Heisman Forecast: What challenges and challengers await Halfway Heisman winner?

As of this writing, the cheapest roundtrip flight from Baton Rouge to New York’s LaGuardia Airport is $319, or if Leonard Fournette wants to spend a dollar more, he can fly into John F. Kennedy for a dollar more.

Either way, LSU’s sophomore running back may as well lock in his fare before Halloween has even hit, because barring a dive of cataclysmic proportions, the Halfway Heisman winner is going to the trophy ceremony.

All that lefts to be determined is whether he can maintain this current momentum and challenge Reggie Busch and his vacated 2005 win for the highest percentage of possible points (91.8) in history.

History is on Fournette’s side in his pursuit of LSU’s first win since Billy Cannon in 1959. He joined nine others as the fastest to 1,000 yards on the season, a list that among its eight seasons by players from Power 5 schools, includes just two (Iowa State’s Troy Davis in 1995 and Texas Tech’s Bryon Hanspard in 1996) that didn’t win the award or finish second.

Should Fournette hit 2,000 yards — and averaging 200.3 on the year, seems strong — he’d be even more of a lock as just five of the nine fastest to 1,000 hit that mark. Among them are winners Marcus Allen (81), Barry Sanders (’88) and Ricky Williams (’98).

But the schedule ahead is rough, with the Tigers facing the fourth-most difficult slate based on future opponents’ winning percentage (per stats.ncaa.org), including No. 8 Alabama, No. 24 Ole Miss and No. 15 Texas A&M. Not to mention a potential SEC Championship Game berth against a highly-ranked opponent.

All that is certain at this point is this is Fournette’s Heisman to lose and should he slip up, what follows are the three players are who best positioned to rise and those who will likely fall in their bids over the second half of 2015.

First, though, a look at the Forecaster’s latest cyber ballot, where the leader is no surprise.

1. Leonard Fournette, RB LSU, Soph.
2. Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State, Soph.
3. Trevone Boykin, QB TCU, RS Sr.

ON THE RISE

1. Seth Russell QB Baylor, RS Jr.

Vegas loves the Baylor passer, who has been second behind Fournette in the odds, and given his prolific stats and a collision course with Boykin and TCU in the regular-season finale, things are set up nicely for the first-year starter to make a serious charge. Considering the kinds of numbers his predecessors Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty put up, it’s surprising that there hasn’t been more of a system-QB stigma around Russell. But he’s at the helm of the nation’s most leader in points (63.8 per game) and yards (371) and with a 210.0 pass efficiency rating, is on pace to obliterate Russell Wilson’s single-season record of 191.7. More performances like he had against West Virginia, in which he ran for 160 yards and a score to go with the 380 passing yards and five TDs, will go a long way too to upstaging Boykin and, potentially, Fournette.

2. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Soph. OR Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State, Soph.

He’s had a somewhat slow first half, sitting 17th in pass efficiency (156.8), 23rd in points responsible for (96) and 30th in total offense (274). He’s coming off a 452-yard, four-TD performance against the nation’s top-ranked defense in Boston College, but that kind of day is going to have to become the norm for him. Of course, it’s all going to come down to that Nov. 7 date with Florida State, though, where either Watson or Cook can solidify their standing as a major player in this race by dominating their meeting. Cook’s explosiveness — he has three games of 220 or more yards of offense — that he’s a threat for a 2,000-yard season with 955 yards in six games and how much the Seminoles have relied upon him (they almost lost to Wake Forest with him sidelined) help strengthen his case.

3. Devontae Booker, RB Utah, Sr.

Potentially the most underrated offensive star of any team in the College Football Playoff hunt, Booker is sixth in the nation with 783 yards rushing with eight TDs and against then-Top 25 opponents Oregon and Cal, has 388 total yards and two scores. The Utes don’t have a Top 25-opponent remaining on a schedule that includes five defenses that rank 67 or lower, including D’s that come in 76th (USC), 84th (Oregon State), 92nd (Arizona) and 98th (Colorado). If Utah remains undefeated, expect the support of Booker to grow, especially in the West voting region, where here’s emerged as the district’s only legit threat.

FALL GUYS

1. Ezekiel Elliott, QB Ohio State, Jr.

J.T. Barrett has been reinstalled as the Buckeye starting QB and that’s bad news for Elliott’s candidacy. Behind Cardale Jones, the the defending champs averaged 455.6 yards of offense (39th) and the QB had five games with 19 or less rushing yards. Barrett, who has games of 40, 62 and 102 yards in limited time in ’15 had 10 games of 70-plus rushing yards in ’14. All that means Elliott, who is on pace for 43 more carries than the 273 he had a year ago, is bound to see less opportunities with a QB who can hurt teams wit his legs the way that Barrett can. Add in that the Buckeyes offense could look that much better with Barrett as the full-time QB, and even more of the spotlight could be turned away from Elliott.

2. Derrick Henry, RB Alabama, Jr.

Henry has solidified himself as the focal point of the Crimson Tide’s offense, racking up 901 yards and has 152 carries on the season, which amount to 52.2 percent of the team’s attempts. As previously noted in this space, just two times in Nick Saban’s run in Tuscaloosa has he had a running back finish with 44 percent or more of the carries and that resulted in a Heisman winner in Mark Ingram (’09) and a runner-up with Trent Richardson (’11). That would make Henry seem like a clear threat, except in those other two instances the Crimson Tide RB wasn’t dealing with a more prolific back within the SEC West. The Nov. 7 date with Fournette and the Tigers could be a trophy elimination game, but considering the LSU back is responsible for 43.4 percent of his team’s offense, compared to 32.2 by Henry, Fournette could conceivably still emerge from the game with the edge given that whatever success the Tigers have is likely to be from Fournette.

3. Corey Coleman, WR Baylor, RS Jr.

With 146.2 receiving yards per game (second in FBS) and 877 yards overall (third), Coleman is in a tight race with fellow Big 12 WR Josh Doctson of TCU for the Biletnikoff Award. But a Heisman Trophy candidate? Not while his quarterback Russell is gaining steam. It’s a point that Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree learned in ’08 when they finished fourth and fifth, respectively, and while Coleman could end up stealing thunder from Russell down the stretch, the passer has been so strong — tossing an nation’s-best 27 TDs, along with that aforementioned efficiency rating — Coleman will have to settle for being a force in just one race (Biletnikoff)

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney