As we inch toward the season's midpoint, this Heisman Trophy race is curiously defined.
Saquon Barkley vs. Baker Mayfield, the best bets from the two power positions in the award's history have made this a two-horse race to New York.
Granted, the Pac-12 is producing some intriguing candidates, and the likes of Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State) and reigning winner Lamar Jackson (Louisville) remain factors, but the Penn State running back and Oklahoma quarterback have distanced themselves from the field.
The last time we saw two clear candidates so clearly pull away from the field by mid-October was in 2012 when Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel beat out Notre Dame's Manti Te'o. So it begs the question: who can keep it from happening?
From an opportunity and productivity standpoint, Rudolph remains one of the biggest threats.
He ranks second in FBS in yards (1,909) and third in pass efficiency (186.2) and total offense (393.8 yards per game) and still gets to face Mayfield and No. 3 Oklahoma on Nov. 4 (and potentially a second time in the Big 12 title game). Even in the Cowboys' Sept. 23 loss to TCU, he nearly threw for 400 yards.
The Pac-12 has a list of intriguing options (of which USC's Sam Darnold is likely no longer one of), including Washington State QB Luke Falk and Stanford's Bryce Love is making some serious noise (more on him later) but its Washington's Jake Browning who would seem to have the most to gain in the season's second half.
Granted, the Huskies haven't played anyone of note. Their schedule, based on past opponents' winning percentage, is 115th in FBS at a paltry 27.3 percent. It heats up, though, sitting tied for 17th with future opponents winning 66.7 percent of their games, including a regular-season finale vs. current No. 11 Washington State and Falk.
Browning, sixth in the voting a year ago, sits sixth in the nation in pass efficiency (175.7) with 1,251 yards in hitting 95 of his 133 attempts (71.4) has been a victim of the Pac-12's less-than-ideal kickoff times. Coach Chris Petersen vocalized as much when it comes to the exposure his team gets, something that's not likely to change with a 10:45 p.m. ET start this week vs. Cal and again the following week at Arizona State.
But with Browning the face of a team that made the College Football Playoff a year ago, expect his stock to rise if he continues to keep Washington in the mix for a return to the sport's final four.
Meanwhile, Barkley continues his hold on the lead as he now stands as the only player in the nation with at least one touchdown rushing, receiving, passing and on a kickoff return. That's been done 12 times since 2000 by a Power 5 player and none of them won the Heisman, with Christian McFaffrey ('15) and Darren McFadden ('06) both coming in second.
Here's a look at the real-time virtual ballot heading into Week 6, with Mayfield, who was idle last weekend, keeping his spot behind Barkley, and there's a new name on this after an impressive Friday night win last week.
1. Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State 2. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma 3. Luke Falk, QB Washington State
ON THE RISE: Luke Falk, QB Washington State
Admittedly, the Forecaster was dead wrong about Falk last week, expecting him to fade in the spotlight opposite USC's Sam Darnold. Instead, Falk was spectacular in throwing for 340 yards to Darnold's 164 and connected on two TD passes. He has a chance to build on that momentum over the next five weeks in which he won't face a passing defense ranked higher than 75th (Colorado) and sees three coming in 99th or worse, including Arizona (105th) and Cal (110th). That run starts this week vs. Oregon (76th).
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ON THE RISE: Bryce Love, RB Stanford
The Pac-12, pardon the pun, Love continues with this Cardinal back, who has jumped into the national rushing lead at 217.6 yards per game (53 more than anyone else), putting him over 1,000 yards already. We know all too well the track record Stanford running backs have with this race, with Toby Gerhart and Christian McCaffrey earning second-place finishes and Love, who just broke the single-game school record with 301 vs. Arizona State, could be a factor with these kinds of numbers. The schedule is about to heat up with No. 20 Utah this week and in November, Love will see three ranked teams in four weeks with No. 11 Washington State, No. 6 Washington and No. 21 Notre Dame.
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ON THE RISE: Nick Chubb, RB Georgia
A blast from Heisman races past, Chubb is finding his groove again and against Tennessee ran for 109 yards on 16 carries for his 20th career 100-yard rushing game, equalling Herschel Walker's Georgia record. He's posted just two 100-yard games on the season and he trails the Volunteers' John Kelly by 14 yards for the SEC rushing lead, but that figures to change with Vanderbilt (107th vs. the rush), Missouri (101st), Florida (60th) and South Carolina (73rd). The biggest thing holding Chubb back may be that Sony Michel (47 rushes for 256 yards) and D'Andre Swift (32 for 232) continue to be effective pieces in Georgia's ground game as well.
Randy SartinRandy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Sam Darnold, QB USC
The preseason favorite now joins the likes of Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott, and the laundry list of summer loves that failed to deliver the winter prize. After tossing nine interceptions in 366 attempts last season, Darnold already has thrown eight in 2017 in 175 tries. Since the Trojans' overtime win over USC, Darnold has thrown two picks and two TDs with ratings of 129.8 and 92.3 vs. Cal and Washington State, respectively. Those are the worst ratings he's posted in any starts since taking over the starting job last Sept. 23.
James SnookJames Snook-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
The Forecaster has been clear that Jackson will still have a season worthy of inclusion in New York for the ceremony, which has been denied to just one returning winner who played a full season (see Winston, Jameis). A Thursday night matchup with No. 24 NC State and its physical defensive line sets this one up to have similar shades of the Cardinals' 47-21 loss to Clemson, in which the defending winner had 317 yards and three TDs through the air, but was sacked four times and most of his damage came with the game out of hand. The Wolfpack D-line isn't as deep as Clemson's but it has a group of starters that will give Jackson fits.
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FALL GUYS: Royce Freeman, RB Oregon
Falk just bested one of the Pac-12's top contenders in Darnold, and now he has a chance to knock another down a peg with the Oregon running back. Freeman is off to a fast start with 592 yards -- eighth in the nation -- and 10 TDs -- first -- and considering the Trojans' Ronald Jones II just had 128 yards on 14 carries, Freeman could have a similarly big day. But considering the way the Ducks defense has struggled vs. the pass, Freeman figures to be overshadowed by Falk's monster numbers.