Heisman Forecast: State of Oklahoma to assuredly have say in this trophy race
The eventual resting place of this year's Heisman Trophy may not be clear after three weeks of the season, but this is: the road map runs through Oklahoma.
While Louisville's Lamar Jackson took a major hit in his repeat bid in last week's dud vs. Clemson, No. 3 Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield and sixth-ranked Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph have all but cemented their named to a very short list of logical winners.
Certainly a lot can change, but the Sooner State's quarterbacks have the numbers (Rudolph is fifth in total offense at 384.3 yards per game; Mayfield ranks 11th with 344.3) and they're in the spotlight on College Football Playoff contenders, not to mention they've got a massive showdown on Nov. 4 in the Bedlam Game in Stillwater.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and USC passer Sam Darnold have joined Mayfield and Rudolph on that list of viable contenders. When it comes to the QB position's best hope, Darnold, in particular, has the chance at a heavily-hyped clash vs. Jake Browning and No. 7 Washington in the Pac-12 title game. But the Mayfield-Rudolph duel is most assuredly coming, and it will be heavily hyped.
It also sets the stage for this potential piece of history. Since 1994, four times has a conference put two players on different teams in the top three in voting and no one has done it as many times as the Big 12, which did so in 1998 (Texas' Ricky Williams and Kansas State's Michael Bishop) and 2008 (Oklahoma's Sam Bradford and Texas' Colt McCoy). Both times, the Big 12 won the Heisman.
Certainly the winner of the Bedlam Game will have a leg up on delivering that win and before and after, the Oklahoma schools stand to dictate the Heisman narrative.
As an aside, mark it down that Jackson will still wind up in New York. Just once has a returning winner who made it through a season healthy has yet to not be invited as a finalist (Jameis Winston in 2014, but he had plenty of negative attention at that point) and Jackson will still have New York-worthy numbers, even if his hopes of joining Archie Griffin this year are all but over.
Before we dig into the players who are on the Forecasters's On The Rise and Fall Guys for the week, here's how the virtual ballot stands after Week 3.
1. Baker Mayfield QB Oklahoma 2. Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State 3. Sam Darnold, QB USC
ON THE RISE: Mason Rudolph QB Oklahoma State
Last season, Rudolph teed off on Pitt's defense for a season-high 540 yards and in Week 3, the Panthers were burned for what's -- as of now -- the Cowboy passer's best effort of 2017 with 497 yards and five touchdowns. That one performance was more yards through the air than 27 FBS programs have on the season. The first test of the young season comes this week vs. No. 16 TCU, which is 15th in total defense, and held Rudolph to 207 and one TD last season, but those Horned Frogs did just allow 339 last week vs. SMU. It's a bad trend for TCU that Rudolph should continue.
Charles LeClaireCharles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport
ON THE RISE: Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State
Barkley was sidelined for a stretch in the second quarter vs. Georgia State, but still had 226 all-purpose yards. He hasn't hit 100 rushing yards since Week 1 against Akron, going for 47 on 10 touches last weekend. That should change with a trip to Kinnick Stadium to take on Iowa, whose D allowed 120 on the ground to Iowa State (86th in rushing) in its lone Power 5 outing.
Gregory FisherGregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
ON THE RISE: Nick Fitzgerald QB Mississippi State
He's making the case as the SEC's top quarterback with 543 yards and 7 TDs and 240 rushing yards and five more scores and has an impressive win in his back pocket after leading Mississippi State past then-No. 12 LSU. Now, he'll get a shot at some level of redemption. A Georgia fan growing up, Fitzgerald attended six different camps in Athens, but didn't get an offer as a QB. A chance to make the Peach State Bulldogs pay for that oversight can provide a nice boost to his trophy case.
Matt BushMatt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Lamar Jackson QB Louisville
As detailed after the Cardinals' demoralizing loss to Clemson in Week 3, the possibility of Lamar Jackson went from long as a returning winner to almost impossible. Statistically, he should rebound in a big way over the next two weeks against Kent State and Murray State, but that's not going to erase a lost opportunity against the highest-ranked team Louisville figures to play all season.
Jamie RhodesJamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Derrius Guice RB LSU
His string of 100-yard rushing games was snapped at the hands of Mississippi State, and while he's been off to a slow start overall with 300 yards on 57 carries, the fact remains that he hasn't been featured much. He hasn't played in a fourth quarter in 2017 and has missed 60 minutes of play in all. Some of that was to rest Guice, but he also suffered an apparent knee injury vs. the Bulldogs, and you have to wonder if that will keep him from going the full 60 vs. Syracuse. Either way, it hasn't been the start we expected from the Tigers RB.
Matt BushMatt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
FALL GUYS: Josh Rosen QB UCLA
Rosen went for 463 yards through the air in the Bruins' loss to Memphis and is the national leader with 13 TDs, but he also threw two interceptions after not throwing a single pick through the first two games. Those INTs led to seven Memphis points in a game that would be decided by three. Maybe more alarming is that the Bruins don't look like they have a defense that can back Rosen's bid up, giving up 44 (Texas A&M), 23 (Hawaii) and Memphis (45) so far and we haven't even started the Pac-12 schedule. Rosen's biggest challenges -- No. 24 Oregon, No. 7 Washington, No. 23 Utah and No. 5 USC -- are more than a month away, so for now he slides down the list of contenders.