Snap judgments may lead us astray. Malcolm Gladwell — who yes, has the stance that college football should be banned for health reasons — spent 320 pages dissenting that fact in ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,’ and he does have a point, one that could be exercised when it comes to the opening of this Heisman Trophy race.
So USC’s Sam Darnold went without a passing touchdown for the first time since his first start on Sept. 23 and threw two interceptions vs. Western Michigan. Is anyone ready to throw the preseason trophy favorite out of the race?
Did freshman running back J.K. Dobbins suddenly become No. 2 Ohio State’s best hope after a 180-yard debut against Indiana?
That being said, September may not be about initial judgments, but it is the foundation of our judgments for a Heisman race, and it’s been key in setting the stage for a win. Just look at Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who lit the world on fire last season and positioned himself for a victory lap that a November slide couldn’t derail.
Since 2000, just four players have lost in the opening month and went on to win the trophy: USC’s Carson Palmer (2001), Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007), Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel (2012) and Alabama’s Derrick Henry (2015). But none of them lost to a team ranked higher than 12th.
And we have yet to see in the era of the College Football Playoff if a player overcome an early loss to a top-5 team and still be the one left holding the trophy in Times Square in December.
The puts an immense focus, as far as the Heisman is concerned (and frankly, the CFP, too), on Columbus this Saturday when QBs J.T. Barrett (Ohio State) and Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) face off with the No. 2 Buckeyes hosting the fifth-ranked Sooners.
A trip to New York could still be in the cards for both of them, and -- as previously spelled out -- an early loss isn’t a death knell in the loser’s hopes of actually winning. But you have to go back to Ron Dayne 1999 to find the last Heisman recipient who suffered a defeat at a top-10 opponent in September, and the Wisconsin back won largely because he became the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher.
It’s unlikely Barrett or Mayfield will be chasing down a record at season’s end, making Oklahoma-Ohio State as much of a Heisman elimination game as we can have just two weeks into a season.
It goes without saying that those two passers will have a place in the conversation as we dive into the Forecaster’s look at the players who will rise and fall in the race this week.
For what it’s worth after one week, here’s this voter’s current take on the race, with miles to go, and the caveat that Jackson’s going to have to get better support from the rest of the Cardinals, especially on defense to deliver what would seem a prerequisite -a CFB berth — for him to deliver a second trophy.
1.Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
2.Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
3.Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
ON THE RISE: J.T. Barrett, QB Ohio State
With the rise of Dobbins and the expected return of Mike Weber, the Buckeyes figure to be even more dangerous on the ground against Oklahoma. That could soften things up for Barrett to take advantage of on the ground (he had 61 yards and a TD vs. Indiana) and through the air with the Sooners down cornerback Jordan Parker, who suffered a season-ending knee injury. The pass defense was a disappointment for Oklahoma last season, ranking 111th in FBS at 269.4 yards per game, and this could be a key opportunity for Barrett, who threw for 304 vs. the Hoosiers, but was 0 for 3 on long pass attempts.
Trevor RuszkowskiTrevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Spor
ON THE RISE: Sam Darnold, QB USC
Josh Rosen set the bar for QB play in L.A., and now it’s time for Darnold to answer with the first of three marquee games this month (though, to be honest, that Sept. 16 date with Texas has lost more than a bit of luster since its upset at the hands of Maryland). No. 14 Stanford hasn’t played since its Aug. 26 opener vs. Rice in Australia, a game in which the Cardinal allowed just 95 passing yards. Stanford didn’t see much of Darnold last year, throwing just seven passes for 45 yards and a TD on Sept. 17, the week before he took over. A baseline stat worth watching: Darnold averaged 286 yards vs. Pac-12 opponents last year.
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ON THE RISE: Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
If Chosen Rosen does wind up at the ceremony in December, you can firmly expect to see his Dan Marino imitation make the video montage after he faked the spike and threw the game-winning TD to give the Bruins a 34-point comeback against Texas A&M. On the heels of the the third-most passing yards — 491 — in Bruins history, Rosen now has to build up his contender status with Hawaii, who two weeks ago gave up almost 300 through the air vs. UMass.
Kirby LeeKirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
Mayfield had just one incompletion in 20 attempts in throwing for 329 yards and three TDs against UTEP and could find more success vs. the Buckeyes, given Indiana’s Richard Lagow racked up 410 yards and three scores. But can his defense do enough to back up his performance? It may be no fault of Mayfield’s that the Sooners drop this game, but falling behind in the CFP hunt will also push him back in the Heisman conversation.
Mark D. SmithMark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Kamryn Pettway, RB Auburn
It goes without saying that you have to play to win the Heisman. It’s pretty much the only concrete requirement. An hour before the season opener vs. Georgia Southern, Pettway was suspended for a violation of team rules, along with wide receiver Kyle Davis and backup QB Sean White. Just two players in the award’s history have won missing a game — USC’s Charles White in 1979 and Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1997 — and Pettway, the SEC’s top returning rusher from a year ago, has his work cut out for him to join White and Ward.
Chuck CookChuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Shane Buechele, QB Texas
Buechele, on the heels of nearly throwing for 3,000 yards as a true freshman, and the arrival of coach Tom Herman, drew preseason odds in line for Florida State RB Cam Akers. The Longhorns can still rebound from the 10-point loss to the Terrapins, but their QB’s Heisman hopes won’t. He was strong with 375 yards and three total touchdowns to go along with an interception, and while it’s not unprecedented to drop an opener and still win the award — Manziel did it in 2012 — it’s difficult to see Buechele’s defense helping him out considering that by Oct. 21, Texas will have faced No. 6 USC, No. 19 Kansas State, No. 5 Oklahoma and No. 11 Oklahoma State.