Heisman Forecast: Lamar Jackson has chance to add muscle to repeat bid, put Louisville firmly in CFP picture vs. No. 3 Clemson
In the read-option era, Lamar Jackson stands as the biggest one-man show to win the Heisman Trophy, and now in his follow-up bid, the Cardinals are leaning on him like never before.
That reliance is about to be tested with a game that could define Louisville as a College Football Playoff contender ... and put some serious muscle behind Jackson's push for a repeat as the 14th-ranked Cardinals meet No. 3 Clemson on Saturday night at Papa Johns Cardinals Stadium.
Last season when he racked up 5,114 of the Cardinals' 6,925 yards, Jackson was responsible for 73.8 percent of that production. So far in 2017 his 1,010 yards are a whopping 82.1 percent of Louisville's 1,230.
To put last year's percentage into context, the previous high in this era was Johnny Manziel's 70.4 with Texas A&M in 2012 followed by Tim Tebow piling up 70.0 percent of Florida's yardage in 2007 ... and Jackson did that with four receivers with at least 599 yards and a 900-yard back in Brandon Radcliff.
Just one of last year's top playmakers, wide receiver Jaylen Smith, is back.
Granted, running back Malik Williams had 149 yards on the ground against North Carolina last weekend, but the overall reliance on Jackson in 2017 is glaring and it figures to be a major point of emphasis against that Clemson front that just racked up 11 sacks against then-No. 13 Auburn.
Averaging an FBS-best 505 yards of offense -- which is 40 more than anyone else -- if Jackson can put up those kind of numbers against the Tigers, he'll follow Baker Mayfield who seized his Heisman moment in Columbus (more on that soon) with one of his own.
Plus, with No. 11 Florida State's offense an unknown as James Blackman steps into Deondre Francois' role, Jackson can cement the Cardinals as Atlantic Division and -- as broken down in this space before -- set in motion that all-too-important CFP bid when it comes to his Heisman resume.
Just three weeks in, it's time for Lamar Jackson to define his and the Cardinals' season. Maybe it's apropos of nothing, but for those with a short memory, we've seen how he handles these kinds of moments in Week 3. Last year, it was the stage for a 63-20 shellacking of then-No. 2 Florida State and Jackson threw for 216, ran for another 146 and had five TDs in that one.
Before we get into the players that are primed to rise and fall in the race this week, -- an all-QB edition, mind you -- here's the Forecaster's real-time ballot.
1. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
2. Lamar Jackson QB Louisville
3. Sam Darnold, QB USC
Jamie RhodesJamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
ON THE RISE: Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
Regardless of where you stand on the postgame incident in Ohio Stadium, Baker Mayfield's flag-plant after knocking off the nation's No. 2 team has been etched into voters' brains. With a statement win, that moment and the current Heisman lead in hand, Mayfield can now get to padding his stats over the next month-plus until the Sooners' season kinds into high gear in late October with a four-week run of No. 18 Kansas State, No. 9 Oklahoma State and No. 20 TCU. This week he has Tulane, which is 29th in FBS in total defense, but has played Grambling and Navy. Mayfield will change that national ranking.
Joseph MaioranaJoe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
ON THE RISE: Mason Rudolph, QB Oklahoma State
The Bedlam Game is going to be epic, no? Rudolph has games of 303 and 335 so far with a combined six touchdowns and no interceptions and now the nation's 10th-most efficient passer (191.0) goes against a Pitt D that is 100th in pass efficiency defense. Remember, last year he went over 500 yards against the Panthers and considering FCS's Youngstown State threw for 311 vs. Pat Narduzzi's D, Rudolph could challenge last year's stat line in this one in Heinz Field.
John David MercerJohn David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor
ON THE RISE: Josh Rosen, QB UCLA
Another QB rivalry within a rivalry is going to be riveting as Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold are on a November collision course. Rosen and the Bruins broke into the Top 25 off their 56-23 rout of Hawaii and Memphis' defense hasn't just struggled against the pass -- the Tigers are 95th at 279 yards per game -- that's off a win over Louisiana Monroe, which a year ago was 99th in yards through the air. Not exactly a confidence-building stat with Rosen and his 820 yards and nine TDs to no INTs up next.
Gary A. VasquezGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: J.T. Barrett, QB Ohio State
The Buckeyes are going to need some serious help to get back into the College Football Playoff picture and likewise, Barrett needs some assistance if he's going to challenge for the Heisman. His vertical passing game, which was the biggest knock against Barrett coming into the season, has not improved. He is tied for 71st in averaging just seven yards per attempt, has a 125.4 QB rating (78th) and it's going to be until Oct. 28 against No. 5 Penn State before he can truly salvage his reputation with a run of easy ones beginning with Army on Saturday.
Trevor RuszkowskiTrevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Spor
FALL GUYS: Trace McSorley, QB Penn State
The fact is McSorley hasn't hit 300 yards passing in a game this season -- he threw for 280 vs. Akron and 164 against Pitt -- and the Nittany Lions have instead leaned on running back Saquon Barkley, who has 260 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries so far. With the RB making his case, McSorley is falling down on the Heisman list, though it's always intriguing to watch how much teammates eventually steal each other's thunder, a la last year when Mayfield was third and wide receiver Dede Westbrook fourth. Just twice since 1950 has a player won (in a still recognized vote) with a teammate joining him in the top 5: USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush in 2004; Notre Dame's John Huarte and Jack Snow in 1964.
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FALL GUYS: Jake Browning, QB Washington
The rise of Josh Rosen in this race has to put a bit of a damper on Browning in terms of Pac-12 candidates. The Washington QB has put up respectable numbers with 543 yards and a 171.1 rating (21st) but has so far played Rutgers and Montana, with Fresno State up this week. He and the sixth-ranked Huskies won't see a ranked opponent until ... Oct. 28 when they face Rosen and the Bruins at home. He'll have his chance to make his case but amid this current stretch, Browning isn't helping himself.