Heisman Forecast: CFP rankings put more focus on Memphis’ Lynch

With the release of the first College Football Playoff rankings comes a new way of viewing the national landscape heading into Week 10.

Clemson — no higher than third in the human polls — is No. 1 going into Saturday’s meeting with No. 16 Florida State, while No. 2 LSU and No. 4 Alabama are set up for a potential playoff to reach the playoff in Tuscaloosa.

Then there’s Memphis, whose lofty placement — the 8-0 Tigers are 13th, making them the highest-ranked non-Power 5 team — only adds to the notion that quarterback Paxton Lynch is due even more consideration in the Heisman Trophy race.

To be clear, it’s the longest of long shots that he’d win. Not since the back-to-back victories by Houston’s Andre Ware and BYU’s Ty Detmer have voters deemed anyone from outside the power structure worthy, but getting to New York is a different story.

Since Detmer in 1990, there have been 10 players from non-Power 5 schools (at the time) to be named a finalist — Detmer again in 1991; Marshal Faulk (San Diego State) in ’92; Steve McNair (Alcorn State) in ’94; Marshall’s Randy Moss in ’97 and Chad Pennington in ’99; TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000; Alex Smith (Utah) in ’04; Colt Brennan (Hawaii) in ’04) and Jordan Lynch (Northern Illinois) in ’13 — and there’s a real possibility that the Memphis QB could be next.

The latest odds have Lynch eighth, but the schedules ahead say that a number of those contenders ahead of him could fall back.

LSU’s Leonard Fournette, the presumptive leader, and Alabama’s Derrick Henry (who has the fifth-best odds) meet this week, and TCU’s Trevone Boykin (second) and Baylor’s Corey Coleman (seventh) go head-to-head Nov. 27.

Considering the Tigers have Navy (this Saturday), No. 25 Houston (Nov. 14), No. 22 Temple (Nov. 21) and — should they beat the Midshipmen and Cougars — get another crack at the Owls in the AAC title game Dec. 5, it may be an impressive resume, especially when you add in the victory over Ole Miss, which is 18th in the CFP rankings.

Of course, it’s that same body of work that, with some added chaos over the next month, can make Memphis’ case to break through, do the unthinkable, and reach the playoffs. It stands to reason that if the Tigers continue to build their standing in the eyes of the selection committee, Lynch will become a threat to, at the very least, become the latest non-Power 5 player to gain a seat for the ceremony.

Heading into a weekend that is certain to shake up the race — which we’ll get into momentarily –here’s where the Forecaster’s cyber ballot stands after nine weeks.

1. Leonard Fournette, RB LSU, Soph.
2. Trevone Boykin, QB TCU, RS Sr.
3. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Soph.


1. Leonard Fournette, RB LSU, Soph.

He may not completely clinch the trophy in the first weekend in November, but Fournette can all but make the last month a victory lap if he approaches his season average of 193.1 yards against Alabama and its third-ranked rush defense. The Crimson Tide have yielded just 78.5 per and since Nick Saban took over in 2007, just 11 players have gone over the century mark against his defenses. It’s already happened once this year though, as Georgia’s Nick Chubb burned them for 146 on 20 carries and Tennessee’s Jalen Hurd came close with 92. Fournette will do his damage, even if the likely scenario plays out of Alabama getting out with the win.

2. Trevone Boykin, QB TCU, RS Sr.

While Fournette and Alabama’s Derrick Henry are squaring off, Boykin is positioned to tee off on No. 14 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys’ 62nd-ranked pass defense allowed 480 yards through the air (and 526 in all) along with five TDs to Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. Boykin is on a tear, averaging 469 yards over the past three games and he’s been more efficient on the ground, with no less than 74 rushing yards in that span. He should continue those trends in dealing the Pokes their first loss.

3. Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson, Soph.

If it seems like this is simply a repeat of the cyber ballot from above, well, that indicates this is a slate that can simply help strengthen the pecking order in the race. Watson is coming off of his second six-touchdown day in the last three weeks and in that span has amassed 1,130 yards of total offense and 14 scores. The spotlight will be on the best player on the nation’s newly-crowned No. 1 and we’ve seen the Seminoles have issue with a mobile QB already, giving up 339 total yards to Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.


1. Derrick Henry, RB Alabama, Jr.

If Fournette rises, then the candidate on the other sideline has to take a dip. Henry remains the Crimson Tide’ focal point, but it’s the versatility of the Alabama offense — Jake Coker is rising, with 647 yards and a 76.4 completion percentage the last three weeks — that should be the difference against LSU. Henry, coming off games of 236 (Texas A&M) and 143 yards (Tennessee), will get upstaged by maybe the only player capable of doing so right now.

2. Corey Coleman, WR Baylor, RS Jr.

As detailed last week, turning to Jarrett Stidham after Seth Russell’s season-ending injury could wind up benefitting Coleman as far as this race goes. This week’s matchup with a Kansas State defense that’s 110th in passing yards allowed (269.7) could help Coleman have another big day, too, but we’ve seen the Wildcats step up at times. They played Oklahoma State tough, losing 36-34, and fell 52-45 to TCU. Here’s thinking that Stidham’s inexperience comes into play, which, at least for a game, could lead to a drop in Coleman’s production.

3. Keenan Reynolds, QB Navy, Sr.

Reynolds is closing in on a place in history, who with 77 career rushing touchdowns, will move past Montee Ball with his next score. But to truly appreciate his impending accomplishment, you have to put Reynolds up against other QBs. He’s already 18 ahead of second-place Eric Crouch (the 2001 Heisman winner) and has 20 more than Tim Tebow (the 2007 trophy recipient is fourth all-time). But Reynolds stands to get upstaged this week by Memphis’ Lynch, who over the last seven games has thrown for less than 343 yards just once and has a 170.2 efficiency rating behind 18 TDs and one pick.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney