Heisman Forecast: Mariota-Prescott debate; Gordon rises

Marcus Mariota (left) and Dak Prescott are both on pace for seasons in line with the last four QB Heisman winners, who averaged 4,677 yards and 47 TDs.

It’s not a splashy Heisman Trophy push. With a timeline that features die-cast cars (DeAngelo Williams), a Times Square billboard (Joey Harrington) Viewfinders (Chase Daniel) and this year, batteries (Ameer Abdullah), it qualifies for downright quaint.

Mississippi State’s game notes include a page with photos of Tim Tebow, Cam Newton and Johnny Manziel clutching their trophies, Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott next to them, striking a stiff-armed pose.

Through eight games, Prescott holds his own with the SEC’s last three trophy winners. His 2,785 yards of total offense trails only Manziel, he’s second in passing yards (2,025) and touchdowns (16) and is the only one with any receiving yards (35) or a TD. Prescott also joins Newton as the only one to win all eight games.

But when Newton won, he claimed 81.5 percent of the possible points, the fifth-highest percentage in history, while Tebow was 10th (70.5 percent) and Manziel 12th (72.8), because none of those SEC passers dealt with a challenger like Prescott has in Oregon’s Marcus Mariota.

Which brings up a key question: what is it going to take for either of these QBs to win?

Prescott’s schedule is far sexier, with No. 5 Alabama on Nov. 15 and No. 11 Ole Miss on the 29th, not to mention a potential trip to the SEC Championship Game. He also has a staggering three wins over top-10 opponents already.

While his is a slate with plenty pitfalls, that’s something that doesn’t exist to the same degree for Mariota. He’ll face No. 17 Utah on Saturday in Salt Lake City and may get No. 9 Arizona State in the Pac-12 title game, but he also faces two of the conference’s worst teams in Colorado (2-7) and Oregon State (4-4).But he already has a benchmark win vs. No. 8 Michigan State and could end up with another should the Sun Devils continue their rise.

Prescott is also on pace for 4,526 yards, not far off from the 4,677 the last four winning QBs (Newton, Robert Griffin III, Manziel and Jameis Winston) averaged, while Mariota is trending toward 4,300 yards. But Mariota would beat that foursome’s 47 TDs a win with 49, while Prescott would have 43.

SEC Coming Attractions

What matters more? Stats? The conference? Living up to expectations (Mariota) or eviscerating the old ones (Prescott)?

There’s no easy answer.

This race is begging for clarity, because if the schedule can’t provide it, this could be one of the closest votes in recent memory.

Before we look at the players who are set to rise and fall this week, here’s how the voting would likely play out after 10 weeks.

With Ameer Abdullah suffering another setback (more on that later), Gordon is becoming the clear leader among running backs. He’s hurt by the performance of the Badgers, who just broke into the College Football Playoff poll this week at 25th, and have a loss to 3-5 Northwestern on their resume, but the raw numbers Gordon’s putting up are staggering. He’s run for at least 122 yards in seven of the eight games and has two games of 250-plus yards in totaling 1,296 with a 7.5 average per carry. He’s on pace to challenge for 2,000 yards and should his ypc hold, he would have the fourth highest average in history for a 2K rusher, trailing only Mike Rozier (7.8), Larry Johnson (7.7) and Barry Sanders (7.6).

As the Tigers’ chances of playing for a national title increase, so too does Marshall’s trophy case. His odds increased from 22/1 to 14/1 after the win over Ole Miss and he should have a chance this week to pad his stats vs. Texas A&M’s defense, which is 12th in the SEC (414.2 ypg) and is giving up 177.8 per on the ground (86th in FBS). Having already passed Newton for second on Auburn’s career QB rushing yards list, Marshall needs just 186 to knock off Phil Gargis’ 1,884 for the top spot. With the Aggies this week and Georgia, which is 47th vs. the rush (144.3), Marshall could have that mark before Thanksgiving.

LSU’s pass defense is fourth in the nation, allowing just 158.4 yards per game, but a deeper dive shows they’ve been burned time and time again. Auburn’s Sammie Coates (four receptions for 144 yards and a TD), Mississippi State’s Jameon Lewis (five catches, 116 yards and a TD), Florida’s Demarcus Robinson (five for 104 yards and a score) and Ole Miss’ Laquon Treadwell (four receptions for 71 yards) all had big days and now the Tigers draw Cooper, who is second in FBS in yards (1,132), yards a game (141.5) and fourth in receptions per (8.9). Look for a big night out of Cooper on one of the weekend’s biggest stages Saturday night in Death Valley.

Coach Bo Pelini says with a week off, Abdullah should be "100 percent" when the Cornhuskers face Gordon and Wisconsin on Nov. 15. But with the Badgers star making a run at 2,000 yards, Abdullah couldn’t afford a setback and he got one, going for just one yard on six carries before suffering a mild sprain and bruise to his left knee against Purdue while recovering a fumbled snap. The resume remains strong, with Abdullah the nation’s only back to run for at least 200 yards in four games and it doesn’t hurt being the only player in a storied program’s history to run for more than 1,000 yards in three straight years, but the gap between Abdullah and Gordon is reaching a chasm ahead of their showdown.

He’s accounted for 18 touchdowns over the past five games, including nine in the last two and against Navy he became the first player in Fighting Irish history to throw for three score and run for three in the same game. He’s stayed in this race because of how close he got Notre Dame to knocking off Florida State, and as Bruce Feldman points out, if history holds, the Irish are in trouble coming off a game vs. Navy. The lack of a marquee win already hurts, but if he can’t come through in Saturday’s trip to No. 9 Arizona State, Golson is finished.

Not that anyone is trying to pile on to the Big Ten here, but Barrett is holding on by a thread at this point. He rebounded from the double-overtime win at Penn State with an efficient (205 total yards and two TDs) and abbreviated day against Illinois, but for Barrett, everything has been a buildup to Saturday’s trip to Michigan State. While Barrett leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency and total offense (294 per), the Spartans rank fourth in FBS in total defense (279.4 ypg) and the Buckeyes QB hasn’t fared well against the better D’s he’s seen. He threw for just 74 yards against the Nittany Lions’ third-ranked defense and vs. Virginia Tech (30th in FBS), he hit on 31 percent of his attempts. That doesn’t bode well for Barrett’s prospects in East Lansing.