Mason (Auburn) -- and that's growing more and more unlikely for the ACC with the number of viable contenders in other regions and the Seminoles a three-loss team with no wins over current Top 25s.
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SLIDERS: 3. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Jr.
He can become the first Tigers quarterback to end his career unbeaten against South Carolina since Charlie Whitehurst (2002-05), and while it's a rivalry game, it's also the first of likely back-to-back games against unranked teams for Clemson. The Tigers' potential opponents in the ACC Championship Game -- North Carolina and Virginia Tech -- are both out of the rankings, which means Watson is in a position where he can only hurt his standing instead of elevating it if he's shaky. The mission is simple for him: win, put up strong if not impressive numbers and continue the course for a return to the playoff. Do that and he's likely returning to the ceremony, but it's unlikely he can do much to increase his profile vs. the 6-5 Gamecocks.