Heisman Forecast: Buckeyes’ shaky QB play helping Elliott’s case

Believed to be an embarrassment of riches, the truth is, No. 1 Ohio State’s quarterback play has been abysmal, and it may be just what Ezekiel Elliott needs to become a real factor in the Heisman Trophy race.

Cardale Jones — the erstwhile third-string passer who built his reputation on those three consecutive wins that gave the Buckeyes the first title in the College Football Playoff era — has been nowhere near as dominant as he was against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. He ranks 58th in the nation in pass efficiency (134.3), is 80th in yards per game (173.4) and has thrown as many touchdowns (five) as interceptions in 106 attempts.

Even J.T. Barrett hasn’t been as dynamic as before when he’s gotten in, completing 55.3 percent on his 38 attempts with two TDs and two picks. While Braxton Miller — now an H-back — has yet to miss a pass, he’s attempted just one, so we can’t really count that.

But amid the surprisingly down play, Elliott has been arguably the Buckeyes’ most consistent piece on either side of the ball, rattling off five 100-yards games, including last weekend’s 274 and three scores in the 34-27 win over Indiana.

The thought of this Heismanphile heading into the season was that Ohio State had so many options, they were bound to steal attention away from each other. Think Michael Crabtree and Graham Harrell at Texas Tech in 2008 only magnified.

But the reality is, Elliott keeps delivering and is in line to this weekend too against Maryland, which is 102nd against the rush, giving up 199.8 per game. Should the Buckeyes return to the CFP on Elliott’s back and in spite of the unimpressive play that Urban Meyer has on his hands, Elliott will become more and more of a threat for the school’s first win since Troy Smith in 2006.

As for the latest cyber ballot, nothing changes at the top as LSU’s Leonard Fournette continues his 200-yards-a-week sprint to New York, but there is movement behind him as Georgia’s Nick Chubb bows out following the rout at the hands of Alabama.

1. Leonard Fournette, RB LSU, Soph.
2. Trevone Boykin, QB TCU, RS Sr.
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB Ohio State, Jr.

ON THE RISE

1. Leonard Fournette, RB LSU, Sop

How can the guy who is the runaway favorite as we near the season’s midpoint further help his case? Fournette is riding a wave of three consecutive 200-yard games, something no SEC back has ever done, and will now face a South Carolina D that is 75th vs. the rush (170.0) and was already torched for 159 yards and two touchdowns by Chubb back on Sept. 19. If Fournette stays at his nation’s best 216.0 average against the Gamecocks — in a game that was moved to Baton Rouge due to the flooding in South Carolina — he would be at 1,080 yards through just five game, trailing only Garrett Wolfe’s 1,181 (2006) for the most of anyone since 2000.

2. Baker Mayfield, QB Oklahoma, Jr.

Someone told you weeks ago that Mayfield had the potential to be the out-of-nowhere winner this season and he’s shooting up the latest Heisman odds and is tied with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and USC’s Cody Kessler for 10th. Oklahoma vs. Texas isn’t what it used to be, but it remains a big-name opponent for the Sooners, and considering what TCU did to Charlie Strong’s crew last week (50 points and 604 yards), Mayfield figures to only help his case, though Boykin’s insane performance — 20 of 35 for 332 yards and five TDs, plus 52 yards rushing — will be the measuring stick for him.

3. Derrick Henry, RB Alabama, Jr.

He won his elimination game with Chubb, burning Georgia to the turn of 148 yards and a touchdown. Now comes a stiff test vs. Arkansas, which is 16th in rush defense (101.6) and was strong against Tennessee’s loaded backfield, keeping Jalen Hurd to 90 yards on 19 carries. With Kenyan Drake’s struggles, Nick Saban is leaning even more on Henry, who ran 26 times against the Bulldogs. If the reinvigorated Crimson Tide keep rolling against the Razorbacks, expect it to be due to a steady diet of Henry carries.

FALL GUYS

1. Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State, Soph.

Will he play or won’t he? Cook tore off a 94-yard TD run on his first carry against Wake Forest, then left at the end of the first quarter with a hamstring injury. His status for Saturday night’s game against rival Miami is unclear, and while it’s a major blow to the Seminoles’ offense, whose running backs ran for a combined 13 yards in three quarters without Cook, it will leave his candidacy hanging by a thread. Only two players in history have won the trophy missing a game, the last being another Seminole, Charlie Ward, in 1997.

2. Jared Goff, QB Cal, Jr.

Cal’s opponent this weekend, No. 5 Utah, isn’t great against the pass, giving up 238.5 ypg (86th) and despite Kyle Whittingham’s desire to bring pressure, hasn’t been able to generate sacks consistently, ranking 55th with 2.0 sacks a game. But the Utes will return defensive end Hunter Dimick, who missed the past two games with what was believed to be a knee injury. He had 10 sacks last season, including 14 1/2 tackles for loss. The Utes will be an uptick in competition level for the Bears, whose first five opponents include one team that is above .500, Grambling (3-2). Expect Goff to get his numbers, as he always does, but a loss to Utah will hurt his standing.

3. Keenan Reynolds, QB Navy, Sr.

As detailed in this video, Reynolds is among the non-Power 5-conference players with the potential to join the conversation. He is fourth in FBS in scoring (13.5 ppg), has rattled off games of 142 yards (East Carolina), 142 (UConn) and 183 (Air Force) and this week can bolster his hopes by leading the Midshipmen to a win at No. 15 Notre Dame. The only problem there is we’ve already seen the Fighting Irish bottle up the triple option once in beating Georgia Tech. But give Reynolds his due, with 73 career rushing touchdowns, he should soon eclipse the record of 77 set by former Wisconsin star and Heisman finalist Montee Ball.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney