Heisman Trophy ballots just hit voters’ inboxes this week, a change in timing that isn’t getting nearly enough attention.
This will mark the first time that the three-week voting period has been cut down to one week, which squarely — and rightfully — puts the focus on Championship Weekend before votes are due at 5 p.m. EST on Dec. 4.
Archie Griffin, the award’s only two-time recipient, told me during an interview for The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners that he always casts his ballots before the title games. His stance is that he votes when every player has played the same amount of games.
But it also discounts the seasons of those players whose impact has put their teams in a position to play for a conference championship. Those performance should still be considered part of those contenders’ Heisman narratives.
A year ago, 16 percent of the votes were turned in before the last weekend, with eventual winner Lamar Jackson — who did not play in a title game — receiving 45 percent of the vote. The year before that, 157 ballots were in before the final games, ahead of runner-up Christian McCaffrey breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yardage record in the Pac-12 title game.
There will still be those — like Griffin — who immediately vote and it's a fair stance, and one that this shortened voting period still affords him. But with Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Stanford’s Bryce Love, and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, all among the top contenders and all playing this weekend, the spotlight is and should be on them heading into the games that will shape the College Football Playoff field.
It’s with that in mind that, heading into the final days before votes are due, that we forgo the normal On The Rise and Fall Guys approach of the Forecaster’s weekly breakdown and instead rank the candidates by who has the most to gain among those taking the field on Championship Weekend.
As a primer, here’s how the race projects as we enter the first weekend of December:
1. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma
2. Bryce Love, RB Stanford
3. Lamar Jackson, QB Louisville
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Kerryon Johnson, RB Auburn
As detailed numerous times over the years, it’s increasingly difficult to miss a single game and win the trophy — something that has happened just three times since 1957— let alone sitting out twice as Johnson did.
He was out vs. Clemson (one of the Tigers’ two losses) and then was out the following week against Mercer. Despite that, only Kentucky’s Benny Snell had more yardage among SEC runners than Johnson’s 1,276, and Snell had just 42 more yards.
Johnson’s is a trajectory somewhat similar to Auburn’s last finalist, Tre Mason, who entered October with pedestrian numbers (338 yards to Johnson’s 300) and while Mason used a run to the 2013 BCS title game to get to New York, Johnson is a dominant game vs. Georgia in the SEC finale to punching his own trip to the ceremony.
Nursing a shoulder injury, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has been noncommittal, and obviously if Johnson can’t go, he’s not getting an invite regardless if the Tigers win. But should he follow up his Nov. 11 stat line against the Bulldogs with 233 total yards and a score, Johnson can sneak into the finalists field.
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Jonathan Taylor, RB Wisconsin
Just as the Badgers have an opportunity to validate their season against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game, Taylor can do the same and strengthen a resume that includes 1,806 yards (third in FBS).
The Buckeyes’ 13th-ranked rush defense is giving up 112.8 yards per game and has allowed just one running back — Iowa’s Akrum Wadley — to break the century mark when he had 118 in the Hawkeyes’ 55-24 win on Nov. 4.
Over the last four games, Taylor is piling up 155 yards per game and no Power-5 player has more 200-yard games, though the Badger’s last came on Oct. 14 vs. Purdue.
Doing that vs. this stout Ohio State defense would be stunning, but he’s 194 yards from getting to 2,000. That number would be an intriguing one, because in the CFP era, we have yet to see a back hit that plateau and have his team in the final four.
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Baker Mayfield QB Oklahoma
There reality is, the trophy is going to wind up in Norman.
All Mayfield needs to do is have a typical Mayfield kind of game — he’s averaging 341.4 yards and three TD passes per game — and avoid any further controversy and Saturday night in Arlington, Texas is akin to a victory lap.
Should he have another moment (a la the Ohio State flag plant or the trash talk vs. Baylor and Kansas) that leads to another apology, he could give voters something to ponder. But the fact is, there’s no one in prime position to take the lead.
Louisville’s Lamar Jackson seems like a lock to return to the ceremony, but he’s not playing and Johnson, Taylor and the rest of these contenders can only make up so much ground.
Mayfield is down on this list because barring an implosion against TCU, there’s simply little for him to lose in the Big 12 finale in terms of the trophy race.
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Bryce Love, RB Stanford
The nation’s leader in rushing yards among Power-5 players at 1,848 — and less than a yard behind San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny for the yards per game lead at 168.0 — Love’s place in this race is likely set.
He has a legit shot at getting to the 2,000-yard mark in the Pac-12 title game with USC allowing 158.9 per game, and he already got to the Trojans for 160 earlier this season. Plus, a win would put the Cardinal in the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach Bowl.
Love has long been penciled in as a finalist and expected to be Stanford’s sixth runner-up since Jim Plunkett’s win in 1970. That’s not likely to change even if he has a monster game vs. USC.