Heisman Forecast: Will losing Russell help case for Baylor WR Coleman?

The loss of Seth Russell could wind up taking No. 2 Baylor out of the College Football Playoff race, but at the same time, it could have another impact.

Corey Coleman may get a level of Heisman Trophy buzz that’s been a rarity for wide receivers over the past 24 years.

That’s how long it’s been since Desmond Howard won, a moment that will be honored next season on that vote’s silver anniversary. But that 25 years is on the horizon is sobering, showing how far pass-catchers have fallen since Howard and Tim Brown, who won four years before him.

Yes, Larry Fitzgerald made a serious run, finishing second to Jason White in 2003, but since Howard, five receivers in all have been fifth or higher in voting. The last came a year ago in Amari Cooper, who took third, 227 points behind Melvin Gordon for second.

The blame can be put on the love affair with quarterbacks, which led to Michael Crabtree finishing a spot behind his QB Graham Harrell in 2008. The fact remains, though, that Brown and Howard were also involved in the return games (Fitzgerald wasn’t, making his finish the best for a player who only played WR) and it’s a reality that could end up hurting Coleman.

A season ago he averaged 26.4 yards per kickoff return last season, and would have a 73-yard punt return for a score this year against Rice, had it not been erased by penalty. But he hasn’t registered a return since Oct. 3.

The receiving numbers are spectacular even without any more special team stats, as Coleman leads the nation with 15.4 points per game behind 18 touchdowns — that’s more than any FBS receiver had last season — and is fourth in receiving yards (962) and yards per game (137.4). But as history shows us, getting the ball in his hands more could only benefit his cause.

All that being said, Coleman is well behind a number of contenders in the Heisman race, sitting seventh in the latest odds.

But if he can continue that same level of production with true freshman Jarrett Stidham at the controls — and given Art Briles track record with a run of Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence, Bryce Petty and Russell, there’s a good chance he’ll put up gaudy stats — the WR’s numbers could look even more impressive.

It may not be enough to catch up with LSU’s Leonard Fournette, but it could give pass-catchers one of their best chances in years, or at the very least give Coleman a trip to New York for the ceremony, especially if Baylor keeps rolling with the WR at the center.

Like Baylor’s fortunes could change minus Russell, the Forecaster’s latest cyber ballot looks different too as Florida State’s Dalvin Cook falls out and TCU’s Trevone Boykin rises.

Whether Coleman rises or falls in the eyes of voters after Russell’s injury, it’s clear it only helps Boykin. He no longer has to deal with a player at his own position in his own conference putting up just as impressive numbers. He struggled against this week’s opponent, West Virginia, a year ago in totaling 215 yards, including 166 through the air, and two touchdowns. But Boykin is on a roll, averaging 467.5 yards the past two games with nine scores and that should continue against a Mountaineers defense that has allowed 44 (Oklahoma), 33 (Oklahoma State) and 62 (Baylor) the last three games.

It was supposed to be another week before Watson emerged as the ACC’s best bet, when he and the Tigers host Florida State. Cook’s day in the loss to Georgia Tech, in which he had a pedestrian 82 yards and a TD and 50 yards receiving, aided Watson’s cause. So too, does the Clemson QB’s play as he ran for a season-high 98 yards and a score and completed 78.9 percent of his passes in the rout of Miami. He’s poised for another big day against NC State, against whom Watson had 329 total yards and four scores.

He’s come out of nowhere to become a factor, rattling off five straight games of at least 109 yards and in the last four games (including a Cardinal record 243 against UCLA) has had all-purpose days of 303 yards, 260, 369 and 300. The West is without another strong candidate, and if McCaffrey and Stanford keeps rolling going into that regular-season finale against No. 9 Notre Dame, he may position himself as one of the strongest challengers to Fournette. There are certain shades of 2009 when another Stanford RB, Toby Gerhart, and an SEC back (Mark Ingram) delivered one of the closest races in history.

As mentioned above, he still managed 132 yards of offense in the loss in Atlanta, but that was a Yellow Jackets defense that went into Week 8 ranked 84th in the nation against the rush. Cook was also coming off two momentum-building games in which he had 492 total yards. He’s still over 1,000 yards rushing on the season and has a chance against Watson and Clemson to steal the show, but like the Seminoles’ standing in the CFP conversation, Cook is fading at the moment.

J.T. Barrett returned to the starting QB job, and was sensational against Rutgers, throwing for 223 yards and three scores and running for 101 and two more TDs. Elliott did have 142 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but this was the promise of the Buckeyes’ offense at the beginning of the season, that they had an embarrassment of talent and calling any of them a Heisman candidate was a disservice to the others. That’s where we’re at with the right playmaker at the controls, and while Elliott may keep his string of 100-yard games rolling, he’s going to have a hard time keeping the focus on himself if Barrett keeps playing at this level.

This spot has nothing to do with Lynch’s production, as he sits fifth in the nation in pass efficiency at 175.7 and is eighth in total offense with an average of 355.9 yards. The problem is that schedule, at least this week, as Memphis faces two-win Tulane. Getting 5-1 Navy and back-to-backs against No. 18 Houston and No. 21 Temple will aid his cause, but as other candidates face bigger matchups, the realities of a Power-5 slate will hurt Lynch in Week 9.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney